525,600 Minutes

Today marks one year since the official start of the pandemic. People have different markers in their lives for what they consider the start of the pandemic most surrounding things like schools and workplaces closing. I do actually use March 11, which was the day that WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic because it was the day I actually realized that things really were serious and life was going to change. At that point I didn’t quite realize how drastically, but up until that day it still felt like something that could be kept under control before it got out of hand worldwide like SARS and MERS.

On March 11, 2020 as my plane landed in Tampa, Florida, I turned my cell phone back on to all kinds of crazy news including that multiple students from the campus where I work had contracted COVID-19 over spring break and the university was making plans to shut down and send students home for a few weeks. So that day in my mind is the day the officially started. It was a less than relaxing vacation as such, but I’m also glad I got that last little bit of escapism before the world truly came crashing down. Now I’ve barely left my house other than to go for walks around my neighborhood in a year.

As we hit the one year point I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the horrors of the past year. In the United States we are now over 525,000 people dead of COVID-19. I hadn’t intended there to be any connection when I titled this post 525,600 minutes, but as I typed out the number of the dead it struck me that they almost match, which means one person has died of COVID-19 every minute in the past year. It’s astounding and sad and something that didn’t have to be this way.

When this all started I looked at how many people died in the United States during the flu pandemic of 1918 and thought well at least that many people won’t die this time. Our medicine is much improved and we have more information about how to handle this kind of thing. Turns out I was very, very wrong about that. There isn’t an official record of how many people died in the 1918 pandemic, but best estimates are around 675,000. We are probably going to hit that or at least come close to it. We should be ashamed of ourselves because many of these deaths could have been preventable. And

I’m not saying it would have been easy because it’s not. Very few countries have managed to get a very good handle on it, but they do show us that it was possible and other countries have shown that even if we had gone through surges there were ways to keep things more under control in between instead of letting them run hot all the time so that fewer people would have died. But instead of prioritizing people’s lives we’ve prioritized the economy and politics and just general selfishness. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Kai Rysdaal, host of the Marketplace and my favorite podcast, Make Me Smart, always says that capitalism doesn’t care if you live or die. That has never been more on display than in this pandemic in the United States. It makes me angry and sad that no one seems to care. Basically this pandemic has made me lose all faith in humanity.

As for me personally one year in, the last couple of months have been difficult and as we’ve been inching towards this milestone I’ve been trying to figure out why all of a sudden my mental state feels almost as bad as it did at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m super anxious again and it’s the rare day that I don’t cry many times seemingly out of nowhere. Basically my emotions are ready to boil over at any moment again.

Some of it just my normal issues with January and February in addition to some stressful work stuff and some stressful life stuff with the loss of my uncle. But as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer and other people are talking about how they feel more hopeful than ever before with vaccines rolling out, I am not feeling that hope.

I finally figured out it’s because things are changing and there are once again a lot of unknowns. There was a six month or so period where of course things were awful and I wanted life to go back to normal, but my emotions were calmed down. I was living my new normal for the foreseeable future and I knew what that was. I just stay at home, go on my walks, eat Thursday night take out, do Saturday night online game night, and that was that.

Now everything seems up in the air again. I have vaccine FOMO and want to know when I’m going to get a vaccine. I have a lot of friends who work in health care or education and family members who are old enough to get the vaccine so I’m constantly seeing people get vaccinated and I’m jealous. Technically because I work in higher education I qualify to get a vaccine right now, but I don’t feel right about getting one right now while they are still super scarce. I can continue living sealed off in my house and not interacting with people while a lot of other people don’t have that choice and need the vaccine more. I was outraged like many people when there was news of hospital administrators working from home getting shots before their frontline healthcare workers, and that would be me. They prioritized educators because of wanting to get them safely back into classrooms. While I work in education, that is not me. I’m working from home until who knows when and getting the vaccine is not going to change that. It is getting harder and harder to stick with my convictions on this so I think that’s adding an additional level of emotional stress. Once we get closer to the end of the people in Group 1, I will get one, but we’re not close to there yet.

Also, once I do get vaccinated there are still a lot of questions about what can be safely done until we reach herd immunity. I suspect there are a lot of large group things like concerts and stuff that are going to start to come back before the science says it’s a good idea. There’s going to have to start being a whole lot of decision making about what I do and do not feel comfortable doing, how risky it is vs. how much I really want to be able to do it. There’s not going to be a magic switch where one day COVID-19 is just gone and life can go back to normal and I’m already feeling anxiety about figuring out how to re-enter back into life piece by piece.

All in all though I have been very lucky throughout this pandemic one year in. I still have a job that I can work safely from home, I haven’t lost anyone to the pandemic, and not having kids I have been spared some of the very big stresses of having to work and parent and deal with kids who are in virtual school. My heart goes out to everyone who has struggled during this year much more than I have.

Update: I wrote most of this post over the past weekend, but since then our dumb governor has lifted all capacity restrictions against all the public health advise already castigating other states that had done it saying it’s like we’re spiking the ball on the 10 yard line. Yes we have vaccines and our case rate is falling, but it’s still as high as it was during our summer peak. He should have at least waited another month or so until they finished vaccinating people over 65. With only 10% of the population vaccinated this is beyond stupid. But we don’t actually care about other people in this country. I liked the Baltimore Sun article that said his aides refused to say who he consulted in his decision and I’m like yeah because you know who he consulted? His campaign manager for his Republican presidential run in 2024. He can’t be seen holding back when all the other possible Republican contenders are throwing open their doors. You know who he didn’t consult? At least the one of the doctors on his advisory team who said that the governor never talked to him about it. I will say at the beginning of the pandemic Hogan did a really good job and was listening to the science and laying out clear metrics, which he then proceeded to ignore down the line. You can literally mark in time the point at which his decisions stopped being science based and based on his presidential run.

It’s like we’re trying to kill as many people as possible in this country. I’m so mad! And now it’s making it even harder for me to wait to be vaccinated but also makes me feel like it’s even more important for those who are in more precarious situations to get vaccinated before me and it’s just all so stressful and too many people in charge have been doing their darn best to make it worse instead of better.