Why I'm Begging You to Take COVID-19 Seriously

I don't know when I'll get to hug my parents and in-laws again. But I know if we all don't do our part and stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, it will take even longer for life to get back to normal.

Lynn Smith with her mother and sister.
Lynn Smith with her mother, Carolyn, and sister, Kathryn. Photo: Courtesy of Lynn Smith

My new routine consists of a weekly grocery run, which includes a haul for my in-laws. It’s my only exception to quarantine and also special for me in a way I’d never imagined. For a few minutes—from a safe six feet away—I can see them and be comforted by their smiles and words of encouragement.

They are among the millions of people most vulnerable to the serious and, at times, deadly effects of COVID-19. They have been self-isolating and getting their groceries is one of the few things we can do for them right now. My own parents are doing the same, but from thousands of miles away on Cape Cod, so I feel even more helpless. I get to see their faces on FaceTime and hear them tell me they’ll be fine, but all of us know this virus is scariest for our elderly and immunocompromised—although we are learning they aren’t the only ones.

Most of us have been following the rules. We've been home, been texting friends with funny memes to keep our spirits up about how miserable homeschooling in a pandemic is and how bushy our eyebrows have gotten with every beauty salon shuttered. Many have written, myself included, about how this is bringing us together as families in ways we’d never imagined. It’s a pause button on our usually busy lives and we are connecting to nature and each other now more than ever.

Then, just last week I watched as hundreds of spring breakers crowded the beaches in Florida while the rest of us began our new lives in quarantine. And let me tell you, quarantine with a 4-year-old and 1-year-old feels like a different kind of pandemic. On Monday in Los Angeles, officials moved to shut down state trails and beach parking lots because swarms of people refused to follow guidelines.

The longer everyone takes to realize their actions are what our lives depend on, the longer it will take to get our lives back.

Why? These acts of selfishness stem from the belief that it’s just a virus, no different than the flu, and it won’t hurt the healthiest, which simply isn’t always true. Those crowding the beaches think they are invincible. They then returned to their communities and homes with no symptoms believing there was no way they could be spreading this virus. They were wrong.

Now, here we are. The Director-General of the World Health Organization this week tweeted a grim milestone. The pandemic is accelerating, and it took “67 days from the 1st reported case to reach the first 100K cases, 11 days for the second 100K cases & just 4 days for the third 100K cases.”

All of it is almost too much to bear at times, but the question that sits on my heart the heaviest is: When will I get to hug my parents and in-laws again? I stood on my in-laws' porch and watched them stand inside thanking my husband and I for the pile of groceries we hope will last them until our next grocery run. As they wiped them down with disinfectant wipes, I started to cry.

Lynn Smith's in-laws holding her son, Ryder.
Lynn Smith's in-laws holding her son, Ryder. Patricia and McKenzie

My in-laws took me in as a daughter knowing how hard it was to be far from my own parents. They host all the holidays and the grandchildren for countless playdates so all of us can get a break every once and awhile. Today I stood there, and I looked down the hallway of the house that’s become like a second home to me since I met my husband, knowing I couldn’t step foot inside. While I’m thankful we are alive and healthy, this reality felt almost like a death.

The life we once took for granted has become a distant memory in a matter of days. It’s shocking and unnerving.

This grieving process has been not unlike what each and every one of you are probably experiencing. Maybe it’s not the connection to family, but your life before COVID-19. The life we once took for granted has become a distant memory in a matter of days. It’s shocking and unnerving. I’m 40 years old and all I want is to be in my mom, dad, or in-laws arms telling me it’s all over and we’re all OK.

Instead we wait for that day with no assurances of when it will come. Let me be clear, I have no doubt it will come. But only if we do it all together. The longer everyone takes to realize their actions are what our lives depend on, the longer it will take to get our lives back. We will sit in self-isolation for more weeks or months and our economy will deteriorate to a point no one is sure we can recover from.

The authors in-laws with her kids and nephews.
Lynn Smith's mom and dad, Carolyn and Jim, with their grandchildren. Courtesy of Lynn Smith

These initial 15 days that we’ve effectively been sent to our rooms is a test. To see if we can flatten the curve, as they say. Reducing the number of people who can get infected will, in turn, reduce the number of sick people and prevent what could be a collapse of our health care system, which is not equipped to care for the masses. If only a portion of us is making this sacrifice, it doesn’t work.

I beg you: Take this virus seriously so we can have our lives back. And once we do have our lives back, let’s appreciate what we have so much more than we did before.

Lynn Smith is the host of HLN's On The Story, which airs 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET.

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