“I was born an animal person,” Schwartz says. “I grew up an only child, my parents both worked, and at 10 years old I came home to an empty house—a latchkey kid. I was allowed to have a cat inside the house to keep me company. I had him for 17 years and got married at his grave.”Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world, Schwartz’s daughter was attending an exchange program in Cordova, Spain through Wellesley College. When the program was abruptly canceled and President Trump issued a European travel ban, Amelia was initially uncertain if she, like other US citizens, would be able to return home. Ultimately, though, she managed to secure a flight out from Madrid, Spain’s epicenter of coronavirus infections. When she landed in the US, Amelia didn’t immediately return to her family home to avoid infecting her mother.
[email protected] quickly grew into what its collaborator, the nonprofit Planetary Society, has called its “most successful public participation project ever undertaken.” As WIRED reported in 2000, within months of [email protected]’s launch, more than 2.6 million people in 226 countries were volunteering their spare processing power to parse the mounds of data generated by alien-hunting radio telescopes.
“We don’t know if she had Covid-19,” Schwartz says. “She didn’t have a cough, but she had chest pain, extreme fatigue, sore throat, and laryngitis.” Amelia was sick for 11 days, but eventually went home after three weeks of self-isolation with a relative.Schwartz spends most of her time at home resting with Hannah, her 14-year old Oriental shorthair, on top of her, while Indie, her 9-year-0ld Chinese crested, lays by her side. “I’m never alone. They’re always with me wherever I go,” Schwartz says of the constant presence of her animal companions. “It’s like living under surveillance.”
As a photography professor at William Paterson University, she worries about what will happen when she returns to teaching. “I sit shoulder to shoulder with students,” Schwartz says. There’s no six feet of separation. There are, like, 16 computers in that room that are really close together.”
Despite the stay-at-home order, Schwartz can still focus on her two favorite subjects. “I didn’t change anything for this assignment,” she says. “It’s not like I didn’t know what I would do. My stuff is about Amelia and my animals. It’s who I am. This is my daughter and my animals but more confined.”
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