The Pandemic Papers: Jason Gonzalez Tinoco

Jay Gonzalez Tinoco

This essay is part of a series of reflections by UTM visual studies students about the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The essay collection will be donated to Heritage Mississauga where it will become part of the city’s official historical record of everyday life during the global health crisis. Read the full series here >

In this essay, graduating art and art history student Jay Gonzalez TInoco writes losing his retail job, worries about family living abroad, and is surprised to find that he really is a people person.

When COVID-19 was just beginning to spread in China, I was already worried that it might spread outside to other countries just through travel and trade routes. A lot of connecting flights occur in the area where the virus hit first, and I was worried that it might be like the SARS/MERS event in 2003 (of which I have admittedly very little memory, given that I was about six years old).

When the virus spread to North America, my first concern was that it would hit major cities and spread quickly outwards. If there were enough cases in Toronto, with no preventative measures taken, the city would become a mess and all the commuter cities around it would be easy targets. I was anxious given the lack of clear information and abundance of misinformation. The only thing that seemed obvious was that it was very infectious and that those who were most at risk made up a large percentage of people I came into contact with. I already have to be responsible when it’s cold and ‘flu season with my immunocompromised friends.

Almost as soon as schools began to close in the greater Toronto area, I was laid off and my work at the mall was shut down. Then, U of T closed and moved classes online.

Every day that I have a class, I wake up at 8:00 a.m. and read the news over breakfast. I check the World Health Organization situation reports for news of the virus in Venezuela. I see if [Canadian] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made any announcements, and I check my Whatsapp family group chat and try to wade through the hundreds of messages from my grandmother about the virus to see how my relatives outside of Canada are doing.

I am especially concerned about my relatives who had moved to Spain, those in the United States (one of whom is my immunocompromised uncle, who had a double lung transplant in 2019 and is still recovering), and of course those who are still in Venezuela without access to adequate healthcare.

I attend Zoom lectures and take what notes I can. I have the readings pulled up in a separate window so I can try to make connections between what’s being said and what I read. It is becoming increasingly difficult to focus and do any kind of academic reading or assignment when all I can think about is what is going on outside my house in the wider world and how long it has been since I saw people and how ill equipped for isolation I turned out to be.

I have to laugh at myself for spending so long thinking I had to do everything on my own and be alone for non-COVID related reasons only to find that I like being around other people, after all.

Through social media, I can see that people are capable of empathy at this time. I can see that people are also capable of great stupidity and fear mongering, and I wish I could see the former more often than the latter.

I am sick to death of seeing politicians try to use this situation to grant themselves special powers and worsen an already-terrible surveillance- and control-based regime. I am sick of hearing people parrot the same racist and xenophobic rhetoric about the virus’ origins and how it spreads, and I am sick of hearing people try to make light of the viru,s as if those people who are at greatest risk are expendable because they are compromised or elderly or sick already.

This is the only assignment I will have no trouble completing because I need to put all this exhaustion somewhere. I am tired of living in "interesting times.”