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A year later, pandemic lessons learned across the spectrum
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A year later, pandemic lessons learned across the spectrum

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After a full year of loss and gnawing worry, vaccine-fueled hope is propelling once again the promise of the future.

Finally.

Shutdowns and spiking infection rates forced unforeseen, unprecedented changes to lives and lifestyles over the 12 months.

Along the way, many individuals stepped forward to share their experiences with COVID-19 — and how they managed to navigate this new weird order — as mileposts that served as guides for what may have been in store.

We heard about people who suffered losses big and small, those frustrated by a lack of an organized, coherent response in the pandemic’s earliest days and those who had to learn on the fly a whole new way of doing business.

The good news is, even after tragedy, time really does heal and people have managed to pick themselves up, dust off and plow ahead into the future. A few updates remind us this is so.

More smiles

A few long months into the pandemic on an ordinary September day, Maya Patrick got ready for a short, quick trip to the UNC School of the Arts campus.

When she got outside, Patrick was stunned by what she found — or more precisely, didn’t find. Her white cruiser bike was gone; pieces of a freshly cut lock were all that remained.

Thieves nab bicycles everyday. They’re (mostly) inexpensive, and easily replaced. Cops don’t spend much time investigating. Most victims don’t bother filing reports.

But this white cruiser, a Kent Glenridge men’s hybrid, was no ordinary bike. She inherited it from her father, a 62-year-old Air Force veteran and engineer named Craig Patrick. He died in April from COVID-19 in a Detroit hospital.

With air travel still considered risky, Patrick had piled in a car for the 600-mile trip home. She made it in time to say goodbye in person. “I got to be with him for three hours,” she said during an appeal to find her stolen bike. “That was really nice.”

It was natural, then, that the cruiser turned into something more than just a bike.

“Its value is more sentimental,” she said. “It connected me to my dad.”

Reading about the loss inspired searches. Several kind souls offered replacements. One in particular refused to take a polite “no” for an answer; an anonymous donor worked through the school to see that an electric bike made its way to Patrick. “It was nice to have transportation again,” she said earlier this week. “My dad would have said, ‘Heck yes, you have to take that.’”

Classes resumed, and Patrick remains on course to graduate in a few weeks. She even had a job interview Tuesday in theater, her chosen field — and a tough one to break into, especially with limitations on audiences for live performances.

She was able to spend the winter term at home with family in Michigan, which she considers a blessing after losing her father.

“I have more moments recently when I’m smiling when I think about him,” she said. “That’s nice. Your person wouldn’t want you to be sad all the time.”

Local health-care providers reflect on challenging year

Cautiously optimistic

The phone rang six or seven times. Debbie Holland sounded a little rough when she answered.

“Just had my second shot,” she said the other day. “I’m hoping that after we all get that second one we can start to do some things again.”

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This time last year, Holland’s teen-aged son Kevin was all but certain to have contracted the coronavirus. He had many of the scariest symptoms — a high fever, body aches and a persistent hacking cough — and went for a test on March 21, a Saturday.

The Hollands, like tens of thousands of Americans early on in the pandemic, were told results would be available in four days. Then it was eight. Then 10.

Instant results, and widely accessible testing, were months away. Only the well-connected could navigate the logjams.

“Every time we call, it’s further and further behind,” said Chris Holland, Kevin’s father “It’s not just us waiting for results. It’s everybody he came into contact with. … It’s beyond frustrating.”

Without a definitive answer, the Hollands followed the only prudent course: Kevin isolated in his room. He ventured outdoors only occasionally, wiped down every surface he touched and ate alone.

“We know he has it,” Chris Holland said last year. “He’s had all the symptoms. Being told is just a formality at this point.”

Kevin, with the resiliency of youth, recovered and eventually resumed his life. He’s moved on to his freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. And everyone in the immediate family has had at least the first round of the Pfizer vaccine.

Memories of the maddening wait — and the frustration with seeing politicians, athletes and the well-to-do jump lines for testing (and results) — have lessened. That’s good, but concerns remain over the equitable distribution of vaccines.

“I have a feeling that it’ll turn into a yearly thing like the flu,” Debbie Holland said. “Get one shot a year.”

Vaccines have allowed optimism to return to the Hollands, and they look forward to resuming in-person visits. “My father-in-law lives nearby,” she said. “We didn’t want to take a chance of bringing anything to him.

“We’re still being careful. But we’re hopeful.”

The new normal

Olivia Campbell, a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and from Winston-Salem, was busy with an online class Tuesday morning, so it was going to be a minute before she could get caught up.

But that was OK. Unlike at her first semester when confusion and chaos wreaked havoc with schedules at the flagship, Campbell was studying at home by choice.

“We returned to campus with the same restrictions in place,” she said, referring to the second semester. Those include masking, social distance, one student to a room — suitemates allowed, but no roommates in tight spaces.

“We still see people sneaking people into the dorms, going to frat houses and rushing Franklin Street after basketball wins,” she said. “It seems like a lot of people have stopped caring about the pandemic. They’re ready to party and have it over with.”

In August, UNC had made the decision for in-person learning for all 19,000 students, then did an abrupt about-face within days as outbreaks were reported in several dorms.

“I definitely knew we were going to have to leave,” Campbell said at the time. “I just didn’t trust that people would be responsible. Freshmen wanted to have the full freshman experience.

“I thought we might get a month. We got a week instead.”

The availability of vaccines, combined with more data about the transmission of coronavirus, has increased safety and allowed for the easing of restrictions. It took a full year, but things are slowly beginning to return to a (sort-of) normalcy.

This semester, UNC and other schools have set up “sick dorms” where those testing positive can isolate.

“I don’t know anybody or heard about anybody who got really sick,” Campbell said. “There haven’t been any big outbreaks on campus (this spring), which is really impressive.”

Some classes are still being taught online. That’s OK, but not ideal. Progress, though, is precious and appreciated.

“It is harder to pay attention in Zoom classes,” she said. “I retained more in in-person classes. But we’ll manage.”

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