When history is written at the end of the twenty-first century, the year 2020 will probably be one of the most significant years of the first half.
The global COVID-19 Pandemic
This was obviously the main event this year, and it was a complete game-changer. It was the kind of once-in-a-century event that not only affects everyone’s daily activities, but which will also permanently shift the way social structures operate. Originating in late-2019, it started to gain traction as a news story in the U.S. in January of 2020 before steadily gaining more and more traction. At the time, I recall thinking that the virus would likely either be contained or fizzle out, the way other such diseases often do, but that clearly didn’t happen. One of the indications that things were getting out of hand was that by February and March, we were seeing more and more videos showing brutal tactics taken by Chinese authorities attempting to control the spread. Despite this, it managed to make its way out of China and move to other parts of the world, such as Italy, where it infected thousands more and brutalized that country.
By March, the virus threatened the U.S. enough to launch a major shutdown of its economy. I recall thinking that one of the first real signals that the virus was a bigger threat than first imagined in America was the shutting down of the NCAA Tournament in March, as well as the closing of other sports leagues. This kind of unprecedented shutdown of one of the biggest American sporting events – and a huge generator of economic activity – meant the threat was very real and very dire. Eventually, other parts of society – from schools to businesses to churches – started shutting down, and people were being asked or required to shelter in place.
The U.S. response to COVID-19
If the virus itself was the star of the show, the supporting actor was the way the U.S. reacted to it. With relatively little known about the virus when it hit in March, it was difficult to know what to do. Nevertheless, states all over the country instituted mandatory shutdowns, with stay-at-home orders and quarantining becoming the new normal. Schools closed, and then shifted to online learning formats. Working from home and Zoom meetings became a regular part of American life. Hoarding of household items also made a brief appearance, with items like hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes nowhere to be found in the early weeks of the shutdown. Strangely, toilet paper was also horded, possibly resulting in several households being fully stocked in the bathroom until 2025.
The period from March until May were as abnormal a time as we may ever experience. I recall visiting the stores in mid-March as the reality of the virus’ arrival was sinking in for people, and seeing people buzzing around, filling their carts with groceries late into the night. I also recall seeing someone wearing a mask for the first time and thinking it an odd over-reaction at the time.
When the shutdown and shelter-in-place order was first imposed, I recall the strange feeling of enjoyment because of my new freedom to stay home and avoid the long commute into work, while at the same time feeling like less and less mattered anymore. The time of day no longer mattered since I could complete my work whenever I wanted. Mornings and nights blended together, and there was a general lack of order. Like others, I engaged in new or rediscovered hobbies that cater to the stay-at-home role in life.
Masks and Social Distancing
Two pandemic items that infiltrated American lives more than any other have to be the mask and the idea of social distancing. Social distancing, which meant staying six feet away from strangers to avoid getting breathed on, always seemed like a rational approach to the virus for reasons of basic physics. The more controversial approach was the wearing of masks to avoid the spread. Although the practice of wearing masks by the public to prevent the spread of disease has been common practice in Asia for a while, in the West it was considered as something of an enigmatic practice.
When the impending arrival of COVID to the U.S. began in March, the official position by authorities was to avoid masks. The U.S. Surgeon General, for example, memorably proclaimed that people should not get them. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the strangely Anti-Trump hero of the left, also made a bold statement about the false sense of security provided by masks. I don’t think this had much effect, though, since more and more people started going out into public while wearing them. Once my state’s shelter-in-place order was lifted by around June, I remember seeing a decrease in mask-wearing as people undoubtedly thought the worst of it was over and things would get back to normal. However, this was followed by additional outbreaks of COVID and renewed alarm and calls for even wider adoption of mask-wearing. Now, some nine months after the initial outbreak, masks are regularly required for patronizing businesses and visits to just about anywhere, and the vast majority of people comply.
Strangely, though, the exact science behind mask-wearing is still largely unexplained.
Social Unrest Hits the Streets
The 2020 Election
The Rise of the Left
The Death of the Media