On March 11, 2020, I was sitting on the tan carpet of my grandmother’s living room in southern Missouri when my phone buzzed. It was spring break for the University of Evansville, so the email from President Chris Pietruszkiewicz came as an unalarming surprise.
It was mere seconds later, as I was still reading the first few lines of the email, that my phone buzzed again. This time with messages from my friends and roommates — UE would close its campus for two weeks due to the impending threat of COVID-19.
It’s a moment repeated in the lives of every American; we can all remember where we were, who we were with, what was said when lockdown began. While I drove back to my parents’ house in St. Louis (where I spent quarantine after UE moved completely to online instruction on March 17), the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Indiana had its first reported COVID case on March 6, but like many state leaders, Gov. Eric Holcomb didn’t announce restrictions until March 12, after the WHO’s declaration. Non-essential gatherings were limited to no more than 250 people and schools were told to prepare for possible closures.
On March 16, 69-year-old Beech Grove resident Roberta Shelton became Indiana’s first reported COVID death. Unfortunately, Birdie (as she was known to her family and friends) was the first of many to lose their lives to the pandemic, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Holcomb. The Governor ordered all public and non-public schools to close until May 1 and delayed income taxes, utility shut offs, and evictions/foreclosures on March 19.
Despite increased restrictions the pandemic still felt separate from our lives. While events and schools had come to a halt, many people still gathered with their close friends and family, even celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17. All the while I checked my email at least 20 times a day desperate to see a new update from President Pietruszkiewicz; “UE is open, come home!” But the moment never came.
On March 23, Gov. Holcomb ordered a two-week shutdown for the entire state. It was this moment that cemented COVID-19 into our history, our record books, and our memories.
Many felt like the tragedies of quarantine would finally be a thing of the past on Sept. 23, 2020, when Indiana entered Stage Five of its re-opening plan. COVID began to feel like an annoying mosquito that wouldn’t quit buzzing in our ears.
A few days later, I had my first day as Staff Writer with Evansville Living. Social distancing, mask wearing, and other practices recommended by the CDC were in place in our office and across the nation — we were all living a “new normal.”
But nothing about this past year was normal. Office plants withered, servers hung up their stained aprons and non-slip shoes, and I watched my senior year at UE fade into obscurity. While I missed out on my graduation and lived out of my spring break suitcase for almost two months, most Americans faced much worse.
Over the course of the pandemic more than 12,000 Hoosiers have lost their lives to COVID-19. Nearly 528,000 nationally and 2.61 million people globally died. By now, almost every American has or knows someone close to them who’s tested positive for COVID.
Today, exactly one year since the WHO’s historic announcement, it can be painful to reflect but doing so will show us how far we’ve really come. In the face of anti-mask and anti-lockdown campaigns, a major election, and the revitalization of several social justice issues, we’ve weathered the pandemic storm together.
As global death tolls and cases continued to rise and restrictions fluctuate in Indiana, the world banded together to push forward. Our collective losses and negative experiences in 2020 led to something incredible — a vaccine.
Operation Warp Speed was a program by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services created to expedite a vaccine for COVID-19. By pooling global resources, the brightest minds in vaccination science, and years of prior research on coronaviruses and mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were put on the fast track and approved for emergency use by the FDA on Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 respectively.
Johnson & Johnson joined the vaccination efforts with their own version on Feb. 27, 2021.
Currently, Indiana residents ages 50 and older, long-term care residents, first responders, and healthcare workers are eligible for vaccinations. On March 2, 2021, President Joe Biden announced all U.S. adults will have access to the vaccine by May. The figurative light at the end of the tunnel is slowly becoming a reality after one very long year.
One year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. 8,760 hours.
Today, March 11, 2021, we can look forward to a brighter year, happier months, joyful weeks, and safer days. But it’s important to not forget all the lessons we learned this year. The CDC has begun releasing guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals (one is fully vaccinated two to four weeks after their final dose) but wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing good hygiene are still crucial to the fight against COVID.
Above all, it’s important for us to remember our “old normal” as we move into a new era of public health and daily life. You don’t have to discard 2020 or shove it into the back of your scrapbook. It’s okay to grief those events we missed, the birthdays uncelebrated, the hours wasted on the couch in quarantine, and, most importantly, the friends and family we lost.
Yes, 2020 changed Indiana and the world, so will 2021, and 2022, and so on. So, as we look back on March 11 thinking “what a year it’s been!” just think what a year it could be.
Photos provided by IN.gov and Governor Holcomb.