By Quentin Choy
March 11, 2021
One year ago, the CDC declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. I was a sophomore in college, and Spring Break was in a matter of days. Universities seemed hopeful in that they would go online for a week or two before resuming as if nothing had gone awry. It seemed as if all it once, schools had gone online right after.
The month before, I was at a convention center in Denver at a political rally for Bernie Sanders, who had just won a crushing victory in the Nevada Caucus. There were 11,000 people in one room, and I had just heard a whisper or two about “the coronavirus,” “Wuhan,” and “COVID-19.” That world was in its final stages.
I attend college in Colorado and go back home to Hawaii each summer. With college moved online, I was living in the dorms and saw each of my friends from Hawaii move back home to continue class from there. I remember the fear I felt of the virus, not knowing how deadly it could be and with my mind jumping to the most extreme conclusions. I imagined a world like that of The Hunger Games or of the Walking Dead with people fighting one another and roaming the wastelands to survive. While this was vastly unrealistic looking back, it was a common feeling by many people in the virus’ early days.
I was afraid to move back to Hawaii since the islands’ geographical isolation would be ravaged by the virus, and I feared ships not stopping in Hawaii anymore to deliver necessities like food, clothing, and other goods. This fear of being stuck in Hawaii during COVID made me reach out to my dad who lived in California and ask if I could live with him. Looking back, that was an irrational idea, but it seemed like the best at the time.
Moving out of my dorm and preparing to go home was difficult, and I remember simply throwing away a lot of my belongings – plates, books, clothes, and giving away my TV to a friend. Since I wasn’t planning on moving out right before Spring Break, and since I had to fly back in about two days, I got rid of nearly everything I owned. People slowly came back to the dorm to move their belongings out, and only one person was allowed in the elevator at a time. This was the first time I heard of “social distancing” being discussed by other students. I remember the cafeteria having tape on the ground separating people before grabbing pre-made lunch sacks and leaving to eat them outside of the dining hall.
I hugged many friends like it was the last time I would ever see them because I genuinely was unsure of how long the virus would last and what effect it would have on our lives. I also genuinely believed I would never be back in Colorado, at least not for a long time, and started looking at programs at the University of Hawaii since I thought I would be stuck there in Hawaii for years before it was safe to return to Colorado.
The flight home was interesting as well. At the airport, the gate attendant informed me that the governor of Hawaii had placed travel restrictions there and that I should go at my own risk. Being a resident, I had no choice, but this was interesting to hear. My flight was to Seattle first, and then I would fly home. I arrived in Seattle at 11pm, and I had a mask on even though it wasn’t mandated or politicized yet. About 15% of people in the airport had a mask on, so I felt a little weird. Since this would be an overnight layover, I looked for a nice spot to lay down and sleep. Seattle was also known as the first city in the U.S. which saw cases of COVID so I was really nervous.
From down the hall, a group of about five Chinese teenagers were walking down wearing masks, facial shields, and disposable suits to cover their entire bodies. As much as I hate to admit it, I was afraid of them because they were Chinese, and I directly associated these people with spreading this disease that was impacting my life in such negative ways.
Flying back to Hawaii, there were only 13 people on the plane.
Upon arriving home, I remember using painter’s masks to go into stores and of waking up at 5:30am each morning to do classes on Zoom due to the time difference with Colorado. It was difficult to pay attention and to find motivation to do school from home, but it was nice to be back with my family.
My sister’s graduation was that year, and her school collaborated with a local news station to broadcast it, and she dressed in her graduation attire at home, and we all celebrated her. While she did the best to be optimistic about a virtual graduation, I knew it hurt her inside to not be able to go to prom and have an in-person graduation like everyone else before her.
I worked for Vector Marketing selling Cutco knives through Zoom and was easily frustrated at how difficult and pointless it all seemed working from home. Lockdown was annoying, but I knew it was necessary, especially in a place like Hawaii. Tourism regulations became a hot issue in Hawaii as the lack of tourists resulted in a lack of revenue for the state, impacting many peoples’ livelihoods.
I remember stores having capacities and waiting outside of them in places like Costco with lines going all the way around the parking lot, winding back toward the road. I remember an older dude commenting on the line, saying it reminded him of bread lines in Cuba. Different situations, but okay.
Deciding to go back to Colorado that summer was a difficult decision, knowing that my family enjoyed having me around and that I could stay in Hawaii if I wanted to. However, I didn’t want to. I didn’t plan on coming back home this early in the first place. Everyday felt the same. I remember for dinner, my sisters and I would compete to see who could make the best meals for our family. Those were some of the best meals in our family’s history!
I believed Donald Trump would work as hard as he could in helping the country get through the virus and economic fallout, not because I necessarily believed in him, but because it was an election year, and beating the coronavirus would be a campaign winner and would be in his own self-interest. As we know, this didn’t happen, but it was a thought that seemed fitting at the time.
Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination. George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight. Trump held rallies across the country, and people were refusing to wear masks. Protests in the streets grew violent. Trump sent the National Guard around the country to clear protesters. It seemed like everything was falling apart at the seams.
Back to School
I decided to go back to college in person, and my grandparents and sister came with me to Colorado. We visited Estes Park near the Rockies as forest fires destroyed the mountainside. Smokey days were characteristic of August and September in Colorado and added to the sentiment that the world as we knew it was ending.
That semester I had classes in all four types of offerings: fully in-person, hybrid, Zoom, and full online courses. Luckily my job at one of the school offices allowed me to return, and I lived in a house with some guys who played on our school’s lacrosse team.
The campus was so empty, and every event that happened was on Zoom. Most people were sick of online school, so no one wanted to meet for clubs or extracurriculars that way since that was all we knew.
I met my girlfriend at church that semester, and that was the best thing that happened in that terrible year. Trump lost the election and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris became the new President and Vice President. I was glad that Trump lost and that COVID would be taken seriously. While I wasn’t enthusiastic about Biden-Harris, I took it over Trump. Around that time, rumors of vaccines were going around, and while I was hopeful, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
Today, many people are vaccinated, and vaccines are on the way. Over 500,000 have also been killed by the virus. Economic recovery is hopefully coming as well.
I’m ready for this virus to be put behind us and to continue on. While my story is not unique at all, I wanted to share it to remind everyone how far we have come in the year since this terrible pandemic began.
Image Courtesy of NPR.