A look back on the lives lost and changed by COVID-19

When COVID-19 first came to America in January 2020, the novel coronavirus crept into remote corners of American life, infecting nursing home residents in Seattle and professionals returning from business trips to China.

While the spread accelerated in March, U.S. citizens and University of Miami students were still living their lives under a guise of normalcy, free from the fear of an untimely death. UM President Julio Frenk released a video outlining the safety precautions UM students should take going into spring break. After pleading for cooperation, Frenk declared that no students had tested positive as of March 6.

“To be clear, at this time, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus among members of the University of Miami community,” Frenk said. “Let’s do everything we can to keep it that way.”

An unusually calm campus was seen in March of 2020 after students went home for the spring break that never ended. Photo credit: Rebecca Goddard

The first case of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County was confirmed one week later, prompting UM administration to move classes online for the remainder of the semester. Since the first confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19 in January of 2020, the coronavirus has killed more than 549,000 Americans and infected more than 30 million, nearly 10% of the country’s population. As of March 29, UM has recorded 2,765 positive tests since it’s first confirmed case in August of 2020, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

One thing that does not show up on UM’s dashboard are the stories of students and workers who have been affected by COVID-19. Like the rest of the world, the UM community has suffered through an extraordinarily painful year. Today, students look back at more than a year of living through COVID-19 and share their stories of hardship and grief as the U.S. continues its march toward 600,000 deaths.

‘I never got the chance to see him again.’ Students share how COVID-19 impacted their own families

Marlei Dismuke, a junior transfer student in the Frost School of Music, says she misses her late grandfather, John Carpenter, who died in November after contracting COVID-19. “He wasn’t very talkative, but he was very silly by nature,” Dismuke said. “Most things he said were a joke. He was such a kind soul.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Carpenter, 78, delivered food to the homeless in his hometown of Houston. While Dismuke thinks he may have contracted the virus there, she says the threat of the virus never would have stopped her grandfather from helping.

“My grandmother used to get so upset with him, but he wouldn’t stop regardless of who told him not to go out,” Dismuke said. “I never got the chance to see him again. And I had no idea this was going to happen, and being super far away in a completely different state was really hard to handle.”

Dismuke says her grandfather’s death made her more aware of COVID’s deadly effects. “Stay safe and don’t be reckless; think about others’ lives and how you’re affecting them,” Dismuke said.

Image: Junior Marlei Dismuke remembers her grandfather, John Carpenter. ‘He was such a kind soul.’ Photo credit: Marlei Dismuke

Freshman biology major Amaya Crichton says she did not quite understand the severity of the pandemic until her Aunt Valerie died recently.

“I’m still processing it,” said Crichton, 18. “It was very unexpected, and it’s been a hard hit for my family.”

Crichton says it was especially shocking because her aunt was only in her 50s with no pre-existing health conditions. She remembers playing tennis with her aunt when she would come down to Port St. Lucie.

“This has made me realize how attentive I need to be,” she said. “Life is very fragile.”

In the past three months, Rachelle Barrette, a senior political science and broadcast journalism major, has lost four relatives from COVID-19.

“It’s really overwhelming because I have to worry about school, work, trying to find a job in a pandemic filled with job shortages, all while dealing with family deaths and trying not to catch COVID myself,” said Barrette, 23. “It just beats you up. And you have to continue to go through the days because you have no choice.”

Barrette has lost two grand uncles and two cousins, one of whom was 19, to COVID. Her cousin contracted the virus in a hospital after being admitted following a car accident. Barrette was closest with her granduncle Garnier Lalanne, who died on Feb. 28.

Despite not seeing each other much outside of family reunions and occasional visits from Montreal to Florida, Barrette says she and Lalanne had a comedy-filled and easygoing relationship. After testing positive for COVID-19, Lalanne had a stroke and died in less than three days. He had suffered a stroke about 10 years prior, which Barrette says made his case of COVID-19 more aggressive.

“All these deaths, it makes you want to call people just to say ‘hey’ before they suddenly die,” she said. “This pandemic gives you perspective on who really matters to you, and for me, that’s my mom and my three siblings.”

