One year ago this week, my Kansas Jayhawks were the leading contenders to cut down the nets at the NCAA tournament. Everything on that team was clicking. Everyone on the team was perfectly playing their parts, reaching peak performance as they headed into college basketball’s biggest stage. Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut it all down. Like everyone else, the focus of March quite suddenly and dramatically shifted from normal spring happenings like the NCAA tournament to chasing down toilet paper and learning how to make bread at home because the bread and toilet paper shelves were as empty as the basketball arenas down the street.
Even then scientists like Dr. Fauci were warning the public that we could be wearing masks into 2022 and the pandemic would take considerable time to get under control, if it could be controlled at all. We were thrust into a whole new unfamiliar and terrifying world. What we learned one day (wipe down your groceries! You don’t need to wear masks!) would no longer be best practice the next. It’s been one long, bumpy ride. And while we are not yet out of the woods, there is light at the end of the tunnel with three vaccines and distribution that is about to be significantly ramped up for the general public.
So, how was this pandemic changed us individually and as a whole?
As a whole, there can be no doubt we’ve seen how flawed our public health apparatus is at the core. Decades of decreased funding have taken a toll and it is plain to see we need to expend more resources to shore up public health. At the end of the day, public health is both economic security and national security. And yet, even after everything we’ve been through, there is no question we are going to have to fight for more public health funding, because Republicans will stand in the way of increased funding in any form, even if it saves tens or hundreds of thousands of lives. So, get ready.
Individually, there are so many areas that feel like they’ve changed forever. I’ve seen images of public transportation workers routinely sanitizing bus, plane, and train interiors. In retrospect, why weren’t we doing this every cold and flu season? Please, let this be something that becomes permanent as a means of controlling the spread of viruses.
Along those lines, on a flight in 2019, the passenger next to me took out Lysol wipes and immediately wiped down her seat, tray, and arm rests before she sat down. She offered wipes to me, which I accepted, but if I’m being honest, I thought she was going a little overboard. Not anymore! This is how I’m going to travel from now on. Wipes and hand sanitizer at the ready.
Along those lines, masks will be added to the travel routine as well, definitely during cold and flu season. Flu cases hit record lows during 2020-2021 flu season because masks work, social distancing works, and hand-washing works.
On a day-to-day basis, our house definitely plans our meals more than we did in the Before Times. We make a menu, hit the store once a week, and then stick to it. As someone who loves to cook as my primary hobby, it has been fun to experiment and hone my craft, but simultaneously it has also been completely exhausting. I’m done. Give me store-bought bread all day long.
Personally, it has been challenging to maintain some relationships as well. In the beginning we were using Zoom and FaceTime to check-in with each other, but as the days went on and all we had were video calls, it became more tedious. I also felt like I had to be “up” for these calls, even on days when I truly felt down. Like the bread, they also became exhausting. I had to cut back on the scheduled calls and focus on a handful of family members for these video check-ins. At first we tried a handful of socially distanced gatherings, but soon enough we’d get a call saying this person might have had an exposure and that would set off obvious fears, relentlessly taking our temperature and monitoring pulse oxygen, looking for the slightest variations, fearful we might have contracted it.
There are some friends I talked to every week who I haven’t seen in months, because we are now focused on getting through the day-to-day. I don’t take it personally and I’m sure they don’t either, we are all doing what we can. Will we be able to return to our normal social selves after the vaccine? Possibly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my more introverted friends find it harder to transition back to social life. If I’m being honest, part of me is going to struggle as well. I keep hearing “I can’t wait to get back to live music!” But standing in a crowd of hundreds or thousands of people singing and dancing to the music just doesn’t have the same appeal to me now. Perhaps I’ll get back in the groove, perhaps not.
Mental health has been a huge challenge, especially for those of us with harsh winters that keep us indoors for days or weeks at a time. I’ve seen everything on Netflix. Some days it feels as if I’ve read the entire internet. All of it. Getting offline has become crucial to mental health. I found that closing my laptop to put on music and focus on an an adult paint-by-numbers, spending hours in the kitchen or putting on headphones to escape into meditation have become crucial. These are going to stay with me in the future.
