365 Days Since COVID
2021-03-11 00:00:00 -0600

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Therefore, this post marks exactly one year since that date. To mark this “covidiversary”, I thought I’d write a little blog post discussing 10 things I’ve learned this past year, both about myself, human beings, and about American society.

1. Every country, and person, defines “essential” differently

I don’t think it’s any secret that America has had sort of loose definitions of “essential”. For example, I haven’t gotten a single haircut in a year. I don’t mind having long hair, and I am actually starting to realize that for me, three haircuts a year may be a waste of my money. However, there was a big brouhaha among many people about all the hair salons being closed.

For another example, here’s a list of Australia’s “essential” businesses:

  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Medical centers
  • Pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Waste industry
  • Utilities companies
  • Banks
  • New agencies
  • Post offices
  • Food delivery
  • Bottle shops
  • All those involved in frontline response (firefighters, police, EMTs, etc)

Minnesota considers all those above “essential”, but includes the following:

  • Energy workers
  • Transportation and logistics (public transit workers, bicycle shops, automobile sales, etc)
  • Communications and information technology (newspapers, radio, television, etc)
  • Election support services
  • Housing, shelter, and homelessness-prevention staff
  • Critical manufacturing (mining, processing operations, etc)
  • Hazardous materials
  • Financial services (banks, credit unions, insurance companies, etc)
  • Tribal governments
  • The Judicial Branch
  • The Executive Branch
  • Executive Constitutional Offices
  • The Legislative Branch
  • Federal employees
  • National Guard
  • Faith leaders and workers (churches)
  • Education and child-care providers (teachers, principals, child-care workers, etc)
  • Hotels, residential facilities, and shelters
  • Charitable and social services organizations
  • Notaries
  • Legal services (lawyers, immigration, judges, end-of-life planning, etc)
  • Laundry services
  • Animal shelters and veterinarians
  • Essential supply stores

Now, I’m not saying that the workers above aren’t essential… in fact, I think those jobs are super important to society and to our world. However, what it meant for our COVID recovery is that too many people fell into that “essential” category. Even during the first few quarantines, since so many people were still leaving the house for their “essential” job, it actually prevented our society from overcoming the virus.

By comparison, other countries with more limited “essential” lists would shut down almost everything for two weeks, and the virus would be gone for a while. At that point, people could go out and about and live life again (without masks). And if/when another family tests COVID positive, they’d do the strict quarantine again. And from what I’ve seen on the internet, the people that live in those countries don’t mind the approach their government took.

To America, it felt extreme to shut down everything for two weeks in order to stop the spread. It seemed better, at the time, to just shut down half of society, and hope that was enough. But at the pandemic’s one-year mark, I’m not sure if we took the right approach.

This was exacerbated by the fact that each state had its own rules and regulations. Because our federal government took such a laissez-faire approach, each state was left to fend for themselves and make their own decisions. But the thing is, Americans cross states all the time. What one state does will undeniably affect the neighboring states. The decisions Texas makes will somehow affect all 48 continental states.

We are all connected—both on a personal level (my apartment neighbors get sick, so after running into them in the laundry room, I do, too), and on a societal level. And when we all define “essential” differently… well a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

2. COVID-19 has affected everyone… but some more than others

There was a point, perhaps last May, where I wondered if there was anybody left in the country who hadn’t heard of COVID-19. Maybe somebody who lived a very isolated life, never talking to anybody, never going on the internet, or reading the news. But at this point, I can almost guarantee that unless a person was raised by wolves, they’ve heard of wearing a mask.

This pandemic has affected everyone. It has changed how everyone lives, how we work, what we wear, and what we do. But some of us are way more affected than others. For many white-collar workers, including myself, the only things that really changed in day-to-day life was that we now work from our kitchen or home office. Maybe our kids spend more time at home. Maybe we increased our internet speeds. I know, I know… that’s still a lot of changes and big stuff to get used to. But for blue-collar workers and the older and younger generations, this pandemic turned their life upside down even more.

