I want my year back.
I want Memorial Day back, and New Year’s Eve and everything in between. I want the glass-clinking, laugh-punctuated din of a packed restaurant. I want live-concert mosh pits, or whatever the more staid equivalent might be for men with encroaching bald spots.
I want the opportunity to better evaluate the moods of the thousands of individual masked strangers I encountered in appropriately spaced store lines over the past 12 months. I want to see smiles again — or, for that matter, frowns — because, as nonverbal communication tools, eyebrows alone just don’t cut it.
I want a 2020 do-over, but without all the isolation, aggravation and tragedy with which 2020 will be forever associated.
And I want assurance on this, the one-year anniversary of Kern County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, with the grim 1,000-death milestone upon us, that the light up ahead really is the pandemic finish line.
There is no finish line, I realize. The coronavirus will peter out but never really go away, epidemiologists say. Buy Pfizer stock: Those of us inclined to roll up our sleeves for annual flu vaccinations may be adding another booster to our health-maintenance regimens: some sort of pharmacological defense against COVID-19, or whatever we’ll be calling the mutated progeny of the current viruses.
For some Americans, of course, there never was a pandemic, only widespread overreaction to what was simply a different flavor of the flu. It was all political, those people claimed, and sadly they were correct, though perhaps not precisely as they meant it. On July 24, “Bob” from Fresno, having lunch with his wife on the patio at Mama Roomba’s, told me, “(Precautions) are 100 percent unnecessary. I think they’re trying to kill small business for their own personal and political reasons … It’ll be over in December,” after the election. The only thing that happened in December, COVID-wise, was the start of the second surge.
That mindset of denial followed some right into the ICU. On Dec. 10, Adventist Health nurse Amanda Swanson told me she had one man demand that she authorize the release of a family member with serious breathing difficulties.
“‘It’s a lie,’” Swanson said the man told her. ‘“You’re lying to me. This is just COVID, let him go.’” The patient didn’t make it.
Then there was this odd, troubling reaction: Many of the mask-averse seemed to shrug at the fact that COVID-19 hit the elderly and medically compromised harder and far more frequently than the young and healthy. Almost as if some among us were expendable.
But the past 12 months have also revealed the best of humanity. First and foremost it’s been nurses and other medical professionals: Their sense of mission has at times been astounding. Hospitals are already bracing for something very much akin to PTSD among staff; they’re already seeing it. The rest of us can’t forget them as they work through it.
Not that the virus was overwhelmingly worse than the cure; at times it actually seemed close. The pandemic’s toll — millions of deaths, unprecedented curbs on social interaction and business closures and restrictions — has also included mental health damage. Some 42 percent of people surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year.
Epidemiologists will learn from this pandemic. Mental health specialists must as well.
For many of us, though, the consequences of the past year’s long stretches of semi-quarantine have been mere restlessness, maybe a little loneliness at times. The finish line can’t come too soon for any of us. President Biden assures us it’ll be here by the Fourth of July, but Bakersfield restaurants already have waiting lists and many parking lots are full. Without the growing availability of vaccinations and the sheer number of recovered COVID cases, a third wave would be inevitable. It remains a possibility.
Some things we’ll hang on to, or should: Home gyms, hikes, garage ping pong, cooking, board games. Appreciation for local small businesses. The willingness to sacrifice. We’ve often heard comparisons to World War II: We came out of that ordeal better than before. It’s too soon to say, a mere year after the pandemic’s arrival, whether that will apply here. But we can hope.
Check back next March 17.