Coming on Two Years of COVID

Two years ago next week

Two years ago, it was late February and we in the United States had just started hearing of a virus called SARS-CoV-2 that was spreading through China, then Europe. As I read the Internet accounts, part of me dreaded the inevitable pandemic; another part of me became convinced that it would stay across the ocean and peter out, as other SARS infections had. Then, when it reached the coasts of the US, I still monitored the news while assuring myself it was a big city infection that would not reach the rolling hills of Northwest Missouri.

During my spring break (I teach at a university), I watched my emails to see how the university would react to the looming threat, all the while panicking at the virus creeping ever closer, a quickly advancing threat which left in its wake so many people making inexorable slides toward death, kept alive on ventilators until their bodies gave out.

Then, halfway through Spring Break, while universities hustled to continue education online as a brave new experiment, my university sent emails warning us we might follow in their footsteps. Then, a day later, we were told we had a week and a half to move all our instruction online, and that students would not come back to campus from break.

Isolation

The state’s shelter in place order fell into place, and I panicked. I hyperventilated while trying to clean our chaotic kitchen, and I worried I was having a relapse of my bipolar from all the stress. I called my psychiatrist’s nurse, and she told me many people were having the same symptoms.

So many changes bombarded us: the working from home (which didn’t affect me as I was already working from home), the precautions of shopping, the prohibition on social activities. My life shrunk to the walls and window of my living room. My husband masked up and braved the grocery stores with their six-foot distancing.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I decided that, instead of spending all my time in a panic, I would learn to make sourdough bread with a starter I captured myself. The starter made a fine whole-wheat sourdough, and I bought 50 lbs of white whole-wheat flour because the stores were out of it.

We picked up our restaurant meals curbside, and it was not quite the same eating a steak out of styrofoam go containers.

Closer to normalcy

After a while, the shelter-in-place orders expired and my college started meeting again (with distancing guidelines). The restaurants opened up, and the stores started getting more food in stock. The mask ordinances evaporated, although my university required them and most of my colleagues and friends continued to wear them in public, as I did. Slowly, even these restrictions faded. Until this week my university has made mask-wearing suggested rather than required.

I don’t know if I’m ready to go maskless yet, given that I have been masking for so long. But when I’m free of a mask, there will be things I can do, like wear makeup and be heard in class without yelling.

A life post-COVID

I don’t know what a life post-COVID looks like. I know that, over the past couple of years, we in the US hadn’t suffered as much as other countries with crowding, with less advanced medical systems, with fewer preventative measures. But we suffered, if mostly in our day-to-day routines. And we are not done with the pandemics — another round of COVID may be in our future, or another microorganism we didn’t count on. It’s inevitable with access to other countries and terrains, where we don’t have natural immunity. Maybe I will never lose my mask, or only have it off for short periods of time. Maybe we’ll have another shelter-in-place. But what I don’t think we’ll have is a post-COVID celebration, because we’ve lived with it so long that it seems normal.

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