It was one year ago when the World Health Organization declared the COVID crisis a pandemic. This was the week shutdowns rapidly escalated, large public gatherings began coming to an end and the country faced the prospect of a very different time ahead. Amna Nawaz brings us personal recollections of how life in the U.S. was transformed and the challenges of this past year.
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As we mentioned earlier, it was one year ago today when the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. And this was the week last year when shutdowns rapidly escalated, large public gatherings began coming to an end, and the country faced the prospect of a very different time ahead.
Amna Nawaz is here with personal recollections of how life in the U.S. was transformed and the challenges of this past year.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:
COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
In the year since that ominous announcement, on March 11 of 2020, life in America has changed drastically. The U.S. has seen more than 525,000 deaths from COVID-19 and upwards of 29 million confirmed cases.
There have been lockdowns, school closures, an economic collapse. Inequality has gotten worse. Our hospitals have been overwhelmed. It has been a year of pain, disruption and incredible stress.
Thank you. Thank you for making the time. It's a lot to cover.
In recent weeks, we have spoken to more than a dozen Americans, a front-line nurse, a single mother, a public health official, and many more who were sick, or even lost someone to coronavirus.
They shared with us their memories and their stories of pandemic life over the last 12 months.
When do you remember everything kind of changing in the pandemic for you? Is there a day?
Yes, absolutely, March 12, 2020. I remember it. I will never forget that day.
I'm at work. And I remember I had a little bit of a cough. And I'm messing with the other supervisors. And I'm just like, oh, my gosh, you guys, what if I have COVID? What if I'm like — I was totally joking about this.
I had had a very strange sensation when I was going to sleep. And it was so bad, it felt like my lungs actually locked up. And I came off of the bed. I was on my hands and knees on the floor, holding onto my bed, just trying to regain my breath.
That scared me. And at that point, that's when I said, OK, you know what, I don't know what this is, but I got to go.
The 16th of March was when I drove myself to the hospital. And they checked everything. And they said, we need to admit you right away, like right now, because not only do you have COVID, but you actually have severe pneumonia, and it's killing you.
There was one particular day where it was towards the end of the day, after doing a 12-hour shift.
And because of the volume, we had to open up yet another intensive care unit. And after climbing the stairs to the sixth floor, my legs just could not go anymore. And I came home, did not remember the drive. I know that I was in my house, and I was afraid to close my eyes that night. I did not want to die alone in my house. That's what I kept saying, because I live alone. I said, please, God, don't let me die alone here.
Ira Taken Alive:
On the day my father passed away, that day marked the 300,000th death of — American death from COVID, but it was also the first day that a COVID vaccine was administered here in the United States.
My siblings and I, we remember that moment very well, seeing the image of her receiving the vaccine, and then, on the banner it saying that the U.S. was on target of reaching the 300,000th death that day. Perhaps my father was the 300,000th death that day. But it was just such a momentous day and certainly darker for some people.
Mary Jane Abt-Fagan:
Her life was cut short at 28.
I said: "Adeline, mom's here. Open your eyes." And she would open her eyes. And I said: "Adeline, do you know who I am?" And she said, yes. And then her eyes would go down. And I had to ask her a number of times to open her eyes. And it was extremely difficult.
I mean, she was trying so hard to do that. And I knew that my husband wanted to see her as well. So I didn't want to, like, utilize all the time by me just staying in there. So, just before we left, I said: "Adeline, can you open your eyes and give me a kiss?"
And she leaned forward and she gave me a kiss on the mouth. And I just had this feeling, this awful feeling that I would never do this again.
Dr. Amanda Calhoun:
I have an uncle who passed away from COVID. And he showed up to the emergency department and was really sick, and they didn't test him for COVID.
And so thinking about how that has actually affected my family, and the fact that I, even as a physician, have to worry that my family is not going to get the best care, is just so upsetting, because who knows if my uncle had been tested when he first came to the emergency department if he would have survived.
The thing that I worry about a lot with my Black patients, with my with my Latinx patients, with my poor patients is, do they have that same security when their family members go into the medical system? And I don't think they do.
COVID doesn't affect everyone the same. And I'm really angry at those people who just don't care. They don't care about other people, who are insensitive about people.
It doesn't matter that my parents were ill, that they had issues. We're still human. We still have a life to live. This shouldn't have happened. My parents should not have been victims of COVID.
Dr. Colleen Bridger:
The single most frustrating thing about this pandemic has been the level to which it has been politicized.
This is unlike anything we have ever seen before. And so having to really justify the science behind public health's recommendations over and over and over to really smart elected officials because they were hearing from the community that, oh, I can't wear a mask, I can't breathe when I have a mask on, which we all know is not true, is — that was so frustrating for us to have to do that.
But, really, it was just another example of politicians kind of co-opting the public health response to this pandemic.
I think the thing that I anticipated the least, actually, was just how we would normalize all the death, how we would normalize, like, all the kids, like, stuck at home and essential workers just, like, going into these workplaces over and over, like, just that it could get so bad and seem so normal.
That sense of like everything falling apart at every level all around you, and yet you have to live, you have to survive, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and the normalcy of the weirdness was the thing that, without living through it, I don't think I could have ever understood.
Just heartbreaking to hear all of this. It's been a year that has touched all of us. And we are so grateful to be able to reflect on it.
And you can hear much more of these stories and others on our podcast with Amna, "America, Interrupted: The Longest Year."
And you can listen wherever you get your podcasts.