The beginning now seems so long ago — and our lives beforehand almost unrecognizable — with the return to that normality still so far out of reach.
When it arrived in California and the North Bay, the novel coronavirus shattered the rhythms, routines and rules that define nearly every aspect of our daily existence.
School, work, home life, consumer habits, recreational activities, civic spaces, social relationships, how we wander through the world. Every part of waking life would be constrained by efforts designed to curb transmission of the frightening and mysterious new disease, reordering priorities, revealing stark inequities and deepening divisions throughout the nation.
In Sonoma County, residents hardened by wildfires, flooding, power shutdowns and evacuations braced for a renewed period of discomfort and uncertainty amid a transformation that unfolded in almost unimaginable scope and speed.
Starting in mid-March, stores, restaurants, bars, gyms, salons and many other business sectors were shut down, moves that cost county residents about 35,000 jobs in the first six weeks, raising the unemployment rate to a peak 14.5% in April, the highest level in some 80 years.
More than 68,000 students were sent home from school, left to figure out with their teachers and parents how to learn online for more than year.
Extended families were kept apart by guidance on mixing households. For elders in care homes, visitors were banned.
“Flattening the curve” became our common mission, as we withdrew from shared public spaces, retreating indoors with immediate family, companions or, in many cases, alone.
Few imagined that, a year later, the world would remain upended and society still largely locked down — the economy battered, more than 300 local COVID deaths mourned and more than 28,000 county residents stricken, the lasting scars from job losses and business closures, months of isolation and milestones missed, yet to be revealed in full.
The residual anxiety and grief is only intensified by the fact that so much remains the same 12 months into the pandemic, Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said.
“There was a lot of hope that it would be substantially different now, and it isn’t, and I think that’s a hard psychological realization,” said Hopkins, chair of the county Board of Supervisors. “We’re still in this disaster, and things aren’t a whole heck of a lot better, even though hope is on the horizon. But it’s still the sense of ‘Get into the grocery store and get out as quickly as you can.’ ”
Immediate hunger crisis
As the pandemic approaches a second year dominating life in Sonoma County, people ranging from community leaders to once-quarantined patients, parents and public health authorities have shared their reflections on how we have been changed by a year like no other.
For David Goodman and his colleagues at the 32-year-old Redwood Empire Food Bank, where he is the longtime chief executive officer, the effect of the shutdown was immediate.
Goodman said it’s well-established that many working people in Sonoma County need help to make ends meet, given the high cost of living. But even more people are one emergency or unexpected event away from coming up short.
COVID-19 has spelled that out in sharp relief.
“In the blink of an eye, when all of a sudden it was shelter in place and businesses were closed, and people couldn’t go to work and they didn’t have the money and the bills were still coming, the theoretical constructs became reality, and we saw this massive surge of people coming,” Goodman said. “Within one week the lines formed.
“Food insecurity is urgent. Hunger is urgent.”
Hundreds of cars lined up each day for drive-thru delivery facilitated by relief workers who have remained unwavering in their commitment despite some risk to their own health, he said.
In the year since then, the food bank has more than doubled the amount of food it distributes to clients each month, providing groceries equal to about 13.5 million meals and serving 263,200 households between July of last year and January, Goodman said.
“Maybe a silver lining is that society will now recognize food insecurity and hunger as something that is quite literally we are all right up against it, and it takes nothing to find yourself — I don’t have the words for it,” he said.