I think of the elementary aged children who didn’t even quite understand what was going on. They go home from school one day, just to realize that their spring break has now become 6 months of not seeing their friends. And children need socialization to develop properly! I think of the older generation of people that didn’t even use their computer before, but now are completely dependent for it for everything, from visiting family, to making appointments, to shopping. I think of performers and artists, who suddenly saw their entire life shut down when the theaters stopped doing shows. Some of them haven’t been on a stage in an entire year, meaning a huge portion of their income may be completely gone. Many people have had to dip into their savings just to keep food on their dinner table. And I’m sure that this paragraph doesn’t even properly give their feelings and experiences justice.

So while some of us are purchasing new homes, doing house renovations, buying new furniture, and investing in home gym equipment (cough cough, Peloton), there are others out there who are just struggling to make it through the week. People who are still trying to figure out how to pay February’s rent. People who are struggling to figure out how to help their kid learn algebra while working 30 hours a week at a grocery store, while working 20 hours a week as a delivery driver.

Speaking of being at a store for 30 hours a week…

3. Masks aren’t so bad if you have the right mask and/or mask accessories

“What do you mean?”, you may ask. If you’re anything like me, the first few masks you had were homemade with a sewing machine and spare fabric. But at this point, you’ve probably invested in some Etsy made or factory made masks. While there are some types of masks with a rigid shape so that it doesn’t get sucked into our mouths, those aren’t the ones I own.

I’ll admit I’m pretty cheap… I just bought a couple of the cheap packs of masks from Target. They’re a couple layers of fabric, although sometimes I’ll double them up. And I quickly found that whenever I took a deep breath in, especially when at the gym, they would get sucked into my mouth and make it hard to breathe. And so the first accessories I purchased was a set of mask guards. These are so helpful. They go between the mask and my face, and make it so that no matter what I can clearly breathe with the mask on. They may look a little like muzzles, but they make a world of difference.

The next hugest discomfort for me was the pulling on my ears. Almost all of the masks I own have over-the-ear elastic loops. And especially when doubled up, they pull so much that wearing them for more than 20 minutes is quite irritating and uncomfortable. So, next I purchased some mask lanyards. The specific set I purchased not only work as a lanyard around my neck, but also can be used to hold the mask in place… aka you tighten the straps around the head or neck instead of wrapping it around the ears. And this makes wearing the mask way more comfortable.

And lastly, if I want the mask to stay up higher on the head instead of falling looser around the neck, I grab some hairties, put my hair in a high ponytail, tighten the lanyard on top of the ponytail, and then clip the mask lanyard to my head so it is higher. Voilà!

4. Zoom calls scientifically take more energy from us than being in-person

Many of us don’t actually spend all of our time on Zoom. Sometimes we use Google Meet. We may use Microsoft Teams or Slack’s video chatting feature. But no matter what brand of online video calls you use, you’ve probably found yourself getting increasingly tired, and at a much faster rate than when you’re in in-person meetings. What you’re experiencing has become known as “Zoom fatigue”. It’s a real thing, and you’re not alone. Read more about it here:

5. The past year has made it apparent that humans really are social animals

Have you noticed that as the pandemic went on, it got harder and harder to stay home? Even the people that were able to take the stay-at-home order super seriously have been venturing outside of the house more and more. This is because we’ve gotten what’s been called “pandemic fatigue” (all the fatigues, am I right?). I won’t delve into the details of pandemic fatigue (I’ll include links explaining that at the bottom of the whole blog post). But, I do want to focus on one single point: humans are social creatures.

Humans need human interaction, and even those of us who are lucky enough to live with 1–3 other people will eventually want to get away from our families. So, as the pandemic goes on, our desire (even subconscious desires) for human activities and interaction begin to be prioritized over safety measures. All humans need other humans; we’re biologically wired that way.