TMH staff members share their own losses

COVID-19 left no community or organization unscathed. The Miami Hurricane staff, like the rest of the university, was severely affected by the pandemic, with multiple staff writers suffering the deaths of family members.

Jessica Diez, a junior international studies and economics major and Hurricane staff writer, lost her uncle and a close family friend to COVID-19 in early 2020. Both were in their 40s.

Diez says her mother received a call from her cousin in Mexico saying that her uncle was not feeling well, then another call two days later saying he was in the hospital. He died less than a week later.

“It was a crazy wake-up call for everyone around him, especially my grandma, since he was her brother,” Diez said. “That really took a toll on us, and after that, my whole family in Mexico and here were really strict with COVID.”

Diez’s family friend, Roberto, who owned a bakery in Fort Lauderdale and had two young sons, also died from COVID-19 in July shortly after being admitted to a hospital.

“They told his wife that he was getting better, but then the next day, he passed away,” Diez said. “She thought that there was hope, but then there wasn’t hope. It was heartbreaking.”

COVID-19 restrictions prevented Roberto’s family from having a funeral, so Diez and her family gathered around his family’s house to offer support from the safety of their cars. They watched his wife and sons cry on their porch and wished for a day when they could embrace them without fear of infection.

“That’s when it really hit. She doesn’t have a husband, they don’t have a dad, and it was all in the span of only two weeks,” Diez said. “It’s one thing to think about it, but it’s another thing to watch a family experience it.”

Sophomore political science major and Hurricane staff writer Alex Terr lost his grandmother to COVID-19 when Frances Terr, 83, died on the day after Mother’s Day 2020.

Terr’s grandmother contracted the virus while living in a nursing home in New Jersey where the virus spread rapidly at the beginning of the nation’s quarantine. The funeral was held via Zoom to prevent the spread of COVID.

“I remember we had all called her for Mother’s Day,” said Terr. “Not truly being able to say goodbye was hard, obviously it’s not the same. I feel awful for everyone who had to go through that.”

Terr says his grandmother would have preferred that her family come together in person for her funeral. However, he said he believes that she would have been happy knowing that her family found a way to mourn together, even if it was virtual.

“She was always there for you; she always wanted to help out,” Terr said. “Every recital or sporting event, she wanted to bring people together.”

Students faced with fear, worry as family members battle COVID

The presence of a deadly existential threat has left students powerless, isolated and scared for the future. Students have reported feeling that in-person classes and extracurricular commitments bring an added anxiety when conducted in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

Many students, however, say that the main source of their fears is their inability to protect the ones they love. With the majority of 18-22 year olds at low risk of suffering life-threatening complications from COVID-19, they have dealt with other forms of anxiety while juggling school life and commitments with fear for the safety of those they love most.

Sophomore history major Cristian Alvarez says that at the start of the pandemic, he was not aware of how quickly it could affect his loved ones.

“When my mom was rushed to the hospital and none of my family members could be in the room with her, that’s when I knew COVID-19 wasn’t just some cold to fight off,” Alvarez said.

His mother, Gina Alvarez, contracted the virus in early April, and her condition worsened within days of testing positive.

Cristian Alvarez said being separated from his mom was difficult, but after his mother was placed on a ventilator, his separation anxiety was quickly replaced with prayers of survival.

“Waking up and not knowing how my mom was doing and having to tell my younger siblings everything was going to be OK, when I wasn’t sure that was the case, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Cristian Alvarez said.

Gina Alvarez spent two days on a ventilator. When her doctors recommended that she take hydroxychloroquine, an experimental drug to treat severe COVID-19 patients, her family gave the nod of approval.

“It was scary knowing that my mom was one of the first people in the U.S. that was given this treatment, and nobody knew exactly how well it worked,” Cristian Alvarez said. “But when the doctors saw how quickly it was helping her, I was relieved instantly.”

Gina Alvarez made a complete recovery and was released from Baptist Hospital after four days.

“It was the longest four days of my life,” Cristian Alvarez said. “It really made me realize just how serious coronavirus was, because up until then, it was just another headline in the news.”

