Siri Thorson, Letter From An Islander In France
I am a resident of San Juan County. I grew up on one of the small non-ferry islands, and members of my family including my parents still live there. Currently I am in a small town about 40 miles southeast of Paris. I was here visiting my boyfriend who is French when the COVID-19 outbreak began. Because I was in a safe and stable situation here, I chose not to return to the US as planned and instead remain here for the foreseeable future while the coronavirus crisis unfolds. It was a very difficult decision, but keeping my family, friends, and everyone in the San Juans safe is more important than my desire to be in the islands right now. I wanted to reach out today and offer my personal perspective on the situation in France in the hope that it might be useful or interesting to someone.
Here in Western Europe we are further ahead in the progression of both the virus and the containment measures than in the US, and it is very strange, stressful and often frightening to watch things as they unfold slowly back home. At the moment the entire country of France is on day 4 of mandatory lockdown. All non-essential businesses are closed. Everyone who is not working in a service deemed essential is required to stay at home, full stop. We are only permitted to leave our homes to buy groceries, for health and emergency reasons, or to get some exercise alone. Any time we want to leave, we are supposed to fill out a form (either printed from the internet or hand written) that explains what we are doing, where we are going, and is signed and dated. People who are caught violating these directives can be fined about $145, but they are considering raising it to about $400 because so many people are still not respecting the rules.
These measures may sound extreme, harsh, and maybe even absurd, but in my opinion they are direly important and necessary. The virus is exploding here. It is no longer abstract. It is no longer someone else’s problem. Two nights ago an acquaintance of mine who lives in Paris was rushed to the hospital because she was so ill with fever, in excruciating pain, and had fainted during a coughing fit. She is 26 years old, in excellent health, with zero underlying conditions. She tested positive for COVID-19 and is now, thankfully, recovering at home. While at the hospital she saw other young people there as well, one of whom was coughing blood. If there is any doubt left in anyone’s mind that this virus is serious, and that it can affect young healthy people just as easily as older or more fragile people, that doubt needs to disappear right now.
I am sure that most people in the islands are already taking this situation seriously, particularly considering that some of the first cases in the US happened practically on their doorstep. But just in case there is anyone out there still thinking that this is media hype, that this will all be over soon, that we can go on with life as normal right now, I wanted to share what I have seen here and what I know to be absolutely true. The actions that you all take today, RIGHT NOW, will save the lives of people – not people somewhere else, in another country or state or county, but people that you know. People that I know. The virus is coming whether you like it, and whether you believe it, or not.
Sending so much love to everyone in the islands and wishing I was home. Please feel free to use or quote me on any of this, I’d also be happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability. Spreading info is just about the only thing I can do to feel sane right now!