Mask Evolution

Year Two of Pandemic Life

posted in: Personal Essay | 0

March 16, 2020 will be a date Holly and I will always remember as the day the coronavirus pandemic became real for us. That’s the day when Temple University, where we work, shut down. Classes moved online and staff began working from home.

Fortunately, as we hit the 2-year mark of the pandemic, the situation is looking better, although, of course, at the time of this writing, there’s another variant emerging.

Year 1 was notable for its uncertainty. No one knew how long the pandemic would last. No one knew how serious it would be. But here we are 2 years later and nearly a million U.S. deaths.

Year 2 was notable for a different kind of uncertainty. Year 2 had more ups and downs as we had some glimpses of optimism. Year 1 was mainly just downs.

In my Reaching One Year of Self-Isolation post, I wrote:

It feels safe to say the worst is over. People are getting vaccinated and warmer weather is around the corner. There is the threat that some variant could come along that could circumvent the vaccine.

Little did I know that there would be 2 variants that would disrupt things. Luckily, the vaccine held up reasonably well against both, at least in terms of minimizing the symptoms and reducing the incidents of death.

For us, Year 2 started with getting our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the end of March which was certainly a burst of optimism. We were still cautious until we got our second shots (late April) and waited the recommended 2 weeks for it to be fully effective.

By early May, we went to a restaurant for the first time in over a year. Of course, we sat outside, but it felt great getting back to one of our favorite local places. That May, we had 2 additional outdoor excursions with a friend, meeting her for drinks at a wine garden and dinner at another local favorite restaurant.

We also went into a store (our local used bookstore) for the first time in over a year that wasn’t a grocery store or pharmacy. By the end of the month, Holly and I had a lovely brunch outside and took the train to my brother’s for a Memorial Day cookout. It was a month that started resembling something like normal.

By June 1, Pennsylvania started lifting restrictions with Philadelphia following 10 days later canceling most restrictions except for indoor masking. Although things were looking better, lifting restrictions then felt a little too soon.

Mask Evolution
Just a sample of the many different kinds of masks we used over the past 2 years

We were both still working from home and were working with library administration where we work on return to campus policies for the fall. A return date of August 23 was set with me having to be on campus 1 day a week and Holly 2 days. It was a relief knowing that we didn’t have to return on a daily basis and that our administration recognized that many of our staff had proven to be equally effective working remotely. We are very thankful for the flexibility we were granted. Of course, some staff whose jobs are more tied to having a presence in the building had been going to campus for a while. It’s unfortunate that the ability to have a more flexible schedule could not have been distributed equally but given the nature of some positions allowing for such equity was unavoidable. All the more reason for staff who could work remotely to do so. The fewer people in the building, the safer those who needed to be there were.

Holly and I had several trips canceled because of the pandemic. Holly was supposed to go to a conference in Los Angeles, and I was going to tag along. Similarly, I was supposed to go to a conference in Chicago, and she was going to tag along. We had gone to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 2 years in a row and had been planning a summer trip there. And we had plans to travel to Solvang, CA with some of Holly’s family.

Those first 3 trips were outright canceled. The Solvang trip was first postponed until September 2020, then to July 2021, and then to October 2021. Given that Holly and I were vaccinated as well as her dad and brothers, we decided to follow through with the October trip.

We’re still hoping to get back to Carmel before too long.

In mid-August, things were looking up. I had written in my journal:

As bad as things have been with the Delta variant, I am somewhat optimistic that things will be better by October. People seem to be wising up. There has been an increase in people getting vaccinated. City of Philadelphia has mandated all health care and higher ed get vaccinated so Temple has a mandate now. Technically, the deadline is mid-October but I like to think that people will get it done sooner. So maybe another bumpy couple of weeks and then things could take a turn for the better.

But around that time, the Delta variant became the predominant strain in the U.S., which took a big bite out of any hopes that the pandemic was winding down.

I had speculated when Philadelphia lifted its restrictions that we might return to being more cautious as the summer wore on abetted by the weather getting hotter and reducing the likelihood that we would be wanting to do a lot anyway. This turned out to be the case. We were still reluctant to eat indoors so when it got to be too hot to comfortably eat outside, we went back out to getting takeout and delivery. We made 1 exception when a favorite restaurant announced it was closing. We took the train to meet my brother there and had our first meal inside a restaurant since March 2020.

We really didn’t do much else until October when we took our Solvang trip and enjoyed our annual Staycation, both of which I wrote about on our food and travel blog.

In mid-November, we got our booster shots which felt rather timely as the Omicron variant started appearing in the U.S. that month.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home and, a couple weeks later, celebrated Holly’s birthday which included going out to dinner indoors. We went to a place that required proof of vaccination but, even so, we weren’t entirely comfortable in a somewhat crowded restaurant.

As the Omicron variant became more prominent, the freedom we felt at times during the summer and fall evaporated. We are thankful that we took advantage of the reprieve and got out to do a few things before we hunkered back down for the winter.

We canceled Christmas plans with my brother. Shortly before the start of the spring semester, our library decided that those who had permission to work entirely remotely could resume doing so. I was able to continue working from home, but Holly had to go in occasionally. They initially set a late January date for us to resume our on campus schedules, then bumped that to late February, and then to early March. However, campus was still operating in-person in most situations and many classes were being taught face-to-face. Masks were still required in all buildings.

I did have to go to campus a few times before the March return date. I had a new employee start on January 3. It was an awkward situation having a new person start remotely, other than that 1 day of onboarding, but it seems like we both successfully navigated that. I also had to come to campus later in February to teach a few in-person classes.

By the time my birthday rolled around, the number of cases was in serious decline. We took a long weekend in early March to celebrate and went out to eat indoors at a couple of places still requiring proof of vaccination.

By the week of March 14, we were both on campus 1 day a week unless we had other reasons to be there more often.

Our campus announced that masks will be optional starting on March 21. It will be interesting to see how many people opt to continue wearing them.

As we get into spring, things are again starting to resemble something akin to normal. I’m certainly hoping it takes hold this time, and I won’t be writing a Year 3 of Pandemic Life post.

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