Image: Sophomore Cristian Alvarez and his mother, Gina Alvarez, who contracted COVID-19. Photo credit: Cristian Alvarez

Freshman graphic design major Ryler Gould worries most that his mother Sasha, a nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, will catch COVID-19 due to her direct contact with contagious patients.

“Knowing your mom has to treat these sick patients who have a killer virus with no cure, it made us all feel really proud of her, my dad and brother and I,” Gould said. “But you can’t help but feel scared, which I know I still feel being far from home.”

Sasha Gould provides patients at the hospital with food, water and other essential care.

“Seeing her having to work basically all day from 6 in the morning to like midnight definitely wasn’t easy,” said Gould, a member of UM’s track and field team.

After the one-year mark since the first reported case of COVID-19 in his city, Gould said that while case numbers are going down, his mother’s hours at the hospital are not.

“It’s crazy when you see all over the news that 500,000 have already died,” Gould said. “I remember even our parents telling us that it wouldn’t last this long, but she works the same hours as she did a year ago.”

Image: Freshman Ryler Gould’s mother works long hours helping COVID patients at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Photo credit: Ryler Gould

For freshman Nikolas Ferreyra, Valentine’s Day was a day of fear and worry.

Ferreyra’s father Walter, 55, was hospitalized in their hometown, Washington, D.C., for respiratory issues stemming from COVID-19. Ferreyra says his family had a lot of tough conversations about the potential outcome of his diagnosis due to his father’s age.

“It threw me off my studies,” said Ferreyra, an international studies major. “I was like, ‘What can I do?’ There’s so much going on that I have no control over.”

At the same time, both of his suitemates tested positive for COVID. Despite testing negative, Ferreyra was worried he may have contracted the virus and put others in danger.

“It was taxing both mentally and physically,” Ferreyra said. “I didn’t really want to do anything because I thought it’s almost as if this is the end of the world… Everything was just going bad.”

Ferreyra says his father fully recovered after just a week in the hospital and that his suitemates have also made full recoveries.

Image: Nikolas Ferreyra, right, worried about his father, Walter Ferreyra, who contracted COVID-19. He has fully recovered. Photo credit: Nikolas Ferreyra

UM freshman Nate Smith says that he worries about how COVID-19 is affecting his 20-year-old brother Brendan, a student with autism at the University of Toledo enrolled in a program designed to help him enter the professional world.

“He was lucky enough to be one of two kids who got to keep some of their jobs… Online class is almost impossible,” said Nate Smith.

Due to his disability, Brendan Smith cannot drive, and has been confined to the house since the start of the pandemic.

“The only thing he can do is bike,” said Nate Smith, who was born in Toledo, Ohio. “Other than that he just has to stay in the house, and it’s been really hard for him to meet people.”

Smith said that the pandemic came at an especially bad time for his brother.

“With him being 20 now, he thought he would finally be getting out of the house,” said Smith, an undeclared major in the School of Communication. “Since I left, Brendan doesn’t always have the opportunity to do pretty much anything… It’s not the life he wanted to live.”

Contracting COVID-19: Lockdown, lingering effects

According to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, 2,765 members of the UM community have tested positive for COVID since August. While no students have died, many have suffered serious and lasting side effects that have prevented them from living their lives as normal.

Athletes at UM have been forced to sit out games, while students have struggled to focus on their studies when isolated in two-week quarantines. Post-infection, UM community members have suffered through trouble breathing, loss of taste and smell, general fatigue and a host of other symptoms that have contributed to the anxieties and struggles of a student body in turmoil.

Johanna Barth, a Swedish soccer player and junior criminology major at UM, contracted COVID-19 in June and returned to Miami in the fall ready to play.

Barth said she did not worry much as she was only sick for about a week with minor symptoms. “Growing up I’ve been a relatively healthy person, and I was fortunate enough to not get sick very often,” said Barth, a junior criminology major.

When she returned to campus months later, she was required to go through a series of tests administered by the athletics department before returning to play. All of her tests were clear and showed no effects from COVID-19.

After returning, Barth said she felt pain in her chest during an early training session.

“I found out that I had complications both in my lungs and in my heart,” said Barth. “It made me have to take three months off from soccer, change my routine and how I lived my life.”

Barth says the athletics staff and her teammates gave her the support she needed to recover.

