By Miriam Raftery
March 23, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – A year ago, in March 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. All of our lives changed as a result of COVID-19, which has killed over a half million Americans, caused shutdowns of schools and businesses, and forced residents to quarantine at home.
We asked our readers and followers on social media to reflect on what they learned from these historic times. What was the hardest part of the past year? Were there any silver linings? What changes in your life do you think will be permanent?
Here are their responses.
“The hardest part was not being able to see my family, especially my grandchildren who live in another state,” says Patti La Bouff in Santee. “But the absolute worst part was watching half a million Americans die while a sizeable minority thought this was an acceptable trade-off because wearing a mask was inconvenient.”
As for lessons learned, La Bouff says,“I learned to buy good quality comfort clothing. I will continue to wear a mask in public for my personal health. I learned it’s ok to use delivery services for everything and to tip drivers well. I learned that some people think their opinion becomes a fact because they believe it. I learned that `essential’ workers saved us, yet they are underpaid and disrespected.”
Julian resident Ted Berryman wrote poignantly of loss. “Many of us lost a loved one during this time, many being left alone in a house that was once a home of two. Dining with the figure of oblivion would not be hyperbole, but emotional reality. The sight of a comforting stranger would from time to time have been a relief. He adds, “And how many of us? Millions.”
Altogether, however,” he reflects we have become “a healthier nation, more grounded in reality.”
Many learned new skills in their time at home. Others took refuge outdoors, or online.
Patty Mooney in San Diego reflects, “Since we had time to ride (no work to be had), we rode a couple of times a week and have become better mountain bikers.”
She posted this video: https://vimeo.com/520745345.
Raul Sandelin founded an “El Cajon-La Mesa Writers Group” on the Nextdoor online forum.
“It’s a perfect example of how a bunch of strangers found each other during COVID and created a pretty cool literary/artistic outlet,” he says. “Currently, we have around 75 members and several active meetings…We’ve had a number of successes. “Two of us have written/finished our TV show pilot scripts/bibles. We are pitching our scripts as we speak. A couple of other people are re-activating their blogs and posting new stories, etc. A couple of others are writing (and pitching) their novels.”
Patrick Williams, an Alpine resident, observes, “I did conservation work, much of it outdoors, many days each month. Huge blessing.” On the anniversary of the pandemic, he reflects, “Getting near the `end of the pandemic’ seems to unbottle stuff that was contained for self-preservation.”
“I learned how to grow vegetables in the garden and vastly expanded my skills in the kitchen,” says San Diegan Tim Felten.
Former La Mesa Councilmember Kristine Alessio found both good and bad during a year spent largely in isolation. “I learned that people are really nasty to each other when forced into online life vs. real life. Saying things that are simply mean, threatening to expose their neighbors, maybe even family members or friends for any violations of quarantine related rules. It’s really brought out a lot of nutballs in the online world.”
But the silver lining for Alessio has been honing her culinary skills. “I invested in really nice cookware and bakeware early on and have rediscovered that yes, I can still cook and do it well. It’s spoiled me, though; I rarely eat something out that is better than I can make at home. I am still going out to support local restaurants, who took the brunt of the quarantine, but cooking at home 90% of the time is here to stay. I look forward to the day when this is over and I plan to host a big party and cook!”
Lemon Grove Councilmember Jennifer Mendoza reflects on the social impacts. “The hardest part was not having personal connections with family and friends. No parties to hold or go to. Scaled down holidays. Virtual club and business meetings only. No art museum, symphony or theater volunteer work. I really look forward to getting back to all of that in person.”
As for lessons learned, she says, “We need to stop being huggers and shaking hands with everyone. This is the first year I didn’t get the flu. From now on, I am only hugging family and close friends.” Mendoza adds, “I picked up some good habits, which I hope to continue. Walking more and journaling.
Claudia Millerbragg of Lake Morena says, “The hardest part was not being able to get together with family and friends. Also listening to people call it a `hoax, a scam.’ “ She voices concern over “The division in our country over it. Being at a grocery store and watching a woman scream her rights were being taken away from her when she was asked to put on a mask.” Millerbragg also cited trouble getting veterinary appointments and having to wait outside while her pet was treated, as well as “no more free samples at Barron’s” market as additional negatives during the pandemic.
But she notes, “A positive effect of it was learning to be patient and letting go of fear. Reading up on the virus and learning about herbs that boosted my immunity.”
Bruce Seaman in San Diego posted this terse summation of 2020. “It’s a year I’d rather forget! The only good thing to happen was the election of Biden.”
Henri LeBlanc, a Spring Valley resident, writes, “I didn’t realize how much of an introvert I really was at heart.” But he adds, “My 19-year-old daughter and I have really taken advantage of this time together and spent a lot of time reading together and talking. Really blessed time.”
He hopes that some employers will require workers to keep wearing masks after the pandemic is over, including cooks and food servers. “Hard to believe we ever let them breathe, sneeze, cough, sniffle all over our food before,” he writes. “Having a background in public health and having worked in Asia after the SARS epidemic about 15 years ago, when they were all wearing masks LONG before we were, I told my children that I’ll probably keep my mask with me forever.”
Elizabeth Groff in San Diego wrote, “I learned that people think they know more than scientists at the CDC...The cult of ignorance is scary.”
Penny Ferguson King in Ramona is retired, but she observes, “I think a huge thing to come out of this is people’s ability to work remotely/virtually. And I have a feeling some will continue to, as it does cut down on overhead costs. People save money on gas and in some cases, child care. Pollution went down with reduced traffic. I think these could be positive things to consider continuing into the future.”
Roger Coppock in San DIego offered an apocalyptic prediction. “Yes, I see a `silver lining’ in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past year, we have all practiced for the coming climate change catastrophe, an ongoing disaster that will last decades and centuries, not just years. During the pandemic, we ran short of toilet paper. We all laughed about that.” But he adds, “Climate change will cause food shortages…Food crops will not grow in the new high temperature climate. There will be no vaccines or other quick fixes to make climate change go away, though snake oil salesmen will offer some.”
For San Diegan Deborah Gostin, the hardest part has been “not seeing people, not being able to go to movies, restaurants, etc. Not socializing in person, not hugging, not participating in group activities.” Another negative has been working a part-time job “where I’ve been considered an essential employee yet exposed to non-mask wearers or ill-fitting ask wearers, customers and employees alike, and some who’ve tested positive for COVID. I feel I’m at a high risk whenever I go to work.”
But she adds that the worst aspect of the pandemic has been “watching the number of people who’ve vanished or become gravely ill, and not being able to help, other than doing my best not to help spread any germs (double masking or wearing a face shield over my mask(s).) And knowing the toll it’s taking on the nurses and doctors makes me want to hug them all.”
Gostin says she’s also spent “a full year watching more news than normal while life-altering events have transpired, experiencing the pros and cons of living through a pandemic and feeling like I’ve aged 5-10 years in a single year.” For the future, she hopes to try and be “less reactionary to the negatives that have brought me down this past year, and begin again to appreciate more of what I do have and what I do love.”
In the past week, she’s begun getting out again to enjoy her photography hobby and is excited to now be eligible for the vaccine. She concludes, “So the future is looking up.”
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.
You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.