The conversation went like this: It will be only a few days. It can be kept at bay. There will be some discomfort, sure, but the world will just stop – just a short break, with an abundance of caution, and certainly not stopping any major grind. Certainly not for two years.
Certainly not for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who were among us at the time in mid-March 2020—those who lived in the beginning, watched it, worried about it (or not), and who, plain and simple, didn’t. are here now.
“Just a temporary moment in time,” insisted the man who was then the president of the United States. In a few days just a few weeks. just a few months. just a few years.
The fact is that on March 12, 2020, no one really knew how it would play out. How could they?
Flattening the curve — such a novel term, such a frozen moment of a phrase today — actually seemed possible two years ago this weekend, when Major League Baseball’s spring training games ended with their season. When universities told students to stay away, when Congress – surprisingly – began talking about whether it would be able to work from home.
“We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” the nation’s top infectious disease researcher told Congress on Friday two years ago, laying out two years of arguments on that exact statement. His name was Anthony Fauci, and he would go on to become one of the most polarizing figures in pandemic America, caught between proven science and alarmism and accusations of incompetence and masculinity, even as the sometimes former president himself. From too.
And for a while, there wasn’t a big crowd. except when there were.
For weeks in those early days, Americans all but shut down in many corners of the republic. The faces disappeared as the masks went up against the invisible adversary – if you could really have them. Hand sanitizer was squeezed so generously that some distilleries switched from whiskey to alcohol antiseptics. People discussed the lack of ventilators for family meals. Zoom became, for the nation, a household word; Suddenly your colleagues were shown on a screen in front of you, like the personalized, weekday “Brady Bunch” opening credits.
All these things were once new.
In the weeks that followed, as things slowly unfolded, there were questions we knew to ask, and questions we didn’t.
The ones we knew to know: How does it spread, and how easily? Can we put it out? Can I go out safely? Should I wash my groceries? Will there be a vaccine, and if so, how soon?
What we didn’t: How to combat the extreme mountains of misinformation and misinformation surrounding viruses and vaccines that emerged astonishingly fast from the scientific community? How to handle the anger, and the national divide, that has been dumped into lengthy virus discussions from the political arena and engulfed in conversational rubbish fires across the country? How to navigate the emotional wreckage of an entire generation of children whose lives and education will be affected?
Those questions are the ones that just don’t seem old. They seem fresh and immediate, and they remain largely unanswered to this day—a time when it can be hard to reconcile memories of the beginning of this thing because of all that happened, and what is still happening.
American memory is a strange beast. The nation, which is smaller than most societies on the planet, likes to trumpet its action story, but has long had trouble admitting or even acknowledging its history – be it racial or military, gender or economic. The history of the pandemic in the two years since those days in March 2020 is hardly an exception.
Do you remember those moments when people were talking about working together, when daily life was thrown so far off its axis that Americans were a little polite to each other for a time? When the word “Covid” was barely used, and everyone was just talking about the coronavirus?
“If we avoid each other and listen to the scientists, maybe in a few weeks it will get better,” Kolaud “Kay” Tarapolsi of Redmond, Washington, told The Associated Press on March 11, 2020. Exactly two years later, this week, she said of those early days: “I wish we’d taken it more seriously.”
And now: more than 6 million souls were lost worldwide. In the United States, nearly a million dead—and the polarization that was already striking the fabric of American society—turned into pandemic rage, masked against neighbor, of disbelief to make a fertile petri dish. Further misconception for yet unseen brands to develop.
The thing about history is this: sometimes we talk about the “right now” as if it were the culmination of everything – the real destination of everything. The thing we often fail to consider is that there is “now” another junction along the track, another route station to the next thing, and the next and the next.
The same goes for “now” of March 2020, yes. But this also applies to the “now” of March 2022. It’s useful to look back on the unique and strange year of 2020 – you try to learn from what happened before – but it also gives a chance to think about something else: Two years later, how will we look now? How are we going to measure what we are doing two years after it all started? Where is this thing close? And what happens when it happens?
“Who are we after this? Who are we after dealing with a situation we’ve never dealt with before?” Hilary Fusel Sisko, a professor at Quinnipiac University who studies how people communicate in troubled moments, took exactly two years Said earlier on Saturday. “You find who you are when a crisis strikes.”
Ted Anthony, director of new storytelling and newsroom innovation for The Associated Press, has written about American culture since 1990 and oversaw Associated Press’s coverage of the pandemic’s impact on society. Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyted . but follow him