The calendar tells me that it’s been a year since the world changed. It’s been more than a year, really: the first COVID-19 case in the United States was reported on January 21st, 2020. The emergency was invisibly building in the US even before that. But a year ago today, the scale of the threat was pushed into view, and the outbreak became a pandemic.
It’s hard to recapture the specific feelings of last March. There was a particular mixture of confusion, fear, numbness, and denial hanging in the background of everything, and most of the month was a blur. But within that miasma of badness, specific moments stand out. Those vivid signposts are the things I remember most clearly when I think back to a year ago: a de-stressing collage I made from old magazines, a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer, a specific trip to the bagel shop, the things I panic-bought on Amazon.
Everyone has their own unique markers of the days when things changed. I asked ThinkAuthority staff to share theirs. Luckily, there are brighter days ahead.
My favorite relic of the first weeks of the pandemic is the 76.5-ounce canister of lemon-lime Gatorade powder I bought on Amazon. Everything was so scary and so new, and my instinct was to get everything I might need if I (or someone I knew) got sick. Enough powder to make nine gallons of Gatorade seemed reasonable at the time. I’ve used around half of it in the past year; it was particularly useful during election week when I was too anxious for solid food. Now, the canister lives on the top of my fridge, and I’m very attached to it. It feels like the strangest-possible pandemic security blanket. —Nicole Wetsman
When masks first became a thing, disposable masks weren’t available because they were needed by first responders and hospital workers. I remember being grateful that I already had a couple of reusable face masks leftover from when we had to have some exterminators come the year before. But I didn’t know if those two would last, and you couldn’t find any to buy, so I did some research, asked some of the other ThinkAuthority folks what they were doing, and hand-sewed a rather neat little mask from an old bedsheet (which I ended up never actually using). I remember several friends with sewing machines were sewing face masks to send to hospitals because the demand was so huge that medical personnel were running short, and cloth masks were better than none at all.
The other hard-to-get pandemic item was hand sanitizer. Again, it was simply not available, and I researched what you had to use to make your own, including what kind of alcohol and what strength it had to be. (I actually ended up writing an article about it.) I managed to score the aloe vera gel I needed at a local health food store but was never able to get the alcohol at the strength demanded — by the time it was available, I was able to purchase hand sanitizer at my local supermarket anyway. There must be something I can do with that aloe vera gel… —Barbara Krasnoff
I made a panicked trip to the grocery store about the same time as everyone else in Seattle when we realized what was going on. It was chaos — so many confused people, none of us sure what we were supposed to be doing or buying. All of the good brands of oat milk were cleared off the shelves. I put two frozen pizzas on the bottom of my shopping cart. I remember a sense of comfort, like, “Yes, this additional frozen pizza will see us through the deadly pandemic.” When I got to the front of the massive checkout line, there was only one pizza — the other one fell off at some point. RIP that other frozen pizza, abandoned on the floor of a Safeway in March 2020. You were sorely missed. —Allison Johnson
New York City, as everyone knows, was one of the first hotspots for COVID-19 in the US. The early stages of the pandemic were all about trying to convey our experience, and the importance of believing science and taking precautions, to family members who weren’t impacted yet in other parts of the country. It was — and continues to be — an incredibly frustrating experience trying to relay info to loved ones who still hold on to the “it couldn’t happen to me” line of thinking. I’m so glad it hasn’t happened to them, but it so easily could have.
Oh, and it was really hard to find toilet paper there for a while. Bidet all day. —Cameron Faulkner
Two days stand out for when the pandemic became “real” to me. On February 29th, one day after the first reported case of COVID-19 in Oregon, I woke up and asked my wife if we should buy extra food at the grocery store. I wondered if that would be a weird or over-reactionary thing to do. (Who knew that I should have actually been asking about buying extra toilet paper.)
On March 11th, there was the weird double-whammy of the NBA cancelling its season and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announcing their COVID-19 diagnoses. After that day, it seemed like everyone talked about COVID-19 a little differently.
