Coronavirus 1 year later: How our lives have changed

Not much looks the same as it did when COVID-19 first hit the U.S. 12 months ago

A look at what coronavirus has changed over the last year
A look at what coronavirus has changed over the last year

From ubiquitous masks to economic pains to vaccine hopes, our lives look vastly different from this time one year ago.

Exactly 12 months ago today, the first documented case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States -- a man in his 30s from Washington state who had traveled to Wuhan, China, tested positive for the virus.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. has reported more than 24.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 403,000 Americans have died since then. That’s twice as many cases as any other country and nearly twice as many deaths.

Practically every area of our lives has been affected in some way by the novel coronavirus: from health and finances to education, politics and sports.

We are not the people we were one year ago. We have all lost something.
Family and friends.
Careers, businesses and jobs.
Direction.
Time.
Trust.

The unprecedented changes in American lives go beyond the masks, hand sanitizer and bleach wipes we all have at our work stations… and homes… and in our cars.

We now know the difference between a rapid and PCR test. We now realize how uncomfortable a Q-Tip can be when it’s seemingly shoved 12 inches up our craniums. We have all had it with virtual meetings.

America became a nation of lines over the last year. The lines to get a test. To get into the store at opening time to grab that toilet paper. To get laptops so children could be educated remotely. At food distributions. To vote. And now, to get the vaccine.

Here’s a look at all the ways COVID-19 has changed our lives:

Health

As cases spread across the country, we all quickly got used to wearing masks in public -- after we settled the debate over whether they’re effective.

We also learned 20-second songs or mantras to repeat as we washed our hands.

And we figured out how to tell just how far apart 6 feet is -- with or without markers on the ground.

With vaccine appointments filling up as fast as agencies can post them, these remain the best tools we have to keep the coronavirus from spreading, health experts say.

News4Jax has been tracking the climbing cases in Florida and Georgia throughout the pandemic, trying to bring some context to the case numbers and the reported deaths.

As of Jan. 21, Florida has reported 1,601,011 total cases of COVID-19 and 24,965 deaths, and Georgia has reported 695,400 confirmed cases with 11,411 confirmed deaths.

It took Florida exactly nine months from its first reported case to reach 1 million cases. But it took just another six weeks from that point to hit 1.5 million cases in the state.

The winter spike coincides with the state’s ongoing effort to get COVID-19 vaccines distributed to frontline health care workers and those age 65 and older. Florida is currently vaccinating more than 50,000 people a day with more than 1 million Floridians vaccinated so far.

The FDA’s approval of widespread use for COVID-19 vaccines -- one by Moderna and the other by Pfizer and BioNTech -- brought a much-needed glimmer of hope as we continue slogging through the effects of the pandemic.

Politics

Today’s anniversary of the first reported case of COVID-19 in the U.S. comes a day after the most unusual inauguration the nation has ever seen.

Instead of a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, there was a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead of balls, there were Zoom parties. Instead of hundreds of thousands congregating on the Capitol grounds and on the National Mall, there were thousands of National Guard members.

President Joe Biden takes the reins after a contentious election that featured some of the highest voter turnout in decades, record-setting early voting and mail-in voting, and some delayed counting because of those mail-in ballots, which left the outcome in question for days.

He and Vice President Kamala Harris have both received coronavirus vaccines. A key step underscored by the fact that Biden’s predecessor was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early October. Former President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump thankfully recovered quickly from the virus.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott was among many other political leaders to test positive for COVID-19, announcing in November that he was in self-quarantine. At least four Jacksonville City Council members also tested positive for the virus last year, and all are doing well.

Vulture.com has a fairly comprehensive list of all the celebrities, athletes and politicians who have come down with the virus. It’s not a short list.

As the virus spread around the country last year, politicians had to contend with the great mandate debate: to mask or not to mask. To make a long story short: health experts say the answer is to mask, and Biden is asking for Americans to wear masks for 100 days now that he’s taken office.

Money

Who knew we could almost run out of coins? But we did.

We also all learned exactly how we look on camera -- before and after the COVID-”19″ weight gain -- thanks to those never-ending Zoom calls.

Congress stepped up in March to pass the CARES Act, which delivered $1,2000 stimulus payments to many Americans at the beginning of the pandemic. As 2020 closed, Congress came through with a second COVID-19 relief bill that included $600 direct stimulus payments for individuals.

