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The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has been a historic worldwide event, certainly the biggest event during the 21st century so far. For my own recollection and so that future generations can understand what it felt like as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic unfolded and what life was like during the pandemic, I am providing my own firsthand account of what the pandemic felt like to me as this rare and unsettling event enveloped the world and affected my life.
A Feeling of Foreboding and Intellectual Isolation – January & February 2020
I started following an unnamed virus outbreak in January 2020 when foreign media reports I came across on Twitter showed the large city of Wuhan China with empty and quiet roads, which was attributed to a virus outbreak that was rapidly spreading through the city. Reports also showed hospitals in Wuhan jammed with patients complaining of a flu-like illness.
The quiet city with jammed hospitals wasn’t the most disturbing aspect of the unknown illness affecting Wuhan that I was just becoming aware of. What really struck me from the initial reports were videos of people falling to the ground in the streets of Wuhan, apparently suffering from seizures after being overwhelmed by the unknown illness. It made the emerging illness seem very frightening and gave me a foreboding feeling that it was a very serious illness that could be quite impactful and disruptive if it spread to my part of the world.
On January 30th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first person-to-person case of the new disease in the United States and acknowledged that seven cases had been confirmed. The CDC also stated that more cases were likely. I was quite concerned that cases would soon be popping up all over the country.
The month of February was one in which I became fascinated with the fast-spreading virus within China that started showing up in other countries, including the one I live in. I read every news account I could find about the emerging illness. I also started following a YouTuber named Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity who put out a daily video with the latest information about the spreading virus and what we might expect in the future. It was a frightening yet fascinating thing to learn about, especially since there was so much unknown about the yet-to-be-named illness the virus caused.
There was a great amount of mystery surrounding the virus and the outbreak of illness that it was causing. It had devastated Wuhan and eventually affected a large portion of central China, as it seemed to easily spread through the air. There were also concerns that it could spread via contaminated surfaces.
The virus was officially named SARS-CoV-2 on February 11, 2020. Since the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, it was named as the second iteration of SARS. The illness it caused was named COVID-19, which is derived from 'CO' for corona, 'VI' for virus, 'D' disease, and 19 since it was discovered in 2019.
I had a strong foreboding feeling as a large outbreak of COVID-19 affected northern Italy during late February 2020 and many provinces went into lockdown with police restricting people’s movements. I knew that it was only a matter of time before it would spread rapidly in the U.S. and I’d be dealing with similar lockdowns.
At that early juncture, there were concerns that the mortality rate could be as high as 10% (nobody was sure early on how deadly the disease actually was), which was disturbing to me and made my stomach turn. I started doing calculations in my head. In a worst-case scenario, assuming everyone got sick (which isn’t realistic, but my head was racing), that would mean 2,500 dead in my town, 900,000 dead in my state, and a whopping 33 million dead in the entire United States. This stomach-turning possibility and the realization that it was only a matter of time before the virus would spread to my area really started to cause me to have a feeling of foreboding and despair regarding what the future held for me, my family, and my community.
Despite the COVID-19 illness slowly spreading, life continued normally in the United States in February 2020. Many people were either unaware of how serious the situation was or dismissed it as just another minor inconvenience that medical science would handle easily. As one who was keeping close track of the spreading virus, I had a much more pessimistic view and knew in my gut that we were heading for a rough period of time that would include many people becoming ill and dying, as well as unknown economic consequences. I was freaking out inside, which made me feel intellectually isolated at times because many people I interacted with did not have the same awareness of the coming pandemic that I was greatly concerned would soon be affecting the United States and my local community.
In February, I posted to friends on Facebook that I was buying extra food and supplies as a precaution in case stores closed soon due to the spreading SARS-Cov-2 virus and resulting in COVID-19 illness. My post was met with skepticism by many and hostility by a few. It was just too difficult for most people to comprehend that we faced an imminent pandemic that would soon be quite disruptive to our lives. Many scoffed at the notion that modern life would be disrupted by a pandemic. They lived within the confines of “normalcy,” the belief that the way things had normally been throughout their lives would continue indefinitely.
Three COVID-19 Waves in the United States
More Foreboding as the Impacts Began – March 2020
I drove with my family to a soccer tournament in Richmond, Virginia during the first weekend of March 2020. I had strange foreboding feelings during the drive to Richmond, as the first few cases of COVID-19 had just been reported in the states we were driving through, and I wondered if we’d be exposed. The sense of impending crisis really hit me when I checked my email during a rest stop and saw one from our local school district about preparations being made to switch to remote learning due to possible impacts from the virus.
The week following the soccer tournament was when life changed dramatically due to the spreading virus. As the week progressed, reports came in from various parts of the country about people testing positive for COVID-19. The wave of illness seemed to be building. In the middle of the week, on Wednesday evening, March 11, 2020, a Utah Jazz basketball player tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA immediately suspended the rest of the basketball season.
The NBA canceling their season due to COVID-19 changed everything overnight. Everyone seemed to suddenly realize that COVID-19 was serious and was going to impact our lives in a big way. By the end of the week, my local school district superintendent announced that the schools would close on Friday and learning would be fully virtual on the following Monday. At work, preparations were hastily being made to move to a virtual work-from-home setup.
