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Online shopping is an unprecedented and life-saving tool during this pandemic

A commissioned painting by artist and former Western student Julia Vassallo. // Photo by Julia Vassallo.

For those who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, as well as for those who are doing their part in flattening the curve by staying home, online shopping is a crucial resource. For small artists and businesses, the ability to sell products online during this time is necessary for financial survival.


By Kaelin Bell

A deadly virus has swept the globe. Shops are closed. Health care workers and supplies are scarce. Many people have lost their jobs and everyone is encouraged to stay home and wear protective masks when going in public. People are scared, uncertain and tired of waiting for the world to go back to normal.

While this may all sound familiar, I’m not talking about the current COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the last major pandemic occurred when influenza swept across the globe in 1918 — for perspective, that’s nearly 10 years before the first television was invented. We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were 100 years ago when it comes to technology, and the way we are adapting to our “new normal” reflects our cultural shift into the age of the internet.

Take a moment to reflect on all of the challenges that have come along with the COVID-19 outbreak. Now imagine facing our current predicament without the internet and the resources that come along with it. In this time of crisis, online resources for buying and selling are keeping people and businesses across the globe alive.

Between online shopping and the trend of grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants offering online ordering and contactless deliveries and pickups, people who are at a higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 are able to dramatically limit their exposure while still meeting all of their needs — something that would have been impossible several decades ago.

“My wife does our shopping online so we don’t have to worry about being exposed to the virus,” said Ed Webber, a 77-year-old Blaine resident who lives with Parkinson’s disease, putting him at a significantly higher risk of getting sick. “That’s the thing that’s so worrisome. You don’t know what you’re going to run into.”

Ed’s wife, Normita Webber, does the shopping and relies on Costco’s online ordering system to purchase essential products. “It’s much easier to go online and see what you’re getting,” Mrs. Webber said. “I think we’re getting used to it because it’s been a month now. We just stay home and try to do the best we can here.”

While millions of people in the United States are out of work due to mandatory shutdowns of nonessential businesses, many have taken to the internet to supplement their income.

“Because of this pandemic, I was laid off from my day job working at a car museum,” said former Western student Julia Vassallo, who runs her own photography business and paints both for leisure and for commission. “Every aspect of this pandemic has affected my photography business. I have had to cancel every future shoot that I have within the next few months, for health and legal lockdown reasons, which has hurt me financially.”

Although it’s frustrating having to cancel plans and shelter-in-place until further notice, being required to stay at home has a silver lining for Vassallo and many other artists.

“My art business has actually been picking up,” Vassallo said. “I do my art at home and mail the commissions, so it’s safe for both me and my clients. I can run my art business with zero physical contact; people will inquire about a commission, send photos of what they want painted, pay online and then I mail the art.

These are unprecedented times, but we also have unprecedented resources. Whether it’s an immunocompromised community member in need of groceries or a small business trying to keep their bills paid, anyone with access to the internet can safely complete their transactions and limit their risk of contracting or transmitting the virus.

Looking back at the influenza pandemic of 1918 can help put things in perspective and alleviate some anxiety. If humans over 100 years ago were able to rebuild after such a massive tragedy, who’s to say that humans now can’t as well?

We are resilient by nature, and by looking out for each other and contributing what we can, we can alleviate some of the strain inflicted by social distancing and the ever-developing COVID-19 situation. I shouldn’t have to write this, but I will nonetheless — be kind and patient to others, stay at home when you can and treat essential workers with respect and appreciation. Many of them are doing truly life-saving work.

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