Like millions of other Americans, my spouse and I have taken up cycling. Anytime the weather warms up enough that we can get out, we do. Cycling allowed us to get fresh air and escape the city, where I felt uncomfortable even walking around my neighborhood because of the population density, which was the very thing that drew us to this neighborhood to begin with!
For better and worse, the pandemic has changed our hair. I’ve given up spending time and money at the salon. Thankfully I’ve been able to get two haircuts in, but that gray hair you see creeping in now? It’s probably going to stay. Like the bread and the video calls, I’m over maintaining it. My spouse on the other hand, for the first time in his adult life, he grew out his hair, going most of 2020 without a haircut and it turns out, it’s great!
For those of us who are fortunate enough to work from home, the days of wearing hard pants went by the wayside. All sweats, leggings, and shorts, all the time. I have begrudgingly started to ease back into hard pants, wearing jeans on short errands or appointments and folks, I don’t like it!
Finally and most importantly, is never taking for granted even one minute with family. We became grandparents just a few months before the pandemic hit. It has been so difficult to stay away. I get emotional thinking about family vacations and spending the holidays together again. Those holidays will take on new meaning this year. For far too many families, those reunions are going to be missing seats at the table. It’s going to be hard coming back together for the families who lost loved ones during this time, whether pandemic-related or otherwise, for as much joy as we’ll have together, there will be collective grief that will surely be a part of it as well.
During a recent brief window of warm weather, I sprinted over to my best friend’s house to visit in the backyard. Her teenage daughter walked outside to say hello and the sight of her, looking so beautiful, mature, different, caused me to burst into tears. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. How is it possible she had changed so very much in just a few months? In a way, the vaccines will bring us all back together, but be assured our journey isn’t quite over. There must be a reckoning for those days, moments and loved ones lost.
Those are but a few of the many, many things that have changed since the pandemic began. I asked a few of my colleagues here at Daily Kos what has changed for them and here are their responses. Please share in the comments how this year has changed your life, both in real-time and in how you will go forward.
Irna Landrum, Campaign Manager
One of the biggest ways the pandemic has changed me is making me think twice before taking to the streets. As the summer uprisings got into full swing in my own neighborhood, I found myself very nervous about being in such a large, shouting crowd. I went to some actions but got tested relentlessly. At some point, I realized it was better for my mental health to find other ways to support the uprisings, because the concern about my physical health was too high.
Another thing that's changed is my mother having to learn how to use Google Duo so she could see my face sometimes. I haven't seen her since November 2019, and we usually see each other every few months. My nieces are in the years where they change a lot from month to month and I haven't seen them in over a year.
Christine Larusso, Client Operations Manager
During the pandemic, I moved! I moved really far: one whole city block. My new place has two (small, but oh-so-glorious) yards so on a whim, I hung up a hummingbird feeder. Little did I know that watching my little friend (there's just one—they're very territorial) would become a bit of an obsession. Am I planting flowers that are known to be hummingbird magnets? Yes. Have I started a calendar so I know when I change the sugar water every week? Sure have. More importantly, have I given the bird a name? I call him Jerry. I haven't become a full-on bird watcher per se but I am taking a lot of joy in hanging out with this weird, super small, winged friend. His presence in my yard has made me more alert to hummingbirds I see around the neighborhood during my daily walks for pandemic exercise, and that has made those walks less frustrating, and made me more alive to each moment, more present. I don't know if this habit will last forever but I definitely want to cultivate every part of myself that's allowing it to happen.
Faith Gardner, Publisher
Since the pandemic began, I've been so glad to have two children as they constantly keep each other entertained. They make up imaginary games, read books together, and sleep together in the same bed every night to have "sister sleepovers" even though they have their own rooms. I have a feeling this year-plus of being home and out of school is going to bond them in a unique way for the rest of their lives. I do have some concern about the long-term impacts of so much isolation, especially for my younger child, who was two when this began and is three now. She has no memory at this point of life before—no memories of playing in parks or riding public transit or interacting with other children her age or not wearing masks every time she leaves the house. But overall I'm so grateful that the children have adapted easily to these difficult circumstances, and that they have each other to lean on.
Sound-off below and let us know if your life has changed and if so, how? Will you go charging back to “normal” or is there a new normal now?