A couple applaud from their balcony in support of the medical staff that are working on the COVID-19 virus outbreak in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, April 4. AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

I was awarded a Fulbright to conduct research in Spain on medical history and was evacuated with my family in the middle of a global pandemic. Starting March 30, the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez advised citizens to go into hibernation, extending the state of alarm for yet another two weeks with the death toll now measuring over 800 lives lost to COVID-19 each day, making it the leading cause of death in the country. ICUs are overcapacity and overburdened and discussion is in place about moving patients between regional hospitals to make treatment more equitable.

Yet I returned to my home in Maine, not yet having a shelter-in-place issued across the state; one local paper described the response as “middle of the road”. With the lack of executive leadership at a federal level and lack of coordination between states, I have felt concerned we are not learning from our global neighbors. I am grateful to the governor’s new stay at home orders, and I am hopeful my fellow Mainers will listen and call for even stricter measures to be put in place for our state and across the country.

At the start of March, I gave a talk about my research at my university home in Valencia, and later talked with colleagues trying to understand why the city wouldn’t cancel the multi-week international festival Las Fallas while I was tracking Italy’s rising COVID-19 numbers. It’s forty percent of the city’s economy, I was told, it’s part of our family traditionsit’s part of our way of life. The following week, the main festivals were suspended, but local businesses still operated, neighbors frustrated that increasing case numbers in Madrid would impact the life of Valencia (that’s the problem with centralized government). My kids continued to attend school, until a week later, the Spanish government enacted the lockdown. The Fulbright program was promptly shutdown across Europe, voiding our existing visas and health insurance. No choice except for all of us to accept the circumstances of the pandemic.

As I departed from Spain two weeks ago, all non-essential services were suspended, and we returned to our U.S. home in self-quarantine. Meanwhile, I’ve seen US friends and neighbors approach the pandemic with the mindset of unexpected freedom: unstructured time for extra hikes and visits to the beach, reliance on delivery services and activities to occupy life indoors without a lot of reflection about how we define essential, and of course the ongoing and ever frustrating speculation about how the timing of the outbreak relates to our national election and ways we forever politicize our healthcare decisions.

I wake up every morning and continue to track the numbers in Spain. My kids still attending school in Valencia online adds to the feeling that we are in both places at once, but the tracking also confirms for me viscerally the reality of exponential growth that we will most certainly continue to experience in the US, the reality of learning by example and the role of public health experts partnering with government officials in enforcing collective learning.

Let us join our Spanish friends and neighbors in hibernation for collective wellbeing. Urge your local government and neighbors to call for stricter quarantine measures and consider how to contribute to cooperative decision-making between state officials. Let us not be short sighted and superior about our place in the pandemic, and may we wake up again in deep appreciation of the value and everlasting role of global perspectives on health.

Margaret E. Boyle is an associate professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Bowdoin College and a Brunswick resident.

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