After pandemic year, weary world looks back — and forward
No one has been untouched.
Not the Michigan woman who awakened one morning, her wife dead by her side. Not the domestic worker in Mozambique, her livelihood threatened by the virus. Not the North Carolina mother who struggled to keep her business and her family going amid rising anti-Asian ugliness. Not the sixth-grader, exiled from the classroom in the blink of an eye.
It happened a year ago. “I expected to go back after that week,” said Darelyn Maldonado, now 12. “I didn’t think that it would take years.”
On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, few could foresee the long road ahead or the many ways in which they would suffer -- the deaths and agonies of millions, the ruined economies, the disrupted lives and near-universal loneliness and isolation.
A year later, some are dreaming of a return to normal, thanks to vaccines that seemed to materialize as if by magic. Others live in places where the magic seems to be reserved for wealthier worlds.
At the same time, people are looking back at where they were when they first understood how drastically life would change.
On March 11, 2020, confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at 125,000, and reported deaths stood at fewer than 5,000. Today, 117 million people are confirmed to have been infected, and according to Johns Hopkins, more than 2.6 million people have died.
On that day, Italy closed shops and restaurants after locking down in the face of 10,000 reported infections. The NBA suspended its season, and Tom Hanks, filming a movie in Australia, announced he was infected.
On that evening, President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office, announcing restrictions on travel from Europe that set off a trans-Atlantic scramble. Airports flooded with unmasked crowds in the days that followed. Soon, they were empty.
And that, for much of the world, was just the beginning.
Today, thanks to her vaccination, Maggie Sedidi is optimistic: “By next year, or maybe the year after, I really do hope that people will be able to begin returning to normal life.”
But it is a hard-earned optimism. Sedidi, a 59-year-old nurse at Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital, the largest hospital in South Africa and the entire continent, recalls she was devastated when the first cases appeared there last March.
And she recalls being terrified when she got COVID-19. Her manager fell ill at the same time and died.
South Africa has had by far Africa’s worst experience with the virus. The country of 60 million people has had more than 1.5 million confirmed cases, including more than 50,000 deaths.
“You can imagine, I was really, really frightened. I had all the symptoms. except dying,” she said, with a survivor’s grim smile. Her recuperation period was lengthy.
“I had shortness of breath and tightness of the chest. It lasted for six months,” she said. “I didn’t think it would ever go away.”
But she mended, and she’s back at work in the surgical ward. Others have not been so lucky. In the United States -- the world’s most COVID-wracked country -- 29 million have been infected, and 527,000 have died.
Latoria Glenn-Carr and her wife of six years, Tyeisha, were diagnosed at a hospital emergency room near their home outside Detroit on Oct. 29. Despite Latoria’s qualms, they were sent home.
Tyeisha, 43, died in bed next to her wife three days later.
“I woke up on Sunday, and I didn’t feel a pulse,” Glenn-Carr said.
One month later, COVID killed Glenn-Carr’s mother, too.
In quiet times, in prayer, Glenn-Carr thinks she should have pushed for the hospital to keep Tyeisha, or should have taken her to a different hospital. She is also angry at America’s political leaders — in particular, Trump, who she believes was more worried about the economy than people’s lives.
“If he was more empathetic to the issues and concerned about people, in general, he would have taken it more seriously,” she said. “And because of that, 500,000 people are dead.”
She joined a survivor’s group for people who lost loved ones to COVID. They meet weekly on Zoom, text each other and help with the grieving process. Glenn-Carr knows she will dread birthdays and Mother’s Days that will go uncelebrated.
“Nothing goes back to the way it was” she said.
At Queen Anne Healthcare in Seattle, 96-year-old Jean Allen was infected and recovered. But 19 of her fellow residents and two beloved staff members died.
The deaths trailed off, but the isolation and boredom continue. Allen is now fully vaccinated. She has had enough of sleeping her days away, of having only limited visits with other residents.
She recalled the yarn shop she ran decades ago, where she taught knitting and gabbed with the customers, and thought maybe she’d resume that old hobby, which she learned from her grandmother around 1930.
