COVID-19: The Joke Is Over (OPINION)

Mar 19, 2020
12:03 PM

A surgical mask is placed on The “Fearless Girl” statue outside the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

It took me 46 days to believe in the real threat of coronavirus.

I first heard about it from my mother, while visiting home in Brazil for the holidays. I was packing to return to the U.S. when my mother mentioned this virus coming from China she had heard about on the news. She said I should buy a mask to wear on the plane.

I brushed her off and told her she was overreacting.

While waiting to board the flight, I texted a friend photos of the line to board and the one guy who was wearing a mask. I was making jokes about it. I didn’t know 20 days later that fatalities would rise to the thousands worldwide, and 25 days later the world as we know it would start to shut down.

I should have listened to my mother.

When the news started to compare COVID-19 to the common flu, my fears subsided. Maybe we were overreacting after all. I didn’t know the average number of flu related deaths, so maybe it wasn’t such a big deal—I thought.

On day 41 after I heard about the virus, Italy was in a state of emergency, Spain was closing its borders and China was building hospitals overnight to deal with their sick.

A person walks in Pamplona, northern Spain, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Like many immigrants, I left my family and came to the U.S. in search of the American Dream. After 17 years here, it took a crisis to learn that what matters most to the Father of Capitalism—money. I knew coronavirus was really serious when the authorities were willing to lose so much money. But that also meant that the federal government waited longer than they should have to warn the population because of it.

Finally, 45 days after I first learned about the virus, there was talk of closing all businesses.

On day 47: Pandemic.

From that day on, everything now feels like a movie: people fighting over toilet paper, empty shelves, long lines, the elderly being pushed away, the stock market hit the lowest closing numbers ever, and the jokes continued even though now we are ordered to stay indoors, in social distancing, for the greater good. But many continue to take this lightly going to the beach and having friends over for dinner parties like a Club Med vacation, not to count the sea of memes that continuously pop all over cyberworld.

People don’t seem to understand that life, as we knew it, will change. Whether or not we will see mortality rates and a health care crisis as large as in Italy remains to be seen. But one thing the COVID-19 already killed is the economy.

I know humor is important in times of crisis but I urge everyone to stop making jokes about this situation. Maybe it was funny before people started losing their livelihoods and their loved ones. Italians had to choose to not give care to seniors over 80. That is what scientists project for the United States. We don’t have enough tests or respirators or even hospital beds.

The joke is over.

This is the first crisis in history we can be quarantined AND still be globally connected. For the first time in history we can get news in real time and disseminate information to millions of people quicker than ever saving lives. Let’s not waste it on memes. This is serious.


Luciana Faulhaber is a first-generation Latina-American actress, producer, director based in Los Angeles. She moved to the U.S. from Brazil with an academic scholarship to attend Fordham University and later continue her studies in International Development at Columbia University Graduate School. For more updates, follow her on Instagram @lucianafaulhaberofficial.