A year on, I’m glad that many are now vaccinated and that hopefully soon, many more will be. But I also wonder how we’ll all be irrevocably changed from our time in the pandemic. — Jay Peters
By the time the WHO made the official call that we were in a pandemic, the swirling fear and unrelenting news had already started messing with our heads. Just a few weeks into living and working at home, and we started to lose track of what day of the week it was. My family would sit down for dinner, look at each other, and try to remember if we’d just finished our Thursday zoom meetings or if it was only Tuesday. Eventually, we started raising a glass to the day of the week. “Monday?” “Monday.” <clink> We still do it every night. —Mary Beth
WE STARTED TO LOSE TRACK OF WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT WAS
On March 10th, I took a selfie with a woman who had fallen asleep on me during my commute home. I joked that “social distancing in NYC is going great!” The next day, I showed up to the office and only a handful of my colleagues were in, but all of the snacks were gone. I had a few bags of chips stowed away at my desk, and I used chopsticks to eat them because I was afraid of touching my mouth. —Cory Zapatka
I distinctly remember taking the dog for an early morning walk around this time last year and being shocked that there were no cars — literally none — on what’s usually a very traffick-y road into Downtown Pittsburgh. It was eerily quiet, and it was the first time it hit home for me how huge the situation really was. Now, whenever I venture out in the car, the lack of traffic is actually really nice, if still a bit disconcerting. I’m hopeful this might make us rethink our dependence on cars, but I think it’s too early to tell whether the lack of traffic will become a permanent result of the pandemic. —Kim Lyons
“Today is Thursday” was trending on Twitter on March 19th, and several ThinkAuthority staffers started musing about how an automated reminder of what day of the week it was would be nice.
A bit of tinkering and a few hours later, and @TodaysDayToday was born: a Twitter account that, once a day, at 9AM ET, tweets what day of the week it is. Is it a useful Twitter account? Not exactly, but I do find it strangely comforting to see each morning, even a year later. And despite the timeless, WFH pandemic void, some things never changed: people still love Fridays and dread Mondays, if replies to the bot are anything to go by.
One year later, and time keeps on moving forward. Things might almost start looking like normal again soon. But my little Twitter bot will still keep ticking on, too. And in case you were wondering: today is Thursday. —Chaim Gartenberg
At the very beginning of the pandemic, our entire family had COVID and didn’t know it. My husband had gotten a false positive flu test, I spent about three weeks in bed with exhaustion and low appetite, our older son had fever and chills for two days, and our daughter had a fever for a morning that never returned after taking Motrin. But there were no tests around and nothing to do about it. And the positive flu test gave us hope. Then one day, as I was cleaning the bathroom, I wasn’t able to smell the Clorox.
ONE DAY, AS I WAS CLEANING THE BATHROOM, I WASN’T ABLE TO SMELL THE CLOROX
My husband who has year-round allergies and can never smell couldn’t help me. Our housekeeper who hadn’t been there in over three weeks assured me that the bleach was not watered down. But no matter how much I sniffed, I could not smell the faintest trace of bleach. I felt like I was losing my mind. I finally decided to spray my clothes, and, alas, within seconds they were covered in bleach stains. Not long after, reports came out about COVID’s effects relating to loss of smell and taste. Antibody tests confirmed we had had it, but the memory of me frantically running around our apartment spraying myself with bleach will stay with us forever. —Esther Cohen
2020 was going to be my first year living on my own, and the newfound independence was exhilarating. Then March came roaring in with a pandemic that trapped me in my apartment. At the beginning of the month, when the pandemic was still mostly just an ominous cloud on the horizon, I stumbled across the most precious dog online. Her name was Trudee. I had been wanting a dog for months, so I put in an application to the local rescue. After several interviews, I was approved to adopt her.
On March 17th, I drove from Columbus to Cleveland to pick her up. The highways were unusually empty. On March 18th, Ohio’s governor began to shut down businesses across the state. It was when this call came that I realized I was facing weeks or even months of loneliness in this apartment I was once so excited to be in. I remember hanging my head and crying out of fear of the isolation inside and the deadly disease outside. Trudee, however, was my saving grace. She kept the loneliness at bay, and we’ve been inseparable since. —Kaitlin Hatton
The pandemic’s start was actually supposed to be one of the coolest work trips of my career: a super-secret visit to Seattle, where I would play Valve’s then-upcoming Half-Life: Alyx. Valve wisely canceled the trip and let reporters play Alyx at home instead, and within a few days, I was in self-quarantine at the virus epicenter in New York City after an employee at ThinkAuthority’s offices tested positive for COVID-19.
