Anna Maltby encouraged Medium writers to reflect on the pandemic, now that it has been a full year since the first lockdowns. Here is my story.
I knew about the coronavirus in January of 2020 because of a few of the blogs and people I follow online (Years ago I thought Ebola was going to get out of hand, thankfully it didn’t). This is because I occasionally keep abreast of conspiracy subjects. I decided to prepare for quarantine and lockdowns in February, when Italy was beginning to shut down sections of its country. I remember convincing my mom to do a shop with me at Costco to stock up on supplies. I definitely didn’t need half of what I got, but who knew the right proportions?
I remember shopping at Walmart and local grocery stores, picking up a few items here and there I thought I would need, and I felt an uncanny sense of doom, like I was in the first scene of a zombie film before anyone knew something was terribly wrong. This is because everything was perfectly normal, no one else was buying nonperishables, people seemed blissfully unaware, the toilet paper aisle was stocked to the brim.
Members of my family made fun of me for prepping. They didn’t take the virus seriously. I was the first to bring up the virus to my coworkers and we all started tracking its progress together. Every day I was consuming everything I could about the virus, wondering when the WHO (World Health Organization) would declare it a pandemic. I was able to convince several of my coworkers to prep for quarantine. I also remember masks being nonexistent, and people punished for price gouging limited supplies on masks and hand sanitizer.
Then the virus hit close to home. An employee who worked in the office was tested positive for coronavirus (back when getting tested was very difficult, I had another coworker who was deathly ill with a flu-like virus and he was unable to get tested). Because we only had one men’s bathroom, I and a few coworkers decided to self-quarantine. We felt it was the right thing to do because we had no idea if we had the virus or not (we were focused on the R number of the coronavirus, and its wild asymptomatic spread; does anyone talk about that anymore?). In the ensuing weeks I had a minor cold, but I couldn’t return to work, my sales team and I were suddenly laid off.
So I stayed home and got a lot of projects done and spent time with my family. I signed up for unemployment insurance and was able to get it, and man, was it good with the extra 600/week. I was laid off for four weeks. During this time I began to experience cabin fever with my family; we live in a small home with one small active child. I was envious of the people who were unemployed, making bank, and spending their time playing video games or binging TV. Not because I wanted to do the same thing, but because I wanted to have uninterrupted time to learn a skill, specifically: learn to code. I felt annoyed reading news of snacking and drinking going up, time on Netflix becoming ridiculous, and other shenanigans. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the time to gain a skill, because when you have a toddler, your time is not your own. Who knows how many parents suffered during lockdowns. I know abuse and divorce increased. Parents have been unsung heroes of this era.
Returning to work was shocking. Less than half of the people who used to work in the office were gone, still on unemployment. Others worked from home. I was the only sales person in my section to return. It was eerie because my coworkers’ desks were exactly as they were the last time they were in the office weeks ago. It was as if an apocalypse really did hit and these people died. Their desks remained untouched until they slowly returned, one by one, months after I did.
I was bitter about this. I was ordered to come back to work because I was considered essential. I worked for an HVAC company making cold calls to set up sales appointments for energy audits. Our energy audit department was completely shut down and the State had put their payments for audits on hold. So what was I selling? Air purifiers. Nothing but air purifiers. Guess what? Nobody wanted anyone to come into their house! We sold hardly any purifier systems and my commission was the worst it had been. I missed out on over $10,000 in unemployment, money my coworkers got for sitting at home playing Call of Duty, so I could come back and sell a few air purifiers. I was livid and my work ethic plummeted.
During this period the months slipped by quickly. Masks and toilet paper became available again. My family members who were originally dismissive of coronavirus were now the most militant about following procedures. Coronavirus stole my brother’s family from me. This was a great hardship, not for me in particular, but for my child, who was no longer able to play and connect with her cousins. This is because my brother and his wife have comorbidities and they are terrified of contracting the virus. They were the only people I knew who self-quarantined for two weeks every time they went out. They are still like this one year in and we have only seen them a couple of times for social distance gatherings outdoors.
Here I will mention how some other people we knew dealt with the virus. One of my wife’s friends is a nurse. She works on the frontlines. Through her we got a lot of inside information. I remember being nervous to have her visit with us because I didn’t want to catch the virus from her if she were asymptomatic. I felt a physical revulsion and resistance to her being around. But, like an animal slowly warming up and feeling safe in the presence of a human, I gradually got over it and realized we could have her visit and be safe. Another of my wife’s friends was terrified of the virus and would only do social distance visits outdoors for the first few months. She too gradually came to dismiss the virus as any big deal and started feeling comfortable visiting us in the old fashion. My wife’s mother is still militant about masks, but oddly not about social distancing unless she is recognizing others not doing it.
