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The utter fear gripping the nation has come to a staggering high with the spread of the coronavirus. As a certified nursing assistant at Genesis Bay Tree Center in Palm Harbor, Florida, I can attest to how psychologically challenging it is being on the frontline in a long-term care medical facility, and relate to the concerns, frustrations, and uncertainties that are causing panic in many first responders and society as a whole. While COVID-19 is affecting everybody, first responders, educators, and community members are in fear because personal protective equipment (PPE) is scarce, online schooling is presenting obstacles for teachers and parents, isolation is lonely without the people we care about, and social distancing creates unsociable behavior and internal reflection.

I cannot describe the conditions of the Martian-like PPE that we are required to use for our personal safety. Masks, as many of us know, are very difficult to breathe in and wearing glasses does not help because they fog up with each exhale. The gowns are incredibly stifling, and we must remember to stay hydrated. Washing hands is common health care practice, but after a 12-hour shift my hands are on fire and hurt from repeated scrubbing. The lack of PPE in many medical facilities adds to anxieties among health care workers. Staff are calling in absent from fear of catching the coronavirus or passing it to a loved one at home, but will taking the day off to prevent the spread of this virus help or are we just prolonging the inevitable?

This is a time of caution, but it is also a time to reflect on our own lives and those around us.

Family members who are not medical personnel are afraid to connect with us, but think we are heroes—at least for the time being. Nursing, among other frontline occupations, is a necessity to help our communities adjust and remain calm through this pandemic. There are people who are elderly and living on their own who are frightened because of their age or compromised immune systems. This is a worldwide effort to come together and to join in this fight against COVID-19.

Online learning is now becoming a way of life for many who are seeking their degrees in a variety of fields. As a cultural anthropology student at Ashford University pursuing an online degree, this has not been a new process for me, but for many other people it presents new learning challenges . In my own classes, talking about the coronavirus and understanding a person’s feelings of what this means to them and their families, through particular cultural practices and beliefs, is helping us all to understand our common humanity.

Isolation is an eye-opening experience for most people, and this pandemic is an alarming event to live through. As I walked out of the grocery store one day, a woman commented to me, “everyone is walking around like zombies no one is saying anything to anyone else.” I replied, “I know.” Social distancing will hopefully soon be a thing of the past and people will be able to enjoy their lives again with laughter, embracing, and close social connections.

This is a time of caution, but it is also a time to reflect on our own lives and those around us; to remember what it is like to talk to someone face-to-face, unmediated by social media or electronic devices. Hugging a loved one is something that many of us took for granted and now miss with an emptiness that will only be filled when we are able to safely interact once again.

The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on people’s health and emotions. Whether you are on the frontline or not, the concessions that are being made for our protection are also the cause of vexation, alienation, and panic. Being on the frontline in high-intensity occupations and being a part of health care is an overwhelming struggle to live through. I hope it gives us all pause to reflect on our world and our place in it, and to build a better future after living through the coronavirus.

Jeanna Buriak is a cultural anthropology student at Ashford University in Pinellas County, Florida.

Cite as: Buriak, Jeanna. 2020. “Inner Panic During the Pandemic.” Anthropology News website, May 1, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1400