A Strangely Quiet and Unsettling Spring – April Through Early June 2020
Spring 2020 was when the first wave of COVID-19 impacted the United States. The disease outbreak was very uneven at that time, first affecting areas on the coasts where a lot of international travelers arrive while leaving many areas in the interior largely unaffected.
In the area I live in, northern New Jersey, COVID-19 spread rather quickly from New York City to the urban and densely populated parts of the state. In the less densely populated area I live in, there weren’t many cases. However, life was far from normal.
It was a strange time to be alive. The state had put a lockdown order in place, closing everything except essential businesses like grocery stores and gas stations. Normally busy streets and highways were eerily quiet throughout the day. Even parks were closed.
I stayed home, only venturing out for groceries or an occasional take-out food order. When I did go out, I was greeted by people wearing masks everywhere, heightening the feeling of foreboding. It felt like I was living in a horror movie. At first, it seemed odd to wear a mask and to see people wearing masks, but eventually, it just became part of everyday life.
With all entertainment venues and parks closed, there wasn’t much to do in the spring of 2020. My family and I made a point of going for a walk every day to get outside, stretch our legs, and breathe in fresh air. Besides walks, I spent most of my free time following the COVID-19 pandemic events. There was still a lot of uncertainty about how bad things would get and there was a lot of breaking news every day about new discoveries regarding the virus. The uncertainty made me feel anxious about how the pandemic would play out.
A Quiet Yet Hopeful Summer – Late June Through Early September 2020
In the summer of 2020, the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic subsided in many areas of the United States that had been hit hard during the spring, including where I live. It was a big relief for myself and everyone I knew. The warm summer weather added to the feeling of relief.
Life certainly was far from normal, as my kid’s summer camps were canceled, I was still working from home, and many businesses remained closed. Retail businesses were allowed to re-open just before summer started, as did restaurants with outdoor seating; a small step in the direction of normalcy. Despite the lack of normalcy, I felt a big sigh of relief during the summer of 2020. Only two or three new cases of COVID-19 were being reported in my town each week and I was able to enjoy time at a local pond beach with friends and family.
While I knew experts were warning that another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was likely in the fall, I did what I could to enjoy the warm summer weather and the respite from the pandemic that occurred in my area. It should be noted that there were areas of the United States that experienced a resurgence of COVID-19 cases during the summer of 2020, especially interior areas of the United States that weren’t hit hard during the initial wave in the spring. The summer wave of cases is referred to as the second wave.
The Pandemic Resurges in the Fall – Late September Through Early December 2020
Unfortunately, the experts were correct. The COVID-19 pandemic resurged in a third wave across the United States in the late fall of 2020, including in the area I live in. The third wave was quite concerning as cases soared to heights not previously seen in the prior two waves. My town went from reporting two to three cases per week to 80 to 100 cases per week. I was greatly concerned that the virus was all around me and I was susceptible to catching it.
There was a tumultuous Presidential election in the United States in which the pandemic played a key role, as the candidates had different views about how to handle the pandemic going forward. Also, the regular way of voting in-person on election day was impacted by the pandemic, as many states either mandated or offered early voting by mail. For the second time in my life, I voted by mail.
Besides the election, the big story during the fall of 2020 was the rapid development of vaccines that could protect people from the SARS-Cov2 virus and its resulting COVID-19 illness. The stock market literally rallied on news of positive vaccine trial results, as people anxiously awaited the arrival of the first vaccines that could bring the pandemic to an end.
By the time the third wave hit, I had adapted to the new normal of living during the pandemic. Working from home had become routine and wearing a mask indoors in public was done without any hesitation. I followed the resurgence of the pandemic and the development of vaccines with a lot of interest. I had mixed feelings as I could see the light at the end of the tunnel but was quite concerned about the huge resurgence in cases.
Living with the Pandemic During the Long Cold Winter of 2020 - 2021
The winter of 2020 – 2021 was an odd time to be alive. While living with the pandemic had become the new normal, I was hit hard with the realization that things were far from normal, as my family celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve alone instead of getting together with friends and extended family. There was a real sense of concern during the early winter as the virus was once again spreading rapidly in many parts of the country, including where I live. The third wave of the pandemic peaked during January 2021 and cases ebbed to a low by late winter 2021.
One positive development during the winter was the rollout of vaccines created to inoculate people against the development of COVID-19 illness. The rollout got off to a slow start in early winter but quickly picked up steam as the winter progressed.
Spring 2021 Brings New Hope That the Pandemic is Coming to an End
At the time of this writing, nearly one-half of the United States population has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Israel have provided at least one dose of the vaccine to more than half of their adult populations. Cases in the United States are down from the third wave peak, but there is a recent uptick due to new variants becoming established. More importantly, new cases and hospitalizations have fallen sharply in the United Kingdom and Israel, indicating that the vaccines are effective and working as expected.
During the spring of 2021, there is a hopeful feeling that the COVID-19 pandemic is finally coming to an end and life can return to the old normal by the fall of 2021. However, it appears to be a race between getting enough of the population vaccinated and the possibility of a fourth wave resurgence of COVID-19 as more transmissible variants from other parts of the world start affecting the United States.
How Coronavirus Has Changed Lives Around the World
COVID-19 Pandemic Experience Poll
© 2021 John Coviello