“I am very grateful that the athletics department invested so many resources in me to make sure I was healthy and continue to stay healthy,” Barth said.

When sophomore biology major Adam Frank tested positive for COVID-19 just weeks before the start of the 2021 baseball season, he worried more about how much time he might miss than how the virus would affect him.

“This is my first season here as a Hurricane, so every practice I have to prove to the coaches I can be in the starting lineup” said Frank, a transfer student from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

The ambidextrous infielder/outfielder said he and his team were excited for the start of a new season, but their enthusiasm took a hit when he and two other players tested positive for the virus.

“I had no symptoms at all,” Frank said. “The only reason I found out I had it was because the baseball team gets tested every week.”

Although he recovered in time to make it on the team’s first road trip of the season, Frank says he found it difficult being confined to his dorm room during quarantine.

“I’m such an outdoor person, which is why I chose to play an outdoor sport… All I could do was go to class on Zoom, do homework and watch Netflix,” said Frank, a New Jersey native. “And as great as that sounds, it gets old after like three days.”

Freshman sociology major Jolie Montlick says the virus has taken a toll on her academic career.

“Still recovering from the virus makes it super hard to concentrate on schoolwork and get it done effectively,” said Montlick, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 1.

“When I had COVID, I had stomach aches, headaches, body aches, fatigue, sore throat and lost my taste and smell,” Montlick said. “Two weeks after I recovered, I started experiencing a cough and body aches and then had a fast heart rate.”

Montlick, who quarantined at home in Vero Beach, Florida, says that even after being cleared by school to return to campus, she was hesitant to resume living in the dorms and attending in-person classes.

“I was worried I wasn’t getting better enough to come back yet, but I wanted to be able to live my college life and be on campus,” Montlick said.

It has been more than a month since Montlick contracted the virus, and while her symptoms have improved, she said she has yet to fully recover.

“I am still struggling and losing a lot of sleep due to my cough and chest pain,” Montlick said.

Image: Freshman Jolie Montlick says she still has COVID symptoms a month after contracting the virus. Photo credit: Jolie Montlick

Sophomore business major Clara Francis says she didn’t understand why her COVID-19 symptoms were so severe while her roommate’s were not.

“My roommate and I actually tested positive for COVID at the same time,” said Francis, who is from Harrington Park, New Jersey.

“I would be in my room coughing so much that I couldn’t even sleep and then crying from being so sleep deprived, and my roommate would text me asking if I needed anything because she felt completely fine,” Francis said.

“She was so scared for me… My heart rate was pounding, I mean soaring high, and I hadn’t moved from my bed all day.”

Francis and her roommate share an apartment off campus and contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the semester. Francis says she suffers from anxiety, and her symptoms caused severe panic attacks.

“I would just scream and cry, and it sucks because doing that would cause me to have an even higher heart rate,” Francis said. “I really didn’t know what to do and neither did she… She had no symptoms, but the effect that mine had on me literally kept her up at night.”

Although she recuperated after four days, some of Francis’ symptoms have persisted.

“I still somehow don’t have taste or smell,” said Francis, 19. “It’s been almost two months since I had the virus and in that time I haven’t enjoyed eating anything.”

Francis says she is eating a lot healthier since she can’t truly taste. Still, she says she hopes to get her taste and smell back sometime soon. “My love for chocolate is too intense,” she said. “I need my taste back.”

Sophomore Jamie Kushnir says it took her three months to recover after contracting COVID-19 over the Labor Day weekend. She still occasionally experiences fatigue.

“It affected my social life, it affected my grades a lot, and it affected my mental health,” said Kushnir, a biochemistry and math major. “It was a really, really bad time for me.”

Kushnir, 19, said her initial symptoms were fatigue, a fever, headaches, body aches, congestion and stomach aches. Although her symptoms have diminished, Kushnir says she now always carries an inhaler with her. Kushnir says that before contracting COVID, she was a healthy person with strong lungs.

“Emotionally, I definitely felt very drained, very lonely,” Kushnir said.

Kushnir said she did not get the virus through partying or similar types of activity. It was simply bad luck, she said.

