A year ago, on February 6, 2020, the first person in the United States died of Covid-19. She lived in Santa Clara County in California, a place usually referred to as Silicon Valley, which is also where I live.
We did not know about the death at the time. The cause of death was only determined via an autopsy, so it was announced at a later date. But it was the start of things in the US and here where I live, which was one of the first hot spots in the country.
By that point in February the pandemic was already in the news, but everything was still pretty normal. A few days after that first death we went on a trip up to Oregon to tour universities. There was a bit of nervousness in the air, but that didn’t stop us from taking a plane flight, driving around the state, going on tours in big groups, staying in various motels, or going out to eat. Nobody would have suggested wearing a mask and my hands were not yet raw from constant washing.
Things would change quickly. Cases would start to appear and people would start dying. There would be deaths in nursing homes and on cruise ships in the headlines soon. The Carnival Grand Princess would be docked and isolated at the end of the cargo handling area at the Port of Oakland, visible to flights leaving Oakland Airport.
March 16th would turn out to be my last day working in the office. That Monday the counties in the SF Bay Area issued a stay at home order for all save essential workers. This is when many retail employees started to wonder why essential jobs are so low paying.
I only went back to the office three times after that date. Twice I had to go in and fix network issues that required somebody to be physically present to push a button. The third visit was to take my desktop computer and personal belongings home because the company decided that we were fine working remotely (a dramatic turn for our HR department, which hates the thought of unsupervised employees) and let the lease lapse on our office. We would be working from home permanently.
In removing my stuff from the office we were assigned scheduled times over the course of a week. When I went in warm ash from the Santa Cruz fires, a few miles away at that point and not yet contained, was raining down on the parking lot. People scheduled for the next day were postponed because the fires were too close.
I am lucky that I have a job that I can do remotely.
And, in the mean time, unemployment jumped, the economy slid into a recession, and people started dying. In a completely predictable fashion, the pandemic receded during the warm summer months, then came back in the autumn, just like it did with the Spanish Flu just over 100 years ago. The parallels are eerie at times, right down to people angry about being asked to wear masks and stay home.
According to Johns Hopkins total US deaths will pass the 460,000 mark today, and the virus is not done yet. Researchers are talking about another surge of cases coming. We have been lucky that nobody in our family has contracted the disease, but deaths have started to come closer.
Vaccines are on the way. We’re very lucky on that front that research into combating corona virus related diseases had been going on since the bird flu outbreaks and that researchers had essentially figured out the pattern and just needed to apply it to a new strain. The testing took time, and now the ramp up to create and deliver vaccines is the primary issue. Logistics problems are solvable.
On the next anniversary, if things get sorted and mutations of the virus stay under control, we might be in whatever passes for normal again. But it won’t be the same. This experience will have changed us and society. We will have to see what that really means.