The result is that I spent the early pandemic locked inside my apartment with a giant batch of mushy homemade enchiladas, wearing a VR headset I brought home on my very last trip from our office, trying to write something that sounded like a normal review for a major video game franchise instead of a panicky dispatch from a plague exclusion zone. It’s the only time I’ve ever introduced a developer interview by casually mentioning the local disease death toll. (I guess it was 125 back then, which is heartbreakingly low in retrospect since, within weeks, the city would watch bodies pile up in freezers and a mass grave.)
‘HALF-LIFE: ALYX’ IS A VERY GOOD VR SHOOTER ABOUT SPACE ZOMBIES. AND 30,000 PEOPLE IN MY CITY ARE DEAD.
I rewrote the opening paragraph to that article about 50 times, and that was the least dramatic version I came up with. Because outside VR, all I remember is grief and fury. Spending every night listening to ambulances flood the local hospital, waking up to smug pundits and politicians insisting the pandemic wasn’t real, mocking New Yorkers for being afraid of a disease nobody could cure or understand. Worrying a vicious sore throat I’d had in early March was actually COVID-19, edging around the idea I’d infected somebody else and killed them. Watching footage of people lining up for hours hoping to get tested, while the president called the whole thing a hoax. And then — where was I? Right. Video games.
Long story short, Half-Life: Alyx is a very good VR shooter about space zombies. And 30,000 people in my city are dead. —Adi
I was in Austin, Texas, profiling the eccentric brothers behind The Chive when stuff started to get really weird. It was March 11th — the World Health Organization had just declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. I remember sitting in my hotel room wondering if I’d made a big mistake. Was I going to get stuck in Texas? My editor, Kevin Nguyen, had asked me before I left if I felt comfortable traveling, and I’d answered honestly when I said yes. But now I felt really vulnerable. There was so much uncertainty — rumors that had seemed quite outlandish (they’re going to shut down air travel!) were suddenly within the realm of possibility. I bought hand sanitizer since The Chive guys were big on shaking hands. —Zoë Schiffer
The last time I went to our office was on March 3rd, the day after I wrote about how we had no idea how widely the virus was spreading because our testing was insufficient. The only reason I went was to record a TA'cast episode; I’d already decided at that point it was wisest to avoid public transit. As I did not own a car, that meant staying home.
By then, I’d already panic-bought a bunch of nonperishable food items, cold medicine, and some bleach since I’d missed my Wednesday evening yoga class on February 26th to write about a possible community-acquired case in the Bay Area where I live; after that, stocking up only seemed natural. If you’re going to panic, I figured, better to panic before everyone else. At that point, I still believed the CDC was competent and any kind of shutdown would only last a month or so, the way it did in other countries.
AT THAT POINT, I STILL BELIEVED THE CDC WAS COMPETENT
March 11th was also a Wednesday. My boyfriend and I went into our yoga class, and when we came out, Tom Hanks had been diagnosed and the NBA had canceled its season. He and I then proceeded to get into a giant fight — the only thing I was still doing was studio workout classes. He insisted, correctly, that I shouldn’t go to them anymore.
Also around that time, I lost faith that the US government would do anything to prevent coronavirus from becoming widespread. We’d been reporting on this threat for months, along with a lot of other outlets, and no one was taking it seriously. What was the point of our work? I still wonder about that; I have wondered about it every time we’ve reached a new grim milestone of death.
The fight I had with my boyfriend turned out to be irrelevant; the Bay Area shut down on March 16th. My yoga studio, where I’d gone four or five times a week for eight years, went out of business that summer. —Liz Lopatto
I remember a few things very clearly about the day Philly started its lockdown. I was working at a library, and I had decided to reorganize our big supply closet. I remember leaving the closet half-organized, with little piles of folders and labels on the floor that I’d “get to tomorrow.” Turns out, tomorrow wasn’t coming. I lost that job a month later, and I have no idea if anyone ever finished up tidying.
