COVID Diaries


People who are essential workers, people whose loved ones fight on the frontline of the pandemic, people who have seen the impact of COVID-19 on the strawberry industry. People who bake bread and film TikTok dances to pass the time. People whose lives have been drastically impacted by the events of the past few months. People who don’t know what the next few months may look like.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every facet of life in the United States and around the world — including San Luis Obispo. University President Jeffrey Armstrong announced in March that the Spring 2020 quarter would be held entirely online, and the plan for Fall 2020 still remains unclear. Students and professors alike have adjusted their classes to fit a virtual format in order to uphold shelter-in-place orders from the state of California. Some students moved back home for the quarter; others stayed in San Luis Obispo.

As journalism students, we’re used to talking to people, face-to-face. An assignment before the pandemic often involved walking up to a stranger in the University Union and getting less than six feet apart to ensure our recordings are crisp. Like most people, we’ve had to adapt. This quarter, journalism students took to the internet to  talk with people about their experiences in shelter-in-place.

Now, they are tasked with writing the first draft of the history of a global pandemic. Here are the stories they wrote — and their own stories.


An essential worker, a first generation student, an international student, a DJ, a graduating senior, a resident advisor. These are their shelter-in-place stories.

Caring for rescue cats at Cal Poly Cat Program

Alison Chavez is the co-manager of the Cal Poly Cat Program. She said there was a spike in adoptions and willing volunteers since shelter-in-place began. 

“I decided to go door-to-door and say ‘Hi, I’m Shaun, if you ever need anything, I have a truck and make weekly grocery runs.’ So now once a week I get lists from several students and I go to Ralphs and simply drive to each building to deliver,” business administration sophomore Shaun Tanaka said. “It’s really no big deal, but I feel like I just adopted seven kids.”

“I have to finish my project and I want to finish my project.”

The good news for horticulture and crop science graduate student Omar Gonzalez Benitez is that the strawberries are still dying. The bad news is that the industry might be going with them.

“Maybe, just maybe, staying in the U.S. wouldn’t be the best choice, given the situation. Because the architecture industry is not thriving.”

A cancelled internship during a global pandemic has thrown architecture senior Miaoxin Wang’s plans for a loop.

The show must go on— livestream

From a postponed Shabang to DJ livestreams to SoundCloud albums, the San Luis Obispo music industry adjusts to the lack of live concerts.

“The last college class I went to, I had no idea it was my last one.”

Labs mean something different for mechanical engineering senior Makenzie Kamei now that classes are virtual.

“We are going to be known as that one year of people who didn’t get that chance.”

Walking the stage at graduation is something people remember for the rest of their lives, a celebration of all the hard work to get that degree. But for first-generation students like Erika Collucci, it is something even bigger.

Right now work is slow, computer science senior Mya Hauck said, and it is mostly just the “regulars” who come in for drinks. “I think it’s hard for me to figure out how to act in public situations right now,” she said. Hauck worries about the health of the customers, as well as herself, but said she has been doing everything she can to stay safe right now – she wears her mask at work and washes her hands consistently.

“As soon as we start stepping outside and hanging out with people again, we will get that initial rush of dopamine and everyone will be super happy and excited. But we will look back on quarantine and realize, these are some of the things we took for granted— attending class in bed, having flexible schedules, playing a lot of video games. Do what you can to recognize that.”


Mustang News asked their Instagram followers about their shelter-in-place habits. Here were their responses.

Solena Aguilar | Mustang News
Solena Aguilar | Mustang News


For their first assignment of the quarter, students in Advanced News Reporting wrote personal anecdotes about their experiences in shelter-in-place.

“Every morning, she wakes up and has some symptoms. She feels achy. She has a fever. Or she has a sore throat. And the entire family gets worried. And within the hour those symptoms disappear. And we all calm down.”

Whenever I hear the loud, grinding sound of our old garage door opening, I feel relief. Every day, I read so many stories about essential workers acting as “heroes” during this pandemic. Stories applauding everyday workers. Putting them on pedestals. Worshipping them. 

But none of these stories account for the dangers the workers face everyday. Many did not sign up for these situations but have no choice but to partake in them. My mom is one of these essential workers.

She works in the pharmacy of a hospital, so I understand why she is essential. But she also can work from home. I get worried when she travels 30 miles everyday to work in a large hospital that takes in so many coronavirus cases. She is needed, so I understand.

Every morning, she wakes up and has some symptoms. She feels achy. She has a fever. Or she has a sore throat. And the entire family gets worried. And within the hour those symptoms disappear. And we all calm down.

And then she leaves. For 10 hours, working hard, fighting the virus in the pharmacy. Everyday, there are more horror stories of the dangers she faces working in a contagious area. Everyday, she puts herself into even more danger for us.