“I’m starting to get that feeling: It’s time to go back and do something,” she said. “If you find some knitting needles, let’s say size 3 and 5, pass the word on to the front desk. They’ll get them to me.”
With the pandemic came hard times to so many places. In Nepal, the stream of foreign adventurers arriving to climb Mount Everest stopped — a disaster for guides like Pasang Rinzee Sherpa.
Sherpa has scaled Mount Everest twice and spent 18 years helping climbers up the highest Himalayan peaks, generally earning about $8,000 a year. In the past 12 months, he had no income.
Sherpa had to beg his landlord in Kathmandu to waive his rent. He borrowed money from friends, cut down on expenses, stopped sending money to his parents, who have a small farm. He lives on two simple meals a day, cooking them in his room.
It’s been difficult. “We are mountain people who are used to walking freely in nature,” Sherpa said. “But for months during lockdown we were forced to be confined in a room in Kathmandu city. It was mental torture for us.”
In Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, domestic worker Alice Nharre remembered the desperation of people forced to stay home for a virus that some initially thought was not real.
“People were thinking: ‘We’re going to stay at home, with no help from the government -- how are we going to survive?’” she said.
The southern African country’s government pledged that relief pay of the equivalent of $20 would be given for three months to those thrown out of work.
“It never happened,” said Nharre, 45. “My mother signed up, but the money never arrived. We don’t know what happened to it.”
With a delivery from the COVAX initiative this week, the country has nearly 700,000 vaccine doses for its 30 million people. It’s not clear when they will be widely available.
“Maybe, it’s for doctors, and the big people. For us, the little people, we don’t know,” she shrugged.
When Trump began calling COVID-19 the “China virus,” Joyce Kuo tensed up.
“It was like ‘Here we go, brace yourself,’” said the 36-year-old furniture manufacturer from Greensboro, North Carolina.
Soon after, she recalled, when she took her three children to the dentist, a white woman in the waiting area pulled her daughter close and loudly instructed: “You need to stay away from them. They probably have that virus.”
More than once during the pandemic, Kuo and others in her family encountered that kind of racism. Though born in America, she was unnerved by reminders that others felt she did not belong there.
Meanwhile, Kuo and her husband were trying to pivot their outdoor furniture business in the face of government shutdowns. They started using upholstery materials to make cloth masks, which allowed them to stay open as an essential business and keep paying their 25 employees.
Kuo recalls being constantly stressed; it seemed grocery store shelves were always out of basic foods and toilet paper. Later, because of a teacher shortage, she began homeschooling her children -- ages 4, 6 and 8 -- while also trying to get work done.
“I think for any parent with children, working from home is almost a joke. You do what you can,” Kuo said. “A lot of times my work from home happened after the kids have gone to bed.”
Life pivoted for Darelyn Maldonado last March during her library class. She recalls sitting at a table with her close friends, talking with the teacher about COVID-19. The teacher told them their school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, would be shutting down -- briefly, she said.
In the 12 months since, she has lived in limbo and online.
Where she once awakened excited to go to school, she now struggles without the give-and-take that comes with sitting in a classroom.
There are good moments. Sometimes her Shih Tzu sits on her lap and licks the computer screen during class. Or her 1½-year-old brother, who has grown from an infant into a toddler in the course of the pandemic, opens her bedroom door.
But Darelyn lives with the worry that someone she loves could die. There’s also the frustration of having to give up softball and so much else that brings her joy.
“I don’t have very many friends anymore,” Darelyn said.
There is a light at the end of her tunnel. Parents in her city waged a pressure campaign to reopen schools, and she is due back in the classroom on March 16.
A year from now, on March 11, 2022, she pictures herself doing all the things she missed in this endless pandemic year.
“Playing outside with friends, playing softball with the dog,” she said. “Being with the people that I love most.”
Associated Press writers Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Binaj Gurubacharya in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tom Bowker in Maputo, Mozambique, Terry Tang in Phoenix and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of the pandemic’s first year: Pandemic: One Year