When our boss told us to head home, my co-workers and I decided to grab a few books and DVDs to entertain ourselves while we were stuck at home. There was a funny “kids in a candy shop” feeling: a bunch of library workers moseying around the stacks of an empty library, taking our pick of materials to hunker down with. I think we thought, naively in retrospect, that it might be a few weeks of working from home and then back to normal. A year later, I still have my pile of library books, tucked in a box that I use as a footrest at my desk. (Library friends, if you’re reading this, I swear I will return them eventually.)
I was too terrified to take the train or a ride-share home that day, so I hitched a ride with my equally terrified partner. We stopped at a few grocery stores (no toilet paper in sight) and a liquor store on the way. There was a bottle of Corona on the shelf outfitted with the head and legs of a virus, and I stared at it for a long moment trying to decide if it was cute or horribly morbid. —Kait Sanchez
I have bad anxiety, so I stocked up on nonperishables and hand sanitizer in late February. During my last commute home from work, I didn’t have any gloves so I placed (obviously clean and unused) dog poop bags over my hands so I could hold the pole on the train.
I remember people telling me I must be so relieved that my wedding was set for August 28th, and that this would all blow over by then.
I HAD ALREADY RESIGNED MYSELF TO HAVING TO STAY HOME, PROBABLY FOREVER
My parents and wedding caterer are both in upstate New York, and my partner and I were too scared of potentially spreading it to them to drive up. So my parents volunteered to go to the wedding tasting for us on March 14th. I FaceTimed them from my MacBook while they tried stuffed mushrooms, sweet and sour meatballs, and goat cheese puffs. I nodded along while I Googled “DIY sourdough starter” in the background. I am an eternal pessimist, so at that point, I had already resigned myself to having to stay home, probably forever. The wedding would obviously have to be postponed. I would never leave the house again! Therefore, my main concern, other than the crushing feeling of the world crumbling around me, was that all of my friends were showing off beautiful loaves of bread on Instagram — and I hadn’t picked up yeast during my grocery run.
We decided to postpone the wedding by the end of March. My sourdough starter died a few days later. I cried when I scraped it into the trash, and then again, a week later, when I described it to my therapist over Zoom. —Sarah Smithers
ThinkAuthority has covered too many events to count in the past decade, so we were prepared to notice them crumble when COVID began to rampage across the globe. I started a simple website to track them, called Is It Canceled Yet? (I even nabbed the isitcanceledyet.com domain. Sweet.) From E3 to the Olympics, there was plenty of material to monitor.
The project was mostly lighthearted and dusted lightly with humor when the cancellations were coming at a trickle and when we had some optimism that everyone would come together to shut down the spread of the virus. But then we learned our government and many of our neighbors wouldn’t take it seriously, and the trickle became a flood, and now 500,000 Americans are dead.
In the span of a day or two, the Is It Canceled Yet? site became too popular and too difficult for me to manage. People started pointing to it as a serious resource for knowledge about our decaying world; literally hundreds of people were tweeting at me and emailing me asking me to add things to the list or notifying me of changes. Unable to dedicate enough of my time to make the site useful and comprehensive, Is It Canceled Yet? became just another thing that was canceled. —T.C. Sottek
I moved into my own apartment two weeks before New York locked down. It’s the first time I’ve ever lived alone in the city — a longtime dream realized after years of meticulous saving and roommates who didn’t understand the concept of chores. I spent the days immediately after my move eating pizza on the floor and wishing I never had to leave.
The weeks that followed had no real shape. I remember dodging around other New Yorkers on the street to keep six feet between us when we were being told not to wear masks. That I had a healthy supply of hand sanitizer already from years of covering gaming conventions. How being out after sundown suddenly felt illicit; how being out at all felt dangerous. Dread and dark humor held hands during my unexpected isolation. One hour, I’d be crying hysterically until my eyes were nearly swollen shut; the next, I’d be giving myself a wax in the stupidest, most optimistic pastime I’ve had all quarantine.
I can’t tell you much about those first weeks or even the past year. Only a few moments have left a strong impression, and they’re best saved for therapy. But to the man who sold me this monkey’s paw: you were not clear enough on the fine print. —Megan Farokhmanesh