Experiencing COVID-19 in different hemispheres

A student reflects her contrasting quarantines, from the United States to home in Brazil.

With classes ending and my summer job getting canceled, I returned to Brazil from Temple’s University’s Main Campus on May 9,  to spend the moment of uncertainty at home and with family. At the time, the United States was reporting its 1,245,775th COVID-19 case, while doctors in Brazil were predicting that it was only just the beginning.

It felt like I was coming out of one pandemic and going into a different one. Looking back now, it is crazy to think I experienced the peak of the pandemic in two completely different places, but I do not regret coming back home. I feel it was the right decision to make at that moment.

Feb. 25 was Carnival in Brazil, a Catholic holiday and the main festivity in the country. As usual, the streets were crowded with people celebrating. The idea of being together, hugging and kissing wasn’t scary yet at that time. 

For me, it wasn’t strange to watch from afar, because it is such a common tradition in our culture and I wasn’t afraid for my home country yet. At the same time, I felt a little sad watching my friends on social media celebrating in the warm weather while I was in the cold having classes. 

However, little did we, as Brazilians, know that the great symbolic gathering of the country’s biggest celebration would be the last big reunion we would have in a really long time. The next day, on Feb. 26, Brazil registered its first case of COVID-19. Less than a month later, the first COVID-19 death occurred on March 17. 

I was still in Philadelphia at this time and I was anxious to follow the early development of the pandemic in Brazil as Temple University announced it would move all classes online on March 11. My two homes were experiencing totally different moments of the pandemic. I felt like I was living the beginning of something bad all over again. 

When Temple moved classes online, I called my father, who lives in Brazil, and he was very shocked because fear of the pandemic wasn’t as significant there as it was in the U.S. No one wore masks or worried about crowded places. Nobody was alarmed yet.

As of Oct. 5, Brazil has reported more than 4.9 million COVID-19 cases and about 147,000 deaths. 

Staying at home in Brazil and in the U.S. were completely different experiences. In the U.S., I was living alone because my roommates had returned to their homes. I was able to focus during the last semester of school. When I came back to Brazil, classes had finished and for the first time I got bored. The positive part was that I was with my family. 

On July 21, I turned 20 years old, with a completely different celebration than usual. While my birthday was small and with only a few family members and friends, I still felt an incredible amount of affection from the people I love. 

When I first arrived home, I quarantined for two weeks in case I had been infected during the trip. Fortunately, I did not contract the virus. I remember I made plans to meet my friends in June believing the pandemic would have already passed. But, it only got worse.

Obviously, COVID-19 also affected the local economy. One of my favorite brownie spots in my hometown ended up closing its physical store, continuing to sell only on a food delivery app. My family’s company, which sells medical equipment for hospitals and clinics, also had a reduction in the number of sales. Fortunately, they were prepared and there were no major impacts on my family’s finances.  

Although the pandemic is far from over, Brazil is still trying to return to “normal” life. Most of the country has now reopened shopping malls, churches, restaurants and other establishments. I am still very much at home because my classes and work are online, and I am often concerned about the future consequences for the health of the Brazilian population and economy. 

Even though the pandemic in Brazil led to many deaths, I felt safer here because I was at home with my family. If anything bad happened to me, I knew I had their support by my side. 

Looking to the future, I hope by the beginning of next semester I will be back in the U.S., and I am sure I will encounter a country that looks completely different from the one I left in May. 

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