In this series, The Shoestring will explore and remember the impacts of COVID pandemic on different aspects of life in western Mass.
To speak of March 2020 is to evoke strong memories. To some the first thing that comes to mind might be the last normal thing one did before everything shut down. To others, it might be baking bread and standing far away from friends outdoors in the early spring, or wondering if one might bring home from “essential” work a mysterious and deadly disease.
The changes that took place in that month pivoted around an axis of premature death, or more specifically, trying to prevent it, and affected us down to the level of sensory experience. The smell of one’s favorite restaurant, the sound of a creaky doorway in a friend’s house, the touch of a handshake were replaced by the smell of hand sanitizer, the sound of voices muffled by homemade cloth masks, and the feeling of rubbing a disinfecting wipe over one’s groceries. Many healthcare workers became newly familiar with the sound of respirators.
Today we live in an aftermath of a rebellion against those changes, often framed as a popular one, but more accurately understood as driven by a declining interest on the part of government, business, and cultural elites in preventing people from dying. COVID remained the 3rd leading cause of death of Americans in 2022.
In this series, The Shoestring will explore and remember the impacts of the pandemic in the realms of healthcare, disability, work, and play. Uplifting the stories of local residents who passed away, experienced disability, or adapted to a world changing before their eyes is the antidote we can offer to a media and political landscape in which the predominant narrative is that the pandemic is over. In this introductory piece, we feature reader-submitted photos from early and late March 2020, to remember a moment in which we as a community struggled to process shock, grief, and cabin fever in a world turned upside down, and accepted that our lives could look, feel, and sound radically different in the interest of preserving life.
The other articles in this series so far are “Is Remote Participation Here to Stay?” by Shelby Lee, “COVID-19 Turned the Valley’s Music Scene on its Head,” by Brian Zayatz, and “Holyoke Soldiers Home Fiasco Still Weighs Heavy on Workers,” by Dusty Christensen.
Candace Clement, Belchertown. Left: “Technically February but this stands out as a ‘last of the normal but things aren’t normal’ moment. Bernie rally in Springfield before Super Tuesday. We couldn’t get in so this crowd was peaking in through the window.” Right: “And everyone’s classic.”
John Wanner, Florence. I was busy trying to figure out what my job at Cooley was going to look like (I am a nurse anesthetist; we transitioned from the OR to go help in the ICU during the first months). I have a lot like these that show how the kids were forced to entertain themselves at home without friends. The first is our yard filled with the detritus of days of play with stuff found around the house. The second is the girls sunbathing in the driveway.
Celina Della Croce, Northampton. Left: March 18. People yelling “Fora Bolsonaro” banging pots and pans from their apartments in São Paulo. Right: One of the last flights back from São Paulo before flights were canceled.
Above: Hector said [this was] fine to share – working as a medic at beginning of the pandemic. They ran out of protective gear, so my aunt sewed him PPE with the fabric she had.
Jason Kotoch, Northampton. Here are three from the day my dad died of Covid.
Roman Nicholas, Northampton. Last one is three weeks later, when I went into quarantine.
Brian Zayatz, Hadley: Top: Footings playing a show in my living room, with an ominous foreground. Bottom: The first of many solo walks on the dike across the street from my house at the time.
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