Americans have struggled to balance home and work life over the last year while working from make-shift home offices, but many of us realized we enjoyed the much shorter “commute,” and companies started to rethink the modern workforce.

Office workers might have been able to adjust on the fly, but many other industries weren’t so lucky, including travel, tourism and restaurants. A recent study said recovery for Florida’s tourism industry is at least a year away after theme parks were forced to shut down, beaches temporarily closed and cruises were put on hold.

As coronavirus cases surged again this winter, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his desire to see the state’s restaurants remain open. Many eateries in Northeast Florida have continued to limit capacity and require masks as they work to keep patrons and workers healthy while also surviving financially.

Data released in July by the Small Business Administration showed about 14,000 Jacksonville-based companies received federal loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. But our I-TEAM found that more than 50% of the funding nationally went to just 5% of those who received funding.

Education

As uncertainty reigned in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, district by district schools began to close their doors, sending students into remote learning. They never came back to class in the spring. (DeSantis later said that decision was a mistake.)

The closures left the state’s parents and students wondering what the fall would look like.

News4Jax launched our Facing the Fall section to help make sense of all the information, which varied by district.

We kept track of just how much our local districts were spending to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols so they could open their doors. Those protocols included major changes inside classrooms, school buildings and on buses, where social distancing was prioritized and many districts opted for an in-school mask mandate.

Eventually, all schools complied with the state mandate to reopen their doors and offer parents the choice between in-person and online learning for their children.

Many districts launched online dashboards to track outbreaks of COVID-19 in their schools. The state eventually released the information too.

During the fall, case spikes forced some schools, including Fletcher High and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Duval County, to temporarily send students to online learning until the outbreaks were under control.

Despite spiking cases in the state, schools in Florida have remained open for the spring semester but online learning is still an option for parents who want it.

Higher education has also faced hurdles with students forced into remote learning. As the new year begins, most are still taking classes online, even if they’re on campus in their dorm rooms.

Sports

Pretty much every professional and college sports season will have an asterisk in the record books after the pandemic forced most teams to adjust their schedules and alter their protocols.

Those schedule adjustments gave us an unprecedented convergence of seasons: for the first time ever, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS and WNBA all had games scheduled on the same day -- Sept. 10, 2020.

In the spring, the Kentucky Derby postponed its traditional May race to September, golf’s Masters Tournament was moved to November, The Players Championship was canceled after one round, Major League Baseball delayed its opening day and March Madness was canceled. The Jumbo Shrimp’s season was canceled in June.

High school sports in Florida and Georgia were called off in April after the states opted for distance learning for the remainder of spring. Spring sport athletes in Florida finally got back on the field this week.

Last year, as coronavirus raged through the summer, the major sports leagues were left to grapple with the decision of whether to create a “bubble” for teams to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they resumed play. Decisions and results were mixed. Many players still came down with the virus, exposing teammates and forcing leagues to adjust schedules mid-season.

Many leagues also opted to go either fanless or to massively reduce capacity in stadiums and arenas. The changes even affected high school sports across the area.

Community

If we learned anything over the last 12 months it’s that a pandemic can bring out the worst -- we’re looking at you toilet paper hoarders -- and the best in our communities.

We’d like to give some attention to the latter as News4Jax launches a Positively Jax campaign aimed to inspire “Random Jax of Kindness” in our community.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT: Sign up for Positively Jax

When the pandemic first hit the U.S., hospitals quickly faced a shortage of much-needed personal protective equipment for frontline workers. But businesses and nonprofits across the country -- and in our own backyard -- stepped up to fill the gap and shifted their production efforts to make face shields, masks, ventilators and hand sanitizer.

When we started to go stir crazy, we saw heartfelt messages pop up all over -- from chalk on sidewalks and driveways to social media posts offering help with grocery delivery.

When local businesses began to struggle, we responded to campaigns urging us to help them out. (Take Out Bingo was such a great idea!)

And as we’ve seen food distribution lines stretch for miles, our community answered the call -- in a HUGE way -- when News4Jax collected grocery items this week in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It’s been a tough 12 months, but maybe one of the quiet legacies of the pandemic will be that we’re all a little tougher -- and hopefully kinder, too.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


About the Authors: