The parallels between living through COVID-19 and living through war

Adrianna Nine
4 min readApr 16, 2020

From Facebook and the radio to hospitals and the White House, people everywhere have been saying fighting COVID-19 is like “fighting an invisible war.” Once thought to be a slightly flippant way of expressing frustration at the current situation, these words now hold far more weight than originally expected. It has become undeniable that throughout most of early 2020, we’ve been living through something comparable to war—and with the same devastating effects.

Unprecedented loss of employment. Over 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in March 2020. For context, this is 3 percent of the US population—and those are only people who have recently lost their jobs, presumably due to the pandemic. In waves, major companies like ZipRecruiter, Yelp, and Marriott International have laid off thousands of workers; employees of local businesses like museums, bars, and restaurants are left without sources of income in the face of state-mandated closures. People everywhere are scrambling to find money in an extremely unstable financial landscape.

Rapid and widespread financial loss. The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, states the coronavirus pandemic has created a worldwide economic crisis “like no other,” and that the global standstill is far worse than the stock market crash of 2008. A vast majority of industries have been rendered useless and/or antithetical to stopping COVID-19. And it doesn’t only impact the private sector—city and state governments are losing millions of dollars in sales tax, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of job loss.

Populations being called upon to help the cause. Billboards have gone up in metropolitan areas asking citizens to stay at home and donate masks and gloves to nearby hospitals. While many businesses are rapidly shutting down, a handful of others—like grocery stores and healthcare facilities—are practically begging people to join their teams. Families stuck at home have even begun sewing masks with stored fabric to provide to those who have to go out in public.

Bulk medical triage. Hospitals aren’t running the way they do during “normal” life. Instead, patients who visit emergency rooms and temporary hospitals are often greeted outside and directed to different outdoor tents based on their symptoms. Very few patients are actually admitted; medical professionals would rather treat people and prescribe medications outside to make the triaging process more efficient and avoid indoor contamination.

A clearer divide between socioeconomic classes. While celebrities in cushy, multimillion-dollar mansions sing “Imagine” in a performative effort at unity, grocery store employees are dying from a virus that they can only avoid by forgoing work. Middle class breadwinners can afford to pay someone to go shopping for them and sometimes even work from home; meanwhile, lower-income workers are receiving “essential worker” hours while lacking “essential worker” paychecks. And with millions losing their full-time jobs with benefits, healthcare is even more of a commodity that only the lucky or the wealthy can enjoy.

Disruption of trade. With many manufacturing chains completely halted, it’s difficult for the public and private sectors to obtain products that are usually easy to find. This doesn’t just apply to medical supplies like N95’s and ventilators—consumer products like the Nintendo Switch are flying off the shelves while manufacturers face roadblocks to distribution.

International tension. The news is rife with stories of the US confiscating other countries’ PPE and ordering American companies to halt international exports. In addition to direct action between nations, citizens and representatives of different countries are quick to point fingers at one another for handling the spread of coronavirus in ways they wouldn’t.

Mass cancellation of long-term plans. This spring, 3.7 million American high school seniors (and countless more from around the world) will be unable to participate in their graduation ceremonies. The same goes for hundreds of thousands of hopeful college graduates. Families everywhere are cancelling vacations and trips to see loved ones. Projects planned long ago, like home buying and research opportunities and career-changing creative endeavors, are being postponed or deleted from people’s calendars. And for anyone impacted (read: everybody), it’s impossible to know when real plans can be made once again.

Complete lack of knowledge of what tomorrow will hold. Every day, people wake up to headlines they couldn’t have predicted. Every night, the same people go to bed with no idea of what the next day has in store for them, their communities, or their country. The government calls all the shots—and if they decide someone who’s been able to work all of Tuesday shouldn’t be able to return to work Wednesday, they can say so in an announcement that blankets an entire state or country. No one knows when “normal” activities like concerts and house parties will resume. For some, school and work have been paused indefinitely.

Mass trauma. Regardless of how long COVID-19 is a problem in the United States and around the globe, people have spent far more time unemployed, anxious, and in isolation than is normal or healthy, and the effects on our psyches will be long-term. We’ve become fearful of everyday things like handshakes and trips to the grocery store; even when this is all over, those everyday things won’t be the same. We are skeptical of one another: Do you have it? Did you just touch something touched by someone who has it? We’ve watched loved ones lose their jobs within days of each other. We’re afraid to go home without a stock of toilet paper, canned food, and cleaning supplies at the ready. We’re accustomed to hearing from our government on whether it’s safe to visit people or go outside. We’re going through the stages of grief. We’re disillusioned.

We are scared.

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Adrianna Nine

Tech & science writer who scribbles about social activism and mental health in her free time.