“I was kind of scared just because you see things in the news about people your age dying from the virus or getting hospitalized from the virus,” Kushnir said. “I definitely didn’t expect three months of lasting effects.”

Image: Sophomore Jamie Kushnir on lingering symptoms of COVID-19: ‘I definitely didn’t expect three months of lasting effects.’ Photo credit: Jamie Kushnir

International student Dahlia Sarda said she thought the coronavirus was going to kill her.

“If I wasn’t concentrating, my body would forget to breathe,” said Sarda, who suffered through four days of troubled breathing. “It was an extremely scary feeling to have to remind yourself to breathe because your body won’t.”

Sarda, 20, didn’t have much help when she caught the virus in late September. She was alone in her off-campus apartment and felt isolated from the world, especially since her entire family is in Switzerland.

“The school did help where it could, but being alone with this…it was terrifying,” said Sarda, a sophomore with an undeclared major. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘could I really die alone here in my apartment? Like would anyone even know?’ ”

Sarda said each day presented a different challenge.

“It was cold sweats or increased heart rate or complete loss of appetite,” Sarda said. “I had to tell myself that even though it’s bad, other people are going through this too, and that I can handle this; I know I can.”

After a full 10 days of symptoms, Sarda began to feel better, just in time for her 14-day quarantine to end.

“Finally, after what felt like forever, I wake up and I feel completely fine,” Sarda said. “I still didn’t have my full smell back, but being able to breathe normally and not feel like I was going to pass out every three seconds, that made me drop to my knees and thank God.”

Sophomore motion pictures major Shane Shakoor says he expected to spend his first weeks of spring semester filming productions, hanging out with friends and adjusting to his new role as a First Year Fellow. His plans were upended when he caught COVID-19.

“When I stood up, I couldn’t even take two steps before losing my breath,” Shakoor said. “I couldn’t even stand in the shower… the fatigue was so bad.”

Following his diagnosis in early January, Shakoor’s world was filled with constant and painful symptoms.

“I had really bad coughs and headaches, a lot of eye pain as if they were about to fall out of my sockets, lots of fatigue, and I definitely fully lost my taste and smell,” Shakoor said. “I had tried to eat the spaghetti the nurses had given me one day, and I couldn’t even taste it.”

Two months later, Shakoor said he still has not fully regained his taste.

“I would say I have about 65 percent of my taste back,” he said.

Shakoor says that his experience made him more hopeful that students would take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Even if it wasn’t a global pandemic, you should be washing your hands,” Shakoor said. “People really need to start taking this seriously because having the virus was not fun at all.”

Image: Sophomore Shane Shakoor says COVID-19 changed his semester for the worse. Photo credit: Shane Shakoor

Student turns homemade board game into business providing relief funds

Kyle Levy, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, said he was able to raise money for charity during the COVID-19 lockdown by selling a board game he created in high school.

“When COVID happened, we found it a little difficult to sell our game, so we said you know what, let’s focus less on selling and more on giving back to the community which had already given us so much,” said Levy, who created the board game Barrier Battles during his junior year of high school.

Barrier Battles, according to their website, is a two person game in which players build forts out of colored blocks to protect their king piece from elimination. It has been shown on Fox 32 News Channel and is available for purchase online.

Freshman engineering major Kyle Levy helped create a board game called Barrier Battles. When his high school could not host its annual Habitat for Humanity charity event during the pandemic, Levy donated half of the proceeds from his game to the cause. Photo credit: Kyle Levy

After his high school cancelled an annual charity event with the organization Habitat for Humanity due to COVID-19, Levy decided to donate half of the proceeds from his small business to the charity. He donated around $300, which comprised about a month’s worth of sales.

“For a small business that was really not pushing a crazy amount of volume, we thought it was pretty good,” Levy said. “It was something we really pushed for. We put some money into advertising to push the cause, so we really did what we could.”

In addition to the charity work, Levy said during the lockdown, his small business would offer no-contact delivery in under an hour for those within 15 miles, and use Instagram live to give tips and tricks to the game.

Levy said he just wanted to alleviate some of the stress people were going through during the lockdown.

“It was just something for people to look forward to; something for people to do in their free time,” he said.

