As we enter the second month of 2021, and thus we are another month farther removed from the infamy of 2020, it feels that little in the world has changed. Though the date changed when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, it didn’t feel quite as monumental as I’d expected. In fact, it felt more like we’d entered another day of 2020, as if the date Dec. 32 had suddenly appeared on my calendar, than it felt like we’d entered a whole new year.
COVID-19 cases, though moderately improved in Michigan due to increased COVID-19 restrictions, reached new heights across the country as we shifted gears into 2021. The year has changed, but the circumstances have not.
As I reflect back on all the high points and the low points of 2020, one day stands out to me above the rest. It saddens me to think that although that day felt so distinguished from the rest at the time, it seems nothing but ordinary in hindsight.
On the Fourth of July, just as my sister was about to walk out the door for a socially distant, masked-up gathering with some of her closest friends, she received a call that would change the course of her day in a way she never expected. With one hand on the door handle and the other pressing her phone to her ear, my sister learned that she potentially had third-party exposure to COVID-19.
I watched her face fall as her plans for the day dissipated and reality began to set in.
Even though we’ve been living in a world dramatically altered by the pandemic for over a year now, back in July, the threat of the virus still seemed far off until my sister’s potential exposure. Back then, as long as I left my house with my mask and a bottle of hand-sanitizer, COVID-19 felt like a distant concern that I didn’t need to worry about on a personal level.
But on the Fourth of July, long known as a day of freedom and fireworks, my world became just the opposite of what the holiday symbolized. Knowing that we’d have to enter a period of quarantine because of the potential exposure, my family’s personal freedom was quickly stripped away.
The hopes I’d had of watching fireworks light up the sky that night were gone in an instant. Any explosion of light in the sky seemed insignificant compared to the news that had just imploded in my household.
Celebrating anything seemed pointless when the pandemic had just struck my family so personally. What freedom did we have, what freedom did anyone have, with COVID-19 running rampant through the United States and the whole world?
And yet, six months following the most restricted Fourth of July in my memory, the necessity of restriction continues in the world around us.
People treated New Year’s Eve the same way they did the Fourth of July six months ago; the Fourth of July was a celebration of freedom when we all needed to be embracing freedom’s absence in our lives and New Year’s Eve was treated as though the shifting time on the clock from 11:59 to midnight was going to cure COVID-19. Time can heal, but we have to be intentional in helping it do so.
Freedom, in the age of COVID-19, should feel like a mere illusion, yet it doesn’t. The virus feels as though it is almost normalized to the point where freedom feels like it can be attained. Six months ago, my sister’s third party exposure to the virus felt like it hit too close to home. It felt like a threat. Now, I know of very few people who haven’t come in contact with the virus or even had it themselves.
Hearing that we’ve come in close contact to COVID-19 doesn’t scare us the same way it used to. It doesn’t scare us like it should. We complain about living in quarantine and wearing masks all the time, yet we’re doing nearly nothing to stop the spread. We’re acclimating to living in a pandemic rather than trying to live without a virus threatening us at all times.
People continue refusing to wear a mask. People continue to party with their friends without taking precautions. People continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Have we learned nothing in the past year living through this pandemic?
The stigma of COVID-19 has changed in the past year, and it hasn’t changed for the better.