On Jan. 20, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged the first U.S. laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. Two months later many Americans were sent home from their jobs, stopping only to scavenge for toilet paper and rubbing alcohol – as much of the country began lock downs of businesses and organizations. At the pandemic’s onset, Americans were being strongly encouraged in some cases, and mandated in others, to limit movement and quarantine within their homes. 

Overworked essential workers anxious to access Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) were the exception. They remain the heroes who kept going, and kept us going in return. It was a year like no other. 2020 was most certainly the year of the mask, hand sanitizers and binge-worthy media viewing. Our world changed as we struggled to adapt. 

We worked from home, held meetings, conferences and Pride celebrations on Zoom; and spent so much time beautifying our yards, Lowes and Home Depot ran out of our favorite mulch and patio heaters. For the most part though, we avoided in-person shopping and kept those offering no-touch services in business because we began to order everything from milk to batteries online. When we did leave our homes to go to the gas station or the supermarket, we placed our feet on decals that reminded us to physically distance six feet away from others. 

The more challenging things became, the more many of us prayed for the flattening of a curve we kept hearing about through the news media. We were devastated from grieving the deaths of loved ones we weren’t able to say goodbye to – many of whom were sequestered in overloaded hospitals and makeshift medical facilities. 

As if all that weren’t enough, the country was simultaneously experiencing a heightened sense of social unrest, brought about by a dysfunctional police force nationwide, systemic oppression and blatant racism. This time, unlike the protest efforts of the 1960s and ‘70s, when protestors were at risk from armed officers, they were also endangered by exposure to one another and the spread of COVID-19. Gathering to rally and chant for justice brought with it an airborne virus and the potential risk of serious illness, or even death. Voices muted by oppression were now muffled by the masks their voices strained against. 

With all that going on, Americans still refused to give up on life and community. We continued to fight for equity and humanity. In the midst of it all, we found the wins and joys and were determined to celebrate them. Some of us took part in virtual religious services. We held graduation ceremonies (birthday parties and baby showers, too) in drive-by fashion, and drove by the houses of children graduating from their schools in decorated vehicles while honking our horns – the new sound of recognition and achievement. We tried to stay healthy by paying particular attention to our immune systems by increasing and introducing elderberry, vitamin C, turmeric and sea moss to our bodies. Meanwhile, many of us also nurtured our mental health with family Faceime calls, journaling and taking yoga and exercise classes held outdoors in circles spray painted on grass and astroturf. 

Now it’s two years later and we’re still adapting – many of us continuing to wear our masks and get vaccinated. The pandemic isn’t over, as we know from the news of two subsequent variants: the Delta Variant and, most recently, the highly contagious Omicron Variant. 

Masking, frequent hand-washing and limited group (indoor) gatherings are still recommended as the best options for staying healthy and minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. A different way of life has become our past, present and possibly our future. 

An important note to add here: as of Dec. 29 at 11:50 a.m., in less than 30 days, the number of new infections had shot up by an estimated 25-30,000, with reports indicating as many as seven people being infected per minute by the Omicron variant.

As 2021 ends and 2022 begins, here are some thoughts inspired by experiences with the pandemic and shared by some of our qnotes readers. 

Jeffery Edwards-Knight (He/Him) 

Public Health Employee, Charlotte 

“The past year and a half of living through COVID-19 has been quite revealing for me. I realized an inner strength I didn’t know was as strong as it is. When things with my family’s health or mental stability were in question, I held strong to my faith, which kept me grounded.”

Trey Lee (He/Him)

Hospitality Manager, Winston-Salem

“Fuck COVID.”

DJ Kelly Kel (She/Her)

Retired Veteran, Columbia, S.C.

“I find the lessons of COVID-19 and its variants to be many. Primarily it demonstrated and continues to demonstrate clear evidence that what affects one can easily affect us all. Another lesson: to not take things for granted. What ‘Is’ today can easily be ‘Not’ tomorrow. Know that it is okay to adjust and that you can adjust.”  

Dr. Janaka B. Lewis (She/They)

College Professor, Charlotte 

“I have been reminded that neither the government nor local community members, including those at places of employment, can be responsible for protecting individual health and personal peace. I and others have lost multiple people and life keeps going, but an additional reminder not to normalize death either and to still embrace individual value.”

Mya Love (She/Her)

Poet & Event Organizer, Charlotte 

“The pandemic has made me think. Life is unpredictable. Not only does COVID come in many forms, but the results are positive for some and negative for others. Some people have used this time to reach goals and reconstruct their lives. Others have used this time to acknowledge that they will work to do anything to protect themselves, [their] personal freedoms and loved ones. We can work together or be divided in thought, but the outcomes are affected by each action.” 

Rita Maneata (She/Her)

Health Care Professional,
Tallahassee, Fla.

“I learned that some communities will always look out for each other. I also learned that you can get nearly anything delivered on demand now, even in a smaller city. I learned how to make really good vegan mashed potatoes, too.”

James Prayer (He/Him)

Health Care Policy Advocate, Charlotte 

“COVID taught me to never take life for granted, appreciate the simple things and to never save something for a special occasion because every day is a special occasion! It also reinforced my will to live unapologetically, enjoying life as well as cherishing, cultivating and repairing relationships with the people I care most about!”

Roxanne Stanard (She/Her)

Retired Federal Employee, Charlotte

“The only person I have control over is me. I do what I need to do to protect myself. Vaccines and boosters. Masks and social distancing are in my present and future and I’m okay with all of that.”

Michael “Drew” Swope (He/Him)

Chef, Charlotte 

“That apparently everyone failed Biology 101. Evolution is real and happening as fast as we run out of Greek letters to describe variations.”

Chad Turner (He/Him)

Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce President, Charlotte 

“Masks, social distancing and vaccinations are key to minimizing risks, but we must still be vigilant to ensure that we are protecting the most vulnerable in our community.”