Amid pandemic, student find ways to give back

In the face of the pandemic’s accelerated spread, some UM students have been motivated to use their time and resources to contribute to their communities. As the country and its populace recover from widespread tragedy, these students continue to devote their time and resources to supporting an overwhelmed medical community and nation suffering enormous loss.

Maddy Scott, a marine biology and ecology major from San Diego, says she volunteered to help assemble N-95 masks in the early stages of the pandemic to help those most in need.

“They were going to health workers working on the front lines through various hospitals in San Diego at a time when N-95 masks were really hard to come by,” Scott said. “It was nice knowing that something I was doing was actually having a positive impact in a place that needed it.”

Scott’s mother regularly volunteers and encouraged her to contribute after seeing on the news that more than 300,000 N-95 masks needed to be assembled.

“We essentially would just sit there for like four hours,” Scott said, adding that she enjoyed having something to do after her classes moved fully online in March 2020.

“It was a really nice way to have social interaction while still being safe and doing something productive,” she said. “I think my mom and I assembled around 2,000 masks during our time there.”

Image: Maddy Scott, right, assembles N-95 masks for healthcare workers with friend, Kendall Lincoln, in San Diego: ‘It was nice knowing that something I was doing was actually having a positive impact in a place that needed it.’ Photo credit: Maddy Scott

Freshman microbiology and immunology major David Shannon and other members of 100 Strong, University of Miami’s club for pre-health students of color, volunteered to deliver essential goods to people affected by COVID-19. Members traveled to Overtown and downtown Wynwood on Feb. 20 to pass out care packages of food, toiletries and other necessities to people in need.

“It was a very eye-opening experience and showed me Miami beyond UM’s campus,” Shannon said. “I think it is important for students to go into the city and volunteer because sometimes we get so caught up in a certain lifestyle that we forget about the community around us.”

Shannon says his experience with 100 Strong inspired him to continue volunteering.

“It does not take a lot to make someone’s day,” Shannon said. “Even the acts that you may think are too small go a long way.”

Bela Palicki, a health science major, contracted COVID-19 in July, but by December, she was helping fellow Illinois residents get tested.

“I wanted to do something to help out even if it was small,” said Palicki, who worked as an assistant at Augustus Labs, a COVID testing center in Lombard, Illinois.

Only registered nurses are licensed to administer COVID tests, so Palicki’s job was to gather information from patients getting tested.

“I was putting myself more at risk than anyone because I was running out to people’s cars to get paperwork and handled payments and all that,” said Palicki, a 19-year-old Chicago native. “I was touching credit cards and interacting with people in their vehicles that were giving themselves the test.”

Palicki said she felt obligated to find work in the medical field during the pandemic and was satisfied with the work she did to help.

“I had a guy who was trying to go back home to India but needed the negative test to get on his plane,” Palicki said. “There were a lot of people just trying to fly home; most of the people I remember were in such a hurry because it was a 24-hour turnaround to find out your result.

Image: Health science major Bela Palicki worked as a data entry helper in early December at Augustus Labs, a COVID testing center in Lombard, Illinois. Photo credit: Bela Palicki

Pandemic upends lives of students

Students who have not contracted COVID-19 have still been forced to adjust their lives and plans at a time in their lives when everything is changing. Amid the uncertainty and stress of college life, students are planning for the rest of their lives during a period of momentous upheaval and unprecedented change, all while paying an increased tuition.

Kayla Rivera, a nursing major from Indiana, says that she decided to take a gap year because she did not feel comfortable coming back to school during a pandemic.

“Over the summer when we got the first couple emails having to wear masks on campus and all of the new rules, it freaked me out a little bit,” Rivera said.

Rivera said she was not willing to pay the same tuition for an online education.

“I am spending a lot of money to go there and I wanted to be in person so that was my huge thing too,” Rivera said. “Since I am taking nursing classes I didn’t feel comfortable taking online nursing classes like I really need to be in person to learn.”

Her time off has led to incredible opportunities, including a job as a full-time nurse in Arizona.

“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said. “I have a nursing job now so I’m getting experience, I’ve gotten a great job opportunity and I’ve gotten to move across the country.”

Rivera plans to return to UM for the 2021 fall semester because she worries that more time off could result in a permanent break from higher education.

