As america celebrated the new year and this generation entered their own rendition of the roaring 20’s, a silent, extremely contagious and deadly virus found its ways across the oceans to our shores.
What happened next was unprecedented. With a world placed in quarantine and a nation facing months of uncertainty, we watched from our homes as over 160,000 inhabitants of this earth died as a result of this virus.
For 10 weeks, “These Days” remotely followed dozens of Americans as they denied, grew angry, fought depression and eventually came to terms with what will become our new normal.
started out on a rough note. As wildfires continued to ravage Australia’s land, tensions between the United States and the Middle East grew after the killing of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani. The world hadn’t even made it through the first month when it lost Kobe Bryant to a helicopter crash.
Rachel Taylor, a freshman at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, recalls January as a hectic month in the news. She specifically remembers World War III memes trending on Twitter less than a week into the new year in reaction to Soleimani’s assassination. “I was like, ‘Man, it can’t really get much worse than this,’” Taylor said.
Despite the rough start, Taylor and millions of other Americans stayed occupied with their busy schedules. There was the day-to-day stuff like work, school, doctor’s appointments and grocery store trips. Then there were the special occasions such as weddings, graduations and summer vacations.
"when they (officials) announced we’re not coming back to campus that was when it really started to feel real for me."
Andrea Wooley, a nursing supervisor in Scottsville, Kentucky, was busy planning her wedding. Her daily planner burst with quickly scribbled reminders about hair appointments, floral arrangements and honeymoon reservations. Between work and taking care of her two young sons Andrea hardly had any spare time. “I’d get so busy with work and the boys, like I’d forget, so I’d write out every week you know like send invitations out or schedule this or buy this,” Wooley said.
President Trump restricts travel from China and declares U.S. public health emergency.
Aside from new plans, February also brought new headlines. Major U.S. news outlets began to report about a novel coronavirus rapidly spreading throughout China. By that time, the virus, which was reported to have begun in December of 2019, had already managed to infect thousands of people in China.
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, turned into a topic of discussion for Americans. Yet for the majority of them, the virus only felt like a distant problem that no one felt alarmed about at the time. Jessica Rogers, a social worker living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, didn’t see the virus as threatening to her own personal life.
“I’m over the relaxation part, now it’s like, what else?”"
Rogers said she also knew about the virus from a sorority sister who currently lives in China, but she didn’t give it much of a second thought. "I had been seeing her post videos and saying stuff about being quarantined, and things like that, but you know I didn’t think anything of it," Rogers said.
President Trump asks congress for 1.25 billion to respond to coronavirus.
Following the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic, President Trump announced a state of national emergency. Those “two very big words,” as Trump put it, were a preliminary signal for many Americans that what started out as a “them” problem was inevitably coming. Still, many continued on with life as usual. Thousands of students fled to the coasts for Spring Break without a worry in sight. Many compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu or even saw it as less threatening than the flu.
President Trump declares a national emergency.
At first, Robin Hardin, co-owner of Rock’n B Horse Carriage Farm in Rockfield, Kentucky, didn’t feel concerned about the coronavirus. “I thought it was a complete overreaction,” Hardin said. “I was like, ‘Hey, it’s just a virus. You just need to wash your hands and don’t touch your face,’ Just like what we were told to do when we were young.”
However, as the number of reported coronavirus cases increased, more and more Americans stopped denying the severity of the virus. They began to realize how contagious and threatening COVID-19 was. It also started to become clear that this disease would not only jeopardize their health but also the economy at large and people’s daily lives.
All state public schools in the U.S. have ordered or recommended statewide school closures.
The country’s lockdown seemed to happen all at once, but it started with events that attracted large gatherings, like weddings. Though Andrea Wooley decided to have her wedding on April 8, it was not at all what she had planned. With a small group of close family and friends at a distance, Wooley walked down a grassy pathway outdoors to marry her husband with a ring he had ordered from Amazon. The original from Zales never arrived. “We were like, winging it,” Wooley said. “Like I showed up to the wedding and it was time for me to walk down the aisle, and that was it.” Instead of having the plethora of decorations Wooley had saved on Pinterest for her wedding, her mother brought just a few hydrangea bunches. She, like many Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, streamed her wedding on Facebook live so that the rest of her invitees could watch.
From there it moved to schools ranging from pre-school to college. Kentucky’s Gov. Andy Beshear was among the first to close schools in the state indefinitely. Dylan Scott, a high school senior from Louisville, Kentucky, had his last day of in-person classes on March 13. While he said he is not a fan of school, Scott felt frustrated knowing that he wouldn’t be able to have a formal graduation. “I feel like that’s a really big deal,” Scott said. “Everyone just spent 12 years of their lives in a freaking public institution. The least you can do is let us walk across the stage and grab our diploma.”
“All of us left not knowing that might be our last time being in that school"
The frustration wasn’t something that was felt just among students. Teachers were also feeling an equal amount of it in their own ways. Karen Comiskey, a sixth grade science teacher from Siloam Springs, Arkansas, felt frustration and concern about not being able to continue working through problems that her students had been experiencing, not just academic but socially and emotionally as well. “I still have a lot of plans left, a lot of things I wanted to do with these kiddos, and I’m thinking, ‘Are we not gonna be able to see that through?’” Comiskey said. “We may have not had enough time with them.”
The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases.