I distinctly get the impression most people would not wear a mask if it were not mandatory. I left my sales job for something healthier, where I could lose weight by doing a lot of walking, so I got a job in retail. I’ve been in retail for half a year now and none of my coworkers have gotten sick. I still don’t know anyone in my social circle who has tested positive for the virus. Life goes on as usual except for the masks and needing to quarantine and be tested if you get sick (any kind of sickness it seems, even if you only have one symptom).
When I reflect on how I have adapted over the past year I would put it as follows:
- I think the masks help because people are not touching their face until they have at least washed their hands.
- I wear a mask for nine hours a day at work, and while I have mostly gotten used to it, I still find it uncomfortable and inconvenient. That is fairly minor however, the biggest thing I miss is seeing people smile. I like to joke around and make people laugh, not being able to see smiles, and not knowing what my coworkers faces look like has been difficult.
- If I ever see someone in public without a mask, it feels weird. I usually have to double-take. Ironically, a lot of the people I notice without masks seem the unhealthiest, such as people who need to use a scooter and oxygen tank, but maybe that’s why they can’t wear a mask.
- I don’t stock up on food and dry goods anymore. The stores never ran out of stuff in my area, so I lost the fear of a sudden emptying of shelves. I know that’s not true for everyone, however.
- I don’t have any fear of catching the virus. I understand I could get the virus, but I simply have no fear of it.
- Family members still talk about the virus. I never bring it up. I was addicted to the news as the pandemic unfolded, but it felt incredibly unhealthy and I forced myself to stop.
- My kid goes to school twice a week. It’s a joke. Why isn’t there any compensation for parents who have to sacrifice working hours to homeschool. Some families planned to homeschool and are prepared for it, but many more are not. School is a service meant to help parents, not burden them with extra work (and believe me, getting a kindergartener to do their work is a second job that requires complete oversight and guidance on the parent’s end).
That being said, what other things have I noticed?
- Once the pandemic became a big deal in the United States, I stopped hearing about other countries. Things like mass graves in the Middle East, how strict Korea was and why their death rate was so low. Why it wasn’t hitting Japan hard. I don’t hear about how other countries are doing, I would have assumed places like India and Africa would have been hit super hard, or places like Mexico. When I look these places up, it seems they didn’t get hit too hard by the virus.
- Talk seemed to have shifted from deaths to cases. I don’t hear anymore about controversy on how deaths were counted.
- People are masked up, but they aren’t using N95 masks, they are wearing cloth masks. My early reading of science papers on effectiveness of masks gave me the impression cloth masks were useless for stopping viruses, and N95s were only good for a short period of time. People keep hammering on about masking up, but I don’t see debates on how effective different kinds are. Did anyone bother to do a lot of scientific studies so we could all make sure we were masking properly? The reason I ask is not to be an anti-masker, but what if the virus were Ebola? I believe that if the pandemic had been Ebola, we would have been in a lot of trouble.
- Talk of ventilators disappeared, and apparently we ended up having too many.
- The hospital ship in New York City, was it used or necessary?
- Masking up and social distancing is still hammered, but why don’t I see any news meant to brighten the mood of people? I know vaccines are seen as the solution and end to the pandemic, but why hasn’t there been more talk of obesity as a comorbidity? Why aren’t there more studies and comparisons of how the superpower of the world fared poorly and Africa is stunningly beating the virus? I never hear anyone talk about this. Sure, you can find the news if you Google it, but no one in any of my social circles, no matter how militant they are, ever mention Africa, vitamin D, obesity, or any other controversy. I got tired real quick of talking endlessly about masks and social distancing.
- Why hasn’t there been more of a drive from government to improve the health of its citizens? There should have been a stimulus or incentive to get people to lose weight and get healthier. There should have been vitamin D drives. Relentless propaganda of success stories of healthy people beating the virus, or unhealthy people beating the virus, to encourage others they will make it. This was our moment to address the obesity crisis in America, and we failed miserably. Pathetically, actually.
- There is no leadership, you are on your own. That’s my conclusion after one year of seeing how much America’s response to the virus was even worse than what you’d expect in a third world nation. Seriously, we failed the test. Even China built entire hospitals in Wuhan. Were any new hospitals erected during this last year in New York City? I just googled it and learned we did build some field hospitals . . . that saw 79 patients total. It seems the virus was never as bad as people predicted and many places went unused. Was that information known, and if so, why didn’t we adapt to new information and circumstances. It seems we are still fighting the last war.
- I genuinely want to know how ghettos fared with lockdowns and schools being closed. A lot of people in those areas rely heavily on the free meals schools provide. I suppose I could Google it, but again, if news on this exists, it never filters its way to the social level. Black Lives Matters brought a microscope of attention to the abuses of the police toward black folks, but I don’t recall hearing anything about how impoverished communities have been doing.
- Did the second wave happen? Honestly, as someone who unplugged from the toxicity of the media, and I’m sure many others did too for their own mental health, I don’t hear anyone talk about the second wave anymore. It was supposed to be worse than the first wave like how the second wave was worse for the Spanish flu. Well, was it?
- I read an article in Nature about a study done in Wuhan whether or not there was any asymptomatic spread. The conclusion: no evidence of asymptomatic spread. Can we get more debate and scientists weighing in on this? Can we have politicians bring this up? Because if there is no asymptomatic spread, masking and social distancing is useless if you are healthy. We can’t mask up and social distance forever, I would think that would be obvious, but I get the impression people are thinking we will be masked forever. Are you prepared to be masked up the rest of your life? I’m not, I want to see faces again.
- As a counter to my last point, I do like the fact that people are more conscientious when they are sick. If you are openly sick, you shouldn’t be going into work or school until you are recovered. I think most sickness has been spread because people let their kids go to school with a cold, which then spreads to other kids, which then comes back home and their parents get sick, who then have to go into work because they don’t have sick days or its strongly discouraged to use them unless you were on your deathbed, and then those parents get their coworkers sick, who pass it on to their kids, who pass it on to other kids, ad infinitum. Sadly, workplaces are not giving people more paid sick leave, they are instead asking you to quarantine without pay and get tested (and the test is useless because you will still have to quarantine because you need to assume you have the virus). Whatever happened to America being a place where half the people live paycheck to paycheck? Did that suddenly stop being the case? Has rent been getting paid and I haven’t learned about it?
- The stimulus checks have been a joke, at least to me. I don’t understand them. Sure, I want them, gimme gimme gimme some of that. But why bother giving people so little and so late? Wasn’t the point in the beginning to prevent a mass crisis of rent going unpaid because of the forced unemployment? Speed would have been of the essence, but there was no speed. Now we are getting another 1,400; sure, I’d like that, but 1,400 to me is very different than 1,400 for someone in an expensive city. A lot of Americans paid off credit card debt with their stimulus. That’s essentially a transfer of money into a black hole. Keynes must be rolling over in his grave at the uselessness of how people spend stimulus money, money they were supposed to spend to keep local businesses afloat. If we are going to be enacting the Keynesian fiscal stimulus, let’s at least try to spend it properly. How much stimulus went straight into the stock market? Part of my bitterness at losing out on 10,000 in unemployment was not being able to buy the stock market dip. That would have made a big difference to a millennial like me with no retirement plan.
- Has anyone done a study on what are the effects to peoples’ immune systems when they are constantly clean and not in contact with other people. I ask this because I read James McPherson’s very good The Battle Cry of Freedom over quarantine, and in it, he mentioned how the hardiest union soldiers were the guys from the big cities. It was commonly thought that the tough farmer boys would be the most resilient soldiers, but they died like flies to disease because they didn’t build up immunities like the city boys. What are going to be the long term effects on the immune system from all the lockdowns, sanitizing, and social distancing? Also, what are the long term mental health effects on the young generation growing up during this time? Because it doesn’t seem like things will ever go back to normal, even after the vaccine.
Okay, so I’ve waxed on about my reflections over the past year. My ultimate reflection is how I went from taking the virus seriously to not taking the virus seriously and not trusting the powers that be. After all, what happened to two weeks to flatten the curve? Does anyone hear about the curve anymore? Were hospitals ever overtaxed? Did ventilators and not the virus kill people? Are we going to lockdown until the virus disappears? Hey, what happened to the flu this year?
If I were offer a bit of advice to anyone, I would tell them to plan for this thing to be a permanent feature of life. Masking and social distancing will be permanent. Vaccination will be pushed harder and harder on you. Lockdowns will be frequent. If your reason for getting a vaccine is because you want freedom, and not because you are afraid of the virus, then that is a bad reason. The generation growing up now won’t remember a time before the pandemic. Now, if things go back to normal, hey that’s great I’d be thrilled, but don’t assume they will. After all, terrorism hasn’t been much of a threat since 9/11 and we still have the same airport security measures in place. That was a permanent change to society. This will be too, but we don’t know to what extent yet.