But everyday she returns, as healthy as she can be. The garage door grinds open yet again. And somehow, just in that moment, we breathe easier.

-Life with an essential worker by Jazmyn Gray

“Even following all of the safety precautions and social distancing, employees still fear that they could end up sick.”

“Is anyone inside your home feeling sick?” Jennifer Hodgins, my mother and co-owner of Stewarts De-Rooting and Plumbing, asks every client before agreeing to a job.

Considered an essential business, my family owned plumbing company requires my parents and brother to be gone all day, working in people’s houses and putting themselves at risk for COVID-19. Even following all of the safety precautions and social distancing, employees still fear that they could end up sick.

The company now completes emergency jobs only, but the four plumbers who work for the company still normally have to go inside a client’s home to fix the issue.

Employees are fitted with gloves and masks, but the office still requests that the owners or tenants stay a minimum of six feet away while the plumber is inside the home or on the property.

For me, it is extremely nerve racking because even with these extra precautions, there are so many risks involved during this time, and I want nothing more than to keep my family and the client’s families safe as well.

Please, for the sake of my family and yours, stay home and stay safe so that we can get back to normal sooner rather than later.

—An Essential Business by Lauren Hodgins

When I reflect on the changes we’ve all had to adopt during this pandemic, it is easy some days to feel overwhelmed with the challenges this pandemic has brought not just to myself, but to the people closest to me along with the rest of the world.

Fortunately, my father and my sister are able to work remotely from our apartment in San Jose. My mother, however, was one of the millions of Americans in the nation who filed for unemployment when the dental office she worked at closed.

After working at the dental office for the past 15 years, it was a tough transition when my mother initially filed for unemployment. As the weeks went on, her uncertainty about if she’ll have a job when businesses open grew into anxiety over her lack of control in her job security.

But I often remind her about the positive aspects of living under these conditions and how she can focus on what she can control while spending more time with us at home. This was the time where Mom also rediscovered her culinary skills, and even taught me how to make some of my favorite dishes I’ve grown to love in my Latino culture. My mother showed me what goes into making dishes like pozole, menudo, and tacos de pescado (otherwise known as fish tacos) which helped relieve her pent up anxiety.

During the weeks in late March to early April, her fears calmed down as we all adapted to living in isolation and found comfort in being in each other’s presence.

Being quarantined over the past couple months has made me more appreciative of the time I’m able to spend with my family, even under these unforeseen circumstances.

Despite experiencing the negative effects this global pandemic brought to the people closest to me, keeping the perspective of not having to worry about the health and well-being of my friends and family allows me stay positive.

—A Work in Progress by Eric Villalpando

“It has not been since we were very young that we have had this much time together. I look at this as one of the silver linings of quarantine.”

My sister and I have never truly been close. Personality wise, we are quite different. I am constantly at some type of social gathering, where she prefers to stay home. I am more academically focused, where her skills really come out through her creation of music. I am outspoken, where she is more reserved. Our age difference made it so that she was always entering the school that I was leaving, so we have always been at different stages of our lives.

It has not been since we were very young that we have had this much time together. I look at this as one of the silver linings of quarantine. Since I am quarantined in my childhood home with my family, it has given me the opportunity to see the individual my sister has grown into.

She is a wonderfully complex woman who has such an interesting take on the world. She has a fiery spirit inside and a killer wit, which I never knew she had. She is learning who she is and what she wants in this life. It has been a beautiful process to witness and I am glad to be a part of it.

Out of all the negatives and positives this pandemic has brought, I am glad that I have been given a chance to get to know a person I love more deeply. I am so excited to welcome her to Cal Poly as an incoming freshman this fall.

—Sisters by Helyn Oshrin

The front yard of my rental house in San Luis Obispo was a gardener’s nightmare. When I first moved in, the dirt was so dehydrated and compacted that it resembled rock more than soil. The only vegetation grew by accident— a mixture of weeds and palm tree sprouts that had fallen from the tree next door.

For the past two years that I’ve lived in this house, I’ve tried to make small improvements to its appearance. At first, I planted a few flowers and covered the ground with wood chips. It was an improvement, but still not the aesthetic excellence that I had been striving for.

When the shelter-in-place order was enacted, I knew that it was the perfect time to start a project, and what better place to start than my own front yard? I decided to undertake the very project that so many of my close friends and family had advised me against: growing grass in my front yard.

I was told that it would be too time-consuming, a lot of work, and not worth the money it would cost. But $35 and two weeks later, I have green grass in my front yard and a long-term project to keep me busy.

