Dispatch From San Francisco: A City Adjusts To The New Normal


By Nayan Jha

Monday Mar 16, the mayor of San Francisco published the “Shelter in place” notice. “Social distancing”, “flattening the curve” & “pandemic” not only entered the lexicon but began dominating the chatter. Isolation felt like the most important social responsibility given the situation. My company (along with a few others) had mandated work from home a week ahead of this announcement. This coupled with serious uptick in locally reported cases & volatility in the stock market escalated the threat stature of COVID-19It was no longer “just the flu” impacting distant lands but a formidable enemy breaching the shore.

What does it feel like though ?

In the beginning panic ruled, then things started to settle down. Stores were open but it took some additional managerial maneuvers to keep the shelves stocked . Memes had already made the toilet-paper-hoarding trend globally and folks still continued emptying the aisles. Travel plans were cancelled, gyms/activities were called off & arrangements were made to work from home for an extended period. Parents faced an additional challenge of childcare arrangements with many of the schools announcing closures. In a matter of a few hours Coronavurus had descended from the screens to every individual’s living room.

The next morning streets were empty. Restaurants were closed (except takeout) & so were malls, bars and cinemas. The lines between work life and personal life started to blur. Funnily enough the pressure to feel productive in this strange time meant being even more responsive over emails and pings. Tips on “How to stay productive” came in abundance but I daresay lacked effectiveness. ‘Reading the room’ in business meetings now also included watching out for toddlers jumping in front of VC screens.

I didn’t particularly handle my first couple weeks of isolation too well. Here are a few things I would want to tell my past self if given the chance

Routine’s important: Do what you must to keep your sense of calm
News is great but not required every hour. Especially when your social feeds is experiencing a deluge of re-shares
Check in with friends & family. There might be extraneous variables in someone’s life complicating the situation
Feels like you are achieving nothing and that isolation is an overreaction. Good. That’s the point. Effective measures mean we will avoid facing the worst.
Think before you buy. One person’s luxury shouldn’t trump another’s necessity.
Support your local businesses which are directly affected.

There are others who can speak to the medical aspects of the crisis much better. I will limit myself to saying that it’s imperative we cooperate and let our healthcare professionals deal with this pandemic without introducing complications. Before stepping out ask yourself once “Can it wait?”. If you want to educate yourself on the current crisis, here are some articles from verified sources that I found helpful.

We will overcome this, how soon and how effectively depends on our collective collaboration & will. Be the wall that breaks the chain. Stay safe. Though physically slightly distant, we remain closer than ever.

(Author is based in San Francisco. He is associated with a tech company)

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