This is especially true for young adults and teenagers, which is one reason why many college campuses struggled with containing the virus. Young adults and teenagers are in the middle of a very formative part of their lives, in terms of mental skills and socialization practices. From an evolutionary perspective, socializing is how we meet potential mates, venture to find new “tribes”, and learn more about the world through traveling and talking to those that are different than us. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10–15 years, missing out on this year of socialization will negatively affect our lives down the road. Unfortunately, young children are in the same boat. Children need to socialize with other children their age to learn important life skills, such as sharing, listening, and communication. And if you’ve got a kid who hasn’t seen any other children for 365 days… well they’re probably getting a bit behind on their people-skills. Not to worry though, almost everyone will be “behind” by the time we all start going back to school.

Now I’m not a psychologist or sociologist by any means, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But what I’ve noticed is people that had a group of friends to keep in contact with during this past year, even if it was over phone and Zoom calls, had a much more manageable year than those that had a smaller support group. Even my friends who are introverted and who loved being at home at the beginning, now think quarantining has been dragging on insanely long.

My point is, we’re all missing out on much needed people-ing. You’re not alone.

6. Internet should be viewed as a necessary utility, not a privilege

At one point in time, there were households that didn’t have internet. I know, crazy, right? Maybe they just all shared a cell phone plan with some data. Maybe they just didn’t use it, and went to the library for public internet when they needed it. I know people that (last I talked to them), didn’t own a computer. But since we’ve all been sent home to work and go to school for the better part of a year, many of us have had to rely on our personal internet 10x more than before.

So with that being said, I believe internet should be a utility. If we need internet to go to school, or go to work, then it should be a utility. If we’re expected to have it to do our job or to study, then it shouldn’t be treated any differently than expecting us to have electricity to power our lightbulbs.

This also means our internet costs and privacy should be regulated as utilities. Right now, in many areas of the U.S., internet companies can pretty much charge whatever cost they want for internet; homeowners and renters don’t have lots of choices. But there are rules when it comes to the cost of utilities, so companies don’t charge more than they should. And I believe internet providers should be regulated exactly the same way.

Furthermore, households with low income may still not have internet, meaning the disparity between lower-class and middle-class families is growing even bigger, leading us into what’s being called the “digital divide”. This means that families with access to the internet and the digital world will increasingly have more opportunities than those without.

Anyhow, that’s enough of me trying to explain a complex topic… here are some resources from some people who are much more educated about this than me:

7. Those who already had home offices set up last March were lucky

Last March, when the pandemic went into full-swing, I was lucky. I had already put together a huge portion of my home office. I had my own raise/lower desk, office chair + standing mat, monitor, laptop stand, keyboard, and mouse. Transitioning to work from home was pretty easy (actually I was already working from home 2–3 days a week). I was grateful that I didn’t have to do a big rush to Ikea to try to get office equipment.

However, I did get my share of the crazy last September. I wanted to get a video camera to attach to one of my monitors. I wanted to be able to shut my laptop and still have my coworkers see me. After several trips to Micro Center and Best Buy, as well as looking over the internet at various different electronics retailers, I still didn’t find a suitable solution for a video camera that wasn’t crazy overpriced. I could put some bets out on Micro Center and continually check back until they had more stock… or I could pay slightly more than MSRP for a camera from some third-party seller.

And since I’m impatient, I did the latter. I ended up buying a $70 camera for $120. I may have overpaid (because apparently the desire for computer equipment is still high even a year into the pandemic), but I got my video camera within 2 days. I’m lucky I could afford to overpay a little bit… it was certainly more convenient.

The last addition to my home office was a little circle lamp. The idea here is that it’s a basic lamp, and then you can put the camera in the middle of the lamp, helping your face get equal lighting. Personally, I don’t like to turn it on too bright; it can be blinding. But my specific lamp gives me even lighting, just enough for people to see my face. And if I’m on Zoom, there’s a setting option to account for low lighting, so I can dim my lamp even more (really nice at night).