I spent the past two years slowly improving and hydrating the soil so that it is more nutrient-dense and habitable for plants. I started by raking away the wood chips, loosening the soil with a shovel, laying top soil, then sowing grass seed. Three weeks after planting the seeds, this project still gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I wake up and I’m excited to water the new grass sprouts.

—Two Weeks and $35 Later by Sophia McDevitt

I’ve been a movie fan for a long time. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of movies — old movies, new movies, weird movies, bad movies, and foreign movies. So when the quarantine hit, I convinced my roommates to take a deep dive into the world of movies we either haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in a longtime. 

Beers in hand, we had one goal: one movie every night of our two week-spring break. Here were some highlights.

Drive (2011)

I actually had the pleasure of seeing Drive in the Palm Theatre for a film class a while back, and my professor summed up the movie best when he said, “this is a movie about a guy who drives a car.” Our favorite thing about this movie was the aesthetic and the music — 80’s music, neon lights, and Ryan Gosling getaway driving in Los Angeles. One of my roommates got sick of all the “art housy” directing, while my other roommate was wondering how Ryan Gosling could be so damn charming without saying a word.

The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse had us losing our minds. We knew initially that the movie would be about Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe going crazy working in a lighthouse, but by the time we got to the scene where Pattinson’s character has a five-minute curse chanted at him by Dafoe’s character, we were sold. Throw in some sea mythology and some absolutely shocking imagery and we had a real winner for the night. 

Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (2005) 

You probably know Revenge of the Sith and some things about it: the acting is horrible, some plot-points don’t make sense, and it’s incredibly corny. But, you will absolutely believe we were dying of laughter watching this movie. Some of our favorite scenes: When Obi-Wan jumps to Grevious and says, “hello there!”; when Emperor Palpatine yells “ultimate power!” and Darth Vader’s ridiculous “noooo!” at the end of the movie.

500 Days of Summer (2009)

This movie had all of us groaning with its corniness and for making its lead girl the most impossibly quirky, cute and interesting person in New York City, but I still loved watching this movie. In spite of itself, 500 Days of Summer still manages to tell a heartfelt story of relationships, moving on, accepting loss, and learning that you will never meet a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in real life. Oh, and when the girl at the end of the movie introduced herself as Autumn, we managed to groan and laugh at the same time.

—As Many Movies as Possible by Jarod Urrutia

“I could learn a new language, take up crocheting or try to get into really good shape — but none of those things are going to happen. And that is ok.”

I have had a lot of time on my hands, which I have used to learn how to make boba from scratch, watch Tik Tok videos, chop half of my hair off, paint, watch more Tik Toks videos, social distance, binge-watch Westworld, Tik Tok videos, and lots and lots of schoolwork of course.

And yet, I still feel like I am not doing enough.

I could learn a new language, take up crocheting or try to get into really good shape — but none of those things are going to happen.

And that is ok.

In a world full of possibilities and constant pressure to better yourself, we are lost and perplexed when it also tells us to stop and do nothing.

I have been amazed by the talent and skill that has arisen out of people during this time, but I also need to remind myself that it is ok to not be good at everything — or even a lot of things.

I am also amazed by the good that has come out of people who are willing to put the wellbeing of others before their own personal desires and who are doing their part to help healthcare systems around the world.

I guess my point is, there are worse things than being bored and it will make doing the normal things only that much better when this is all over.

—Too Much and Too Little: The Time Warp That is Quarantine by Sydney Sherman

Homemade face masks. Reading books. Trying new recipes. At-home yoga classes. Painting your own room decor. Daily workouts. Journaling. Themed happy hours over Zoom.

These are a few of the things everyone seems to be doing in quarantine, from my college roommates to the random people going viral on TikTok — but I can’t relate. And that’s okay.

Between work, classes and the occasional run I go on after I’ve somehow convinced myself that I enjoy cardio, I haven’t done many profound activities in quarantine. However, I have celebrated my mom’s birthday, played with my sister’s new puppy and learned how to play backgammon (which isn’t as boring as I expected). My days may feel mundane in comparison to what I see on social media, but I’ve accepted that I don’t have to do every exciting thing others post about for my time in quarantine to be valuable.

Besides, winning the first round of a game your dad just taught you is a decent enough quarantine accomplishment in my books.

—Finding Peace with my Lackluster Quarantine by Miranda Knight

I don’t particularly mind quarantine. I know most people are going a little nuts since they have to stay inside, but I can’t say I share the same feelings as they do. Although my classes are fully online, I lost my part-time job and my grandma is stuck in a foreign country because of travel restrictions (don’t worry, Grandma Capinpin is okay), my day-to-day life honestly hasn’t changed too much.

I can still do the same things I usually do. I still go to class every week thanks to Zoom. I still get to see my close friends through Discord and play PC games with them. And I still read everyday (my normal life is boring, I know).

