A Year in COVID-19 — Community experiences throughout quarantine

This week marks one year since COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. This edition of Valley Sentinel is dedicated to reflecting on the events of the past year. The edition includes stories on the effects of the virus, a look at the milestones we as a nation, state and tri-county area have marked and up-to-date information on COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations. Below are submitted experiences from members of the community and Valley Sentinel readers.

Because I no longer have a commute to work, which was about an hour each way, I have more time to exercise, and so I’ve spent a lot of time since the beginning of Covid exercising and working on my fitness. I was able to lose weight during Covid that I’d put on since getting married five years ago…“love chub” if you will. As a result of the better eating habits, cutting out my evening glass(es) of wine and a lot of exercise — I feel healthier. I’ve experimented with a lot of new recipes and have done much more cooking. We used to go out to eat or get take out a few times a week — and we never do that now. We also used to go out to movies every Friday, and we haven’t been out to a movie in a year, but we do watch them through streaming services.

I try to get outside each day to spend some time in nature, and that helps my mental health.

The biggest negative change I’ve seen in my own life is that I’m watching so much more TV than ever before, and sometimes I watch things that upon reflection were just totally trash TV (in my opinion) — and I feel guilty about that. I had fun in the earlier months of Covid creating little vignettes with hedgehog stuffed animals, taking pictures of them and putting them on my social media — it seemed childish but it was fun and gave me some joy during an otherwise dark time.

—Alison Graves
Escondito, California

Photo via Roger Reynolds

I have always enjoyed a safe fire; inside, outside, camping, a prairie burn, burning dry holiday trees, any safe fire. We heat with a woodstove in our family room; more fire. I am happy. Fire: beautiful, warm, comfortable, mesmerizing, plus hot food. Wild predators don’t like fire. For thousands of years, fire has kept humans safer.

Safety got a new parameter in the last year. Physically distance, wear a mask, outside is safer. Regarding the coronavirus, I was pro-mask, before the CDC and the WHO were pro-mask. Yet, I like to see people’s faces, so I prefer outside and 10 to 20 feet apart and masks optional. Also, watch the wind direction. Humans are not comfortable 10 to 20 feet apart for visiting. We drift closer, unless we are seated. Winter can be bit chilly for sitting in chairs outside.

Welcome my old friend fire! This winter I hung out with friends a few times around a mini bon-fire. We hiked into the woods, collected some dry dead wood and made a fire. We visited, enjoyed the heat, the beauty and that age old comfortable, safe feeling humans have around a fire.

And we were safer, especially regarding this coronavirus. A fire is more than hot enough to kill this virus. Plus, the fire creates an updraft, so our breath is being carried up and away with the heat of the fire. My partner and I have our side of the fire and our friends have their side of the fire; each 4 to 6 feet from the fire. The fire is about 4 feet wide, so we are at minimum 12 feet apart with a hot strong updraft between us.

I enjoy nature hikes, even without a fire. A COVID safety challenge with hiking is that hiking paths are narrow, so people have to walk single file, with distance. This still has people walking in the breath trail of those ahead of them and it is hard to hear each other. In parks, you meet other people, so you can end up pretty close, as you pass each other.

Another option: walk backroads with friends, gravel or paved is great during Mud Season. In rural Wisconsin, we have so many country backroads that are quiet and beautiful. These roads are wide enough to walk 10 to 15 feet apart, each on our own side of the road. Again masks are optional, because we are outside, with good distance.

On these hikes, we have seen and heard so many birds, plus deer and many tracks. One late summer walk on a Wisconsin Riverway sand road near Blue River, we enjoyed the last of the flowers of the backwater wetlands. We have enjoyed the beauty of the bare winter landscape with naked trees, and a blanket of snow for contrast. Walking backroads and mini-bonfires are new activities that I will continue post-pandemic. Yes, we can be social, be safe and have fun as we get through this.

—Roger Reynolds
Lone Rock

We’ve reached the one-year mark for the lockdowns surrounding COVID, but my own virus saga is slightly longer. Last February, I came down with one of the worst chest colds I’ve ever had. I lost my senses of smell and taste (as I do every time I get sick) as well as my voice and a good deal of my hearing. I spent the next few days on the couch, staring straight ahead and waiting for the fever to break.

Was it the Dreaded Virus? I won’t know until I take the antibody test. But it was certainly an opening act for the strangeness that followed. Things have changed so fast since then that I’ve barely been able to catch my (figurative) breath. Not only has it been one year; it has been one crazy year.

The past twelve months have completely shifted my baseline concept of normal. Seeing myself in a mask feels normal now. Sitting indoors with a large group listening to someone sing, something I did hundreds of times in the first 27 years of my life, does not. I’m honestly not sure if “going back to normal” would even feel normal anymore.

I should note that some things haven’t changed. For example, I didn’t get outside as much as I should have during the winter (my daily walks ground to a halt once the temperature became lower than my shoe size). I guarantee that I was the same way the winter before — illness or no illness. It seems that things can be both normal and not normal at once.

The difference is this: in March 2020, I still thought I had a whole summer of attending concerts and working my tourism job and volunteering ahead of me. I could spare a few nights indoors during the coldest part of the year; in fact, I relished the alone time. I can’t make the same prediction for this summer. It feels as if I’ve just lived through a whole year of winter. And although I’m a card-carrying introvert, I’d gladly give up some of that alone time for time spent in my community.

From where I stand post-2020, spring couldn’t come soon enough.

—Grace Vosen
Spring Green