Anyhow, I consider myself lucky because I already had a home office set up. If you didn’t, and you had to do all your shopping this summer… my apologies.

8. Just because we’re home all the time doesn’t mean we all suddenly decided to become a chef

When all of the restaurants started to close last year, I saw many people on social media pick up cooking. People started subscribing to more meal kit delivery services (see here), and people have started baking more. In fact, I’ve even heard of stores running out of simple ingredients like sugar, oil, and flour, simply because people started baking like crazy to fill their time.

I’m not against baking or cooking. I don’t particularly love being in the kitchen—actually, if you talk to people I know, they’ll all say that I hate anything to do with the kitchen. So what did I do when the pandemic started?

I got more delivery and pick-up. I don’t think I cook or bake any more or less than I did before. But what I do get more of is Panera Bread, Chipotle, Qdoba, and other fast-food places. I don’t go out to restaurants with friends anymore, but I do get takeout. This just proves to me that a person that doesn’t like something isn’t going to suddenly pick it up as a hobby just because it’s available and convenient. There’s got to be some level of interest in the activity for a person to want to start doing it.

9. I love having my commute time back… and it’ll be hard to give it up again

Before the pandemic, I used to drive 25 minutes each way to go to the office (sometimes more if there was traffic). I didn’t even go in every single day, but rather more like 2–3 days a week. Now, I don’t do any driving to work at all. In fact, I barely do any walking; my “office” is right next to my bed. And it’s rather blissful.

I’m not going to do a deep dive into what I do with my reclaimed hour each day, but it’s something along the lines of sleep, exercise, do yoga, work on side projects, and call friends. And somehow, I’ve found a way to use up all of that extra hour. Very rarely do I get bored during the week. It’s strange to say, but the only times I’m ever bored are during the weekend.

At this point, I can’t imagine waking up even earlier than I do currently and making time to drive into the office (I wake up at 7am and start work at 10am, and I manage to use all three hours before I start work). I can’t imagine leaving at 4:45pm, and not getting home until 5:20pm (traffic). Now, I actually use all of that time to finish up stuff at work and start getting dinner ready. I’ve gotten so used to never commuting that the idea of having to do it again sounds like a horrible time crunch.

I know many people miss their office. They miss water-cooler chats, running into people at the coffeemaker, eating lunch with teammates, etc. Although I miss all of that, too, I’m enjoying having that time back so much that it makes up for the lack of socialization. But if I’m being completely realistic, I do see myself going back into the office again sometime. Probably not full-time. And it’ll probably take me a while to even get back to a once-a-week pattern. But eventually, you’ll most likely see me commuting again.

10. Nothing is a given, and even the best made plans can be turned upside down in just a day

If this pandemic has shown me anything, it’s that plans we make can change so suddenly. Nothing we do is a given. We’re all just sitting here making plans, and hoping things work out how we expect them to. But sometimes they won’t work out. Sometimes plans change. Sometimes we don’t have any say in the matter… and when that happens, we’re just riding along the rollercoaster with everybody else.

Take weddings as an example. For decades, couples have been planning weddings, relatively trusting that their venue would be open on that special day they choose. But last year, everything changed. We saw couples who had been planning for months suddenly have to question whether to change everything. Now, when I think about potentially planning a wedding, I need to admit that there’s a very real possibility that even the best made plans won’t come to fruition. It’s the same with high school proms, graduation parties, and baby showers. It’s the same with big vacations and little vacations. Even events we plan such as visiting our families next Saturday may need to be changed at a moment’s notice.

And so, all we can do, is enjoy the moment we have right now. Of course we can plan. In fact, I’d argue that we should plan. If we never plan, then we’ll never accomplish anything. However, we also need to remember that sometimes, all we can do is live for today. If all our plans are falling apart because of something external that’s not in our control… well, all we can do is trust that we’ll figure it out.

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