On the bright side, I think the quarantine (R.I.P my part-time job) has given me more time to do the things I want to do. It has even given me the opportunity to focus on keeping myself healthy and in shape. Unlike past quarters, I have been able to exercise nearly every day and cook meals most of the time instead of buying fast food to save time.

I don’t think the quarantine is that bad, but of course I would still prefer that the pandemic dies down. But until then, I am going to continue doing what I usually do and keep looking at the brighter side of these COVID times.

—The Brighter Side of These COVID Times by Aaron Capinpin

“I used to like the nighttime, but now I wish that the sun would just sit at the horizon of the water through the night until COVID-19 is gone.”

I’ve always appreciated sunsets, whether it be at the beach or from the patio of my house, but watching sunsets didn’t become a part of my daily routine until COVID-19. Currently, I live up in San Luis Obispo, and the sunsets lately could not have been more colorful or vibrant. The sunsets in the past usually marked the beginning of a night filled with friends and socializing, but lately the sunset has become a mark for a night to myself. Now, an average night-in consists of scanning books or Netflix until my imagination has drifted into the conversations of fictional characters and stories, an escape from current reality.

I used to like the nighttime, but now I wish that the sun would just sit at the horizon of the water through the night until COVID-19 is gone. When the sun does sink into the sea, I find that my motivations sink with it. I now look at the day as a budget; there are things that I need to do like running, surfing, hiking and simply being outside, but there is also school. School is a struggle as I have always been a pen and paper type of guy, but looking at screens for most of the day strained my retinas to where I simply can’t sit through an entire movie come the darkness of night. The sunset has become a great reminder to me that I must seize the day in order to become content with nighttime. As we come closer to summer, the days get longer and the dream of the neverending sunset teases reality.

—Sunsets by Mason Lindh

I like to call them “low morale days.” 

You know, the ones that feel five years long even when it’s sunny outside. 

Or how ‘bout this – the ones that don’t get intimidated by hard deadlines or high stakes. You could have an assignment due tomorrow that your degree or your career or your family literally depends on…and it doesn’t matter. These days don’t care. 

You have a sheet of paper labeled “To Do” for these days. So it’s not a matter of having “nothing” to do…

You even had a good day yesterday. So it’s not a matter of having only bad days… 

And still, these low morale days hit. They are drawn out. They are dry. And they are dull. 

Sometimes I let them hang around, like that one friend who always overstays her welcome. 

Or sometimes I try to ice them out, like you would to a sister you’re fighting with. 

And I guess that’s the point then, huh…of all this… 

To figure out how to soften their blow. So the high morale days get the spotlight. 

High morale days feel like gratitude. 

No, seriously, they feel like the literal word “gratitude.” 

It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny outside because if it’s not, you’re “in the mood for gloom” anyways. 

Everything your mom does is worthy of sainthood and everything your dog does is the cutest thing ever and everything your twin sister does makes you realize how cool it is to have a twin sister. 

On these days, you have time to finish your school work, you have time to get a workout in, you have time to Facetime your boyfriend, and you have time to bake a cake. 

These days are the ones where you don’t think about the virus and you don’t think about the “what if’s.” Everything you think about is in the moment, and most of the time, it feels productive. 

And I guess that’s the point then, huh…of all this… 

To figure out how to learn from them both. 

Both the high and the low. 

Both the glory days and the dog days of quarantine. 

—The Dog Days of Quarantine by journalism junior Ivy Yahnke

For as long as I can remember I have been rigid and strict in following a routine. My day is always scheduled out in my planner, hour by hour, to a T. I know what I am supposed to be doing and when. It gives me a sense of purpose, meaning and focus. And although being an avid planner helps me achieve my goals, I hate to admit this is my biggest weakness.

Prior to the stay-in-home order, I spent the majority of my day at Cal Poly. Walking from class to class, going to work, studying in the library, working out at the Rec center and spending way too much money at Shake Smart became my normal routine for the past three years. This was normal for me. Having a routine was comfortable and made me feel secure.

The shelter-in-home order has taught me a lot about how much I rely on routines. The beginning was really hard for me, but I learned to slow down my mind and appreciate the things around me.

Watching the sunset on a weekday, walking around my neighborhood with my roommates, online yoga classes in my garage, telecommuting to work and baking ridiculous amounts of banana bread have become my new normal and honestly I love it.

It’s weird to think I haven’t had a “normal life” for almost two months. I pride myself in my attention to detail and time management skills, yet I am learning a balance with that. Slowing down and appreciating what I have in front of me rather than trying to control every little detail of my future has been such a relief of my mental, emotional and physical health.

—Staying Home and Letting Go of Control by Emily Mahoney