“It’s dangerous taking a year off,” Rivera said. “I see people take a year off and never come back because life has been so less stressful. I need to go back to school.”

Image: Nursing major Kayla Rivera took a gap year to work as a full-time school nurse. Photo credit: Kayla Rivera

Mia Clarke, a junior global health studies major, was forced to return halfway through her study abroad trip in Seville, Spain, after the spread of COVID-19 accelerated in the spring.

“I was in denial when I found out our program was canceled,” said Clarke, 20. “I cried to my host mom… I was in shock.”

She says she was planning to return to UM in fall 2020 but decided to take the semester off to save money.

“I took this time to explore different things, learn more about myself and my values, and get a bigger picture perspective on life,” said Clarke. “If things had been normal, I don’t know if I would be as appreciative of life as I am now.”

Clarke hoped to return to Spain and intern at a physical therapy office this summer but was informed that her internship has also been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’m trying to be patient and look on the bright side,” Clarke said.

Image: Junior Mia Clarke lost half of her study abroad experience, a semester of college, and her summer internship due to COVID-19. Photo credit: Mia Clarke

Freshman Isabella Tabio says her single mother lost her job as an insurance claims analyst last semester due to COVID-19 layoffs.

“She called me into her room and was crying,” said Tabio, a media management and political science double major. “Never did I think that we would be affected by COVID-19 like this.”

Despite her mother telling her everything was going to be alright, Tabio couldn’t help but wonder how life could go on for her and her sister, who was preparing to leave her hometown Orlando for her first year in college.

“I didn’t understand how we were going to be OK,” said Tabio. “We had to save a lot and be careful with what we were buying.”

Graduate student Josh White is now 1,400 miles away from where he thought he would be working when he accepted his dream job in January 2020.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism last spring, White was hired to be the play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Dogs, an independent professional baseball team in Rosemont, Illinois. He lost his job before it started due to the pandemic and returned to UM for graduate school.

“My options were, I could sit on my parents’ couch or take the next steps in life,” said White, who is pursuing a master’s in business administration.

White says he considered several job offers to stay in the journalism industry. If not for the pandemic, he says he likely would have never gone to graduate school.

“I loved my time at UM so much that that was really the only place, at least in that moment, that I wanted to go back to,” he said.

Finance major and treasurer of the Asian American Students Association Zach Ng planned the highly anticipated annual Lunar New Year Festival. After a spike in on-campus cases, UM was put on lockdown and the event was cancelled.

“That was our only shot at having a great in-person event,” Ng said.

Ng says that many student organizations had events planned for February, all of which were canceled. The effect, Ng says, is lower engagement on campus and less student involvement.

“[COVID-19] is fracturing social interaction on the club side of things,” said Ng, a member of the Delta Sigma Pi Business Fraternity.

Michelle Ng-Reyes’ video production job with UM Athletics came to an abrupt halt when the university went on lockdown during the spring 2020 semester.

Ng-Reyes’ job included working with ACC Network, but she was not given the opportunity to continue virtually during lockdown due to the league’s temporary shutdown.

“I wasn’t fired or laid off, but my boss told me I would return once things got back to normal,” Ng-Reyes said. “I had no idea when that would happen, so that was kind of weird to hear from your boss; that’s kinda scary.”

After countless letdowns and a complete loss of income, Ng-Reyes was hired by a nonprofit to put on a Zoom summer camp.

“Thankfully, I was able to use that money to make it through the summer,” she said.

Image: Michelle Ng-Reyes says she lost her campus job and had to scramble to find a summer internship because of the pandemic. Photo credit: Michelle Ng-Reyes

Rachel Sullivan, Yvanna Bollanga, Kiera Wright, Hadieh Zolfaghari, Clare O’Connor, Solomon Strader, Derryl Barnes Jr., Isabella Cascio, Taylor Shell, Alexander Munroe, Isabelle Eisenberg, Sophia Vitello, Ainsley Vetter, Kendall Onley, Stefany Desroches, Lauren Lennon, Ethan Gany, Alexandria Sharifi, Larry Lopez and Sofia Diaz all contributed to the reporting of this article.