Pandemic Chronicles #11: Remembering March 2020

As if time suddenly froze.

Recently I visited my university office, the latest occasional visit to gather or return materials related to my teaching and research. When I reached the elevator bank of my building, I noticed the electronic events calendar shown above. It hadn’t changed since the week of spring break in March, when the university announced that we would be shifting to online teaching because of the pending coronavirus situation.

It was a stark reminder of how quickly we closed things down.

As recounted in the Boston Globe‘s superb investigative feature on the early days of the pandemic in Massachusetts (link here), as of Monday, March 9 — the first weekday of our spring break — we had only 41 known COVID-19 cases and no fatalities in the state. The next few weeks were surreal for so many of us, as we began transitioning to a stay-at-home mode and started wearing masks when we went out.

When March 20 brought news of the state’s first reported COVID-19 fatality, along 328 new reported cases, I felt sadness and foreboding. It was becoming clearer and clearer that our lives were in the process of changing significantly, perhaps for a long time.

Still, when various public health projections told us that Massachusetts could expect six-figure infection levels and thousands of deaths, I could not wrap my head around the possibility that we would be one of the early hotspots for the virus. I held onto hopes that somehow, someway, we would avoid meeting those scientific projections.

We’ve wrestled down our numbers of infections, at great cost in so many ways. And we’ve lost nearly 8,500 people to this virus, according to official counts.

In the meantime, our March shutdown, and the weeks leading up to it, are starting to feel like a long time ago.

It’s too early to know how we’re going to look back at this time, but I’m guessing that for most of us, this has already become one of the defining events of our lives.

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