Thursday, March 11, 2021

One Year Ago Today, I Was Convinced I'd Made a Terrible Mistake

Mardi Gras beads hang from a tree branch above a picturesque garden in New Orleans.

The airplane engines roared to life. As my head pressed against the seatback during takeoff, I thought, “What have I done?” 

Just as the flight attendant was instructing passengers to put small electronics in airplane mode, a news headline on my screen deflated my giddy vacation anticipation. The wording was sobering: WHO declares coronavirus a pandemic.

"WAIT - What?" Normally a rule follower, I ignored the flight attendant and quickly scanned the article.

For months, I had been looking forward to spending a few days in New Orleans with friends. We’d pre-paid for a vacation rental apartment, scheduled a cooking class where we would learn to make a spicy gumbo, and reserved a table for lunch at the famous Commander’s Palace. This was my first visit to the Big Easy, but exploring Bourbon Street, relaxing to some good live jazz music, and eating my fill of delicious food suddenly no longer seemed so exciting.


I’d like to claim I had been oblivious to COVID-19 before boarding the plane, but that's not true. I knew of outbreaks across Europe, in Seattle and New York, and most recently on a cruise ship; but no one had yet raised a nation-wide alarm. I'd seen no warnings against traveling state-to-state. There were no reported cases of the virus in New Orleans or my home state. It seemed safe enough to travel, and I'd brought with me copious amounts of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, just as a precaution. 


As I read the WHO announcement, I realized that a huge number of tourists (from who-knows-where) had recently visited New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. This awareness that we were traveling to a city that could soon become a hot spot for the virus made me as queasy as if I was experiencing severe in-flight turbulence.


I wanted to ask the pilot to turn the flight around and let me stay in Montana. Of course, that was not a reasonable request.


Instead, my travel partners and I agreed to exercise the utmost of precautions and limit social interactions during our trip. No Bourbon Street, congested bars, or crowded restaurants for us; we spent evenings soaking up the Louisiana warmth in the comfort of the outdoor patio of our vacation rental. Liberally slathering on hand sanitizer every chance we got, we refrained from touching any part of the cable car when we used it for our transportation. We only visited tourist attractions that we believed to be safe. 


This was back before anyone suggested the importance of wearing a mask or social distancing, but we knew enough to keep away from crowds. Despite our attempts at safety, questions raced through my thoughts throughout our whole vacation, in a vicious loop of worry:


·     Why hadn’t we canceled our trip?

·     What if one of us gets sick? 

·     What if we catch the virus here and transmit it to someone when we go home?


Upon arriving back in Montana, I made one necessary trip for groceries. To my astonishment, many of the shelves were nearly empty; there was no toilet paper, disinfecting products, yeast, or flour to be had. Was suddenly everyone preparing to bake their own bread?

Immediately, like much of the rest of the country, we went into lockdown. After a few weeks passed, I breathed a sigh of relief; my travel companions and I had remained healthy, and there were no reported cases of the virus in our county. 


I am a registered nurse and I understand the spread of disease. Preventative measures such as wearing a mask, good washing, social distancing, and getting a vaccine when it is available all just make sense to help stop the spread of COVID-19 or any other communicable disease. Unfortunately, misinformation has been rampant throughout this pandemic, and unfounded rumors have led to dangerous behaviors. 


In defiance of warnings made by public health officials, eleven states never required face coverings statewide, and (thus far) five states have ended their statewide mandates. On February 12, 2021, Montana’s governor, Greg Gianforte, rescinded our statewide mask mandate. He said: 


Individual responsibility remains Montana’s best tool to combat the spread of COVID-19. Montanans are encouraged to wear masks and should follow the best industry practices adopted by any business they visit to slow the spread of the virus.” 


Unfortunately, people have confused a need to “protect their rights” with common sense, and if you come to Montana, you will encounter a lot of unmasked people out in public. I'm not sure people still really understand that wearing masks does not just protect them; it protects others. Public figures need to model and ensure community responsibility. 

In some ways, the year that began last March 11th seems like an empty eternity. Yet, this pandemic has done immeasurable damage and changed our lives so much.


For example: 

In just 365 short days, over a half-million COVID-19 related deaths have occurred in the United States. At the moment I'm writing this, there have been 2,636,414 deaths worldwide.


Words and phrases most of us had never used, like “social distance, self-isolate, zoom, essential workers, flatten the curve, and pandemic” have become commonplace in our daily conversations.


We’ve all gotten used to doing things in ways we never would have expected, and we’ve longed for things we never before considered possible to miss.


If we could turn back time, there is so much we all could have done better to halt this horrible virus. Unfortunately, even now, many people still refuse to accept that these steps should have or still must occur.


Moving into the second year of the pandemic, there is nothing we can do to change what has already happened. Guilt and blame are both wasted emotions. Instead, I hope we will all do everything we can worldwide to reach herd immunity and defeat this virus. 

Hopefully, a year from now–on March 11, 2022–we will be safe to live life the way we did before we ever heard of COVID-19. I’m going to continue to do my part to help make this happen. 


How about you?

Please keep social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, get vaccinated, and stay healthy!

1 comment :

  1. I think that many (most of us?) underestimated the impact that Covid would have. Sadly some still do.
    And, equally sadly, that impact is going to continue to be felt for a very long time. It will also be felt disproportionately by the poor and the vulnerable. My country escaped relatively lightly and my last two sentences are still true.


If you enjoyed this post, I would love it if you share it on your social media sites and with your friends!