The news of a spreading virus escalated at an unpredictable pace. I can clearly recall packing for my study abroad experience in late february and hearing about escalating cases of the virus in Europe. Italy had was beginning to struggle. I collected all my essential and even packed a cloth face mask. “Just in case there ever is a need to wear a mask for some days in Buenos Aires to prevent what happened in China” I thought to myself naively.
During my layover in Colombia, I saw some people wearing masks, definitely a minority. As a herd instinct, I put mine on. This, however, was before any case had reached Latin America.
I recall hearing about the first case of the virus. The man had traveled from Italy within the same week I had traveled to Buenos Aires. In fact, he was in a hospital only a couple of blocks from my apartment in Buenos Aires.
I started worrying about how close to us the virus was hitting. Along with my flatmates, we worried for my host mother, a woman in her early seventies. The news and messages about the virus in Buenos Aires were starting to increasingly circulate everywhere. Social media. Classes. The dinner table. Even before leaving for Argentina, I remember talking to people and being concerned about the amount of contact, trade, and movement between Argentina and Italy. Even when a few more cases started emerging in Argentina, there was a prevailing thought among locals that this was containable. And this gave us all a sense of certainty. False and unfounded certainty. “If we can contain those cases coming from abroad, and avoid any in-country spread, we will be fine” my host mother said.
In hindsight, it seems naive to think that the local spread of the virus would be avoidable. In the first weeks, we were all maintaining our regular lifestyles. Taking public transportation. Eating steak at outdoor restaurants.