As teachers fight to keep their students engaged through distance learning programs, an increasing number of unemployed Americans fight to stay afloat. For David McDaniel, a resident of New York, New York, all four of his jobs got put on hold. Before the pandemic hit, McDaniel worked as an associate director for a national Broadway show, an instructor for a children’s acting program, a travel agent and a real estate agent. Despite his rigorous persistence, McDaniel has been unable to get a hold of New York’s unemployment services for the last two weeks. “I called every day between 50 and 100 times a day and I still wasn't able to get through,” McDaniel said. “I feel like I'm sort of at the mercy of these terrible, terrible systems that are in place.”
“My savings account is dwindling. I need that unemployment to come through so I can keep paying for things and surviving.”
Another big factor that plays into McDaniel’s frustration is the uncertainty of it all. Going through a difficult time without knowing when it will end only makes things harder. “I think it’d be easier knowing if we only had to go through April 13 or May 1,” McDaniel said. “But having no definite ending in sight, I think it’s starting to get to at least me.”
Rachel Taylor’s childhood room had remained the same since leaving for college seven months ago. High school awards hang on the wall, a rainbow polka dot comforter covers her bed and a shaggy, neon-blue rug lies on the floor. The inner change Taylor experienced during her first year in college does not match her old and outdated surroundings. “I definitely felt weird,” Taylor wrote in a text message. “I felt like I was a high schooler again, except with even less freedom than I had then.” Taylor quickly began to miss her life on campus. She missed her classes, her on-campus job and her friends. “At that point it really hit me,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t going to be over in a month. Like, it was going to continue, and we really didn’t know how long.”
46 of the 50 states have issued closures on non-essential business.
In Park Hills, Kentucky, a small town across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio, local business owner Traci Gregg has experienced major shifts in her own life. Gregg opened up Reality Tuesday Cafe back in 2000 as a way to give her small town a place to gather. Now she is having to temporarily alter the business which served as a hub for many of the town’s residents. Gregg misses seeing the teenagers, the business meetings, the prayer groups and the moms who’d meet up after dropping off their kids at school. “I miss the loudness of the coffee shop,” Gregg laughed. “We’re not a quiet coffee shop.”
“The community has rallied around me and we’ve got constant support, care, prayer, and concern.”
Despite the negative impact brought on by the coronavirus, Gregg takes comfort in the positive fact that her customers are continuing to show up to support her and provide a sense of community. “It’s been a positive experience as far as the community is concerned,” Gregg said. “They are truly invested in the welfare of the coffee shop.”
Back in January, as Karen Comiskey planned out the third quarter of her sixth grade science class, she questioned whether it was all worth it. She had been trying to overcome some of her students’ behavioral issues and was not getting enough support from administrators. She questioned whether or not she could make it eight more years to retirement. Then COVID-19 hit and she started teaching class online. At first she struggled with the fact that she was not able to carry out plans she had for her classes. However, by May, Comiskey says she got her “second wind.” “It’s really been interesting. I feel renewed. I feel like it kinda made me realize [that] what I really loved about my job got taken away from me, and I don’t like it one bit,” Comiskey said.
The United States leads world in death toll, passing 20k mark.
The White House and the CDC unveil a three-phase guideline for opening the country.
Since the first case was reported in January until April 28, COVID-19 has led to 58,365 deaths in the United States according to Johns Hopkins University. The novel virus has taken more American lives in just three months than the Vietnam War which lasted about two decades. A total of 30.3 million people have sought unemployment benefits, the highest number since the Great Depression. However, the virus’s impact goes beyond people’s health and the economy. Everyone’s lives have been unforgettably affected in some way by this disease.
As the number of cases rose and as schools and businesses closed, people yearned for a sense of normalcy. People wanted to hang out with friends without compromising their safety, excited for the day when a simple trip to the grocery does not have to mean risking a death sentence. At the same time, parents have been able to spend more time with their kids, aspiring joggers have had the opportunity to go for more runs and many have discovered new hobbies.
Throughout this unprecedented experience, Americans have shared an emotional journey, coming to terms with the effects of the pandemic in their own way. They have adapted to this new way of life but still look forward to the day when everything goes back to normal.
With states now starting their opening procedures, many questions linger about what that could mean for public health and the economy. However, as the country takes cautious steps forward to open, business owners and consumers wonder what the new normal will look like.
Owner of Reality Tuesday Cafe Traci Gregg says that while she’s excited to reopen, she worries about how she is going to enforce social distancing rules once her shop is allowed to open on Friday, May 22, but only operating at 33% capacity. Restaurants, like Gregg's, are figuring out the best ways to serve their customers. “My problem is how am I gonna maneuver people around so that they’re ordering properly, picking up properly, and exiting properly,” Gregg said.
Despite these challenges Gregg looks forward to opening and enjoying the sense of community her restaurant provides to her patrons, although she’s tentative to let herself think it will last. “I mean that’s the uncertainty of it all. It’s almost like a teaser,” Gregg said.
According to health experts, without more testing, contact tracing and vaccines for example, the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight. Even as the country opens, Americans are still facing an ambiguous future. Brittany Grimes, a single mother living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, says she questions if there even is a new normal yet. “I don’t think that there’s an end to this story,” Grimes said. “We are forever going to be changed from this.”
The U.S. reaches one-million confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections.