Year of COVID: Your Stories From the Pandemic

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Political activist, scholar and author Angela Davis appears at a Juneteenth demonstration near the Port of Oakland on June 19, 2020, The San Francisco skyline from Dolores Park at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 9, and San Jose resident Cornelia Arzaga, 76, prepares to receive her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 9, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

On March 17, 2020, Bay Area leaders announced the first shelter-in-place order. It's also when our world got strange. Many of us started out optimistic that if we pulled together, we could get through the pandemic quickly. There were Zoom concerts, lots of baking, citywide applause for essential workers and good TV to watch.

Then it got harder. As the pandemic wore on, the isolation began to take a toll on our mental health, and it became clear that COVID-19 was affecting communities unequally. At the same time, we learned of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor. In May, protests erupted around the world calling for racial justice following George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Then there was a presidential election, coronavirus cases surged, preventable deaths increased, new lockdown orders began and many of us celebrated the holidays far from family. It has been a year.

But this year also led to new discoveries: political involvement from home, getting in touch with ourselves, finding new hobbies, connecting with loved ones and contributing to mutual aid efforts in our neighborhoods.

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We wanted to know how this year has changed your lives, so we asked you to send in your reflections. And you did just that. You shared stories of struggle, perseverance, anger, accomplishment, gratitude and hope. You even inspired us at KQED to share some of our own experiences (check out the bottom of this article for more from us).

Thank you for sharing with us. Today, we’re memorializing the Bay Area’s first shelter-in-place order by putting your stories front and center.

“It’s been a year of tapping in on a deeper level and reconnecting with a lot folks”

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Franco

“My name is Stephanie Franco and I live in Oakland. I'd begin my days commuting to the city on BART, packed in a sweaty train with a bunch of people, and then walking through the busy streets to get to my office. The weekends would roll around and then it would be first Fridays getting hyphy, being in community and eating so much food.”

“It's been a year of really leaning into myself, tapping in on a deeper level and reconnecting with a lot of folks. I think one of the most beautiful things has also been deepening my relationship with my mom. We've both grown and have been able to really listen to each other and hold space without any judgment. She's really become my best friend.”

“I just got better at being a 14-year-old”

Photos courtesy of Canva stock photography

“My name is Chris Bucholtz, I live in Alameda, California, and when the pandemic hit, I was already out of work. So, that's made for a lot of free time. So I spent a lot of time building model airplanes and playing with my baseball cards. And I got better at playing the bass guitar. So basically, I just got better at being a 14-year-old.”

“My favorite part of teaching is being with the students and it's not there.”

Whitney Dwyer at her home office in Oakland on Jan. 29, 2021, where she teaches Oakland Unified School District students through Zoom classes. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“My name is Whitney Dwyer and I teach 10th-grade humanities at MetWest High School. Teaching over Zoom basically takes away almost everything that I enjoy about teaching. I genuinely enjoy being in the presence of teenagers. I don't get to interact with them like I want to, I don't get to see the confusion, I don't get to see the light bulbs going off. I really enjoy standing in front of the students and going around and working with them in small groups. And now I'm just like teaching the black boxes and grading, which is my least favorite part of teaching. My favorite part of teaching is being with the students and it's not there.”

“We've all been working really, really hard”

Photos courtesy of ‘Marin Living Magazine’ website

“I am Dan Jewett from Oakland, California. I and four other partners did something really crazy during this pandemic: we started a print magazine called Marin Living Magazine. And while starting a print magazine is crazy during the best of times, it's kind of a scary thing to do during a pandemic. But we went for it. And it's been really successful. When they say that the hardest you’ll ever work is when you start a business, they're not kidding. We've all been working really, really hard, learning a ton of new things and trying to figure out how to get this thing out to the public and tell some amazing stories while we're doing it.”

“I used to say I could never imagine living anywhere else”

Photo courtesy of Canva stock photography

“This is Michael, a San Francisco resident since 1993. I used to say I could never imagine living anywhere else, but every time I come back from Palm Springs, it depresses me and I wonder if it's worth sticking it out. It would be nice to see the cable cars running again. It would be nice to see life continuing and thriving in Union Square. It's become so depressing lately.”

“I am trying to find love for the Bay Area and discover the history”

'Here we are in Nigerian outfits made by my husband’s family in a Pleasanton park,' says Amanda Muoneke. Photo courtesy of Amanda Muoneke and Ikenna Muoneke.

“I am Amanda Muoneke, I live in Pleasanton in the East Bay Area. I made a list of some things that have been positive changes since the pandemic happened and also some negative changes to my life. My husband was going to work in the construction industry for a while, and my mom and my dad are in the service industry. Having them be exposed and worrying about them, that has been stressful. Also, just with the layoffs that have happened and having to support the family in a different way, that's been hard.”

“There have been a lot of things that have come from this. I got married in 2019, so as newlyweds being home with my husband every day, he's my primary colleague that I get to see. That’s been a lot of fun. I also realize that I have this wanderlust. I want to travel, and I am trying to find love for the Bay Area and discover the history through San Francisco Public Library events or just YouTube channels to make me more grateful for where we are — to grow where we're planted, so to speak.”

“I’ve witnessed the building of multigenerational and multi-ethnic coalitions in a way that I never could have imagined”

Photo courtesy of Canva stock photography

“I’m Lucy Shen and I was born and raised right here in Fremont where I’m actually still living right now. A lot of things have obviously changed during this pandemic. I think the biggest shift I’ve really seen has been an increase in energy and participation and momentum in local organizing and advocacy work.”

“I think there are lots of reasons for this. The first is that a lot of young people like myself are home now. We’ve moved home because of the shelter-in-place order to be with our family and our parents. And as a result of that, more people like me are beginning to show up and really make our voices heard in local government.”

“The second thing, I think, is the rise in energy and attention on the racial equity and racial justice front. In May and June of 2020, due to obviously very tragic reasons, but the resulting momentum in local organizing has been just magical to witness. Honestly, my concern at the time was that it would be unsustainable, that people would kind of be in it while it was hot or whatever, and then fall off as time went on. But instead, what I’ve really witnessed is the building of multigenerational and multi-ethnic coalitions in a way that I never could have imagined back in 2018 when I was first getting into all this. And it’s really being built in a way that is sustainable because we work a lot to support each other as a community.”

“I had to make the hard choice of leaving a big part of my community behind”

Photos courtesy of Kate Montana

“The biggest way that my life in the Bay Area has changed is that I no longer live in the Bay Area. I was a UC Berkeley student from 2016-2020. And I was living in my off-campus apartment in Berkeley up until my less-than-exciting graduation in May of 2020. And I likely would still be living in the Bay Area if it weren’t for COVID. I think that is the case for a lot of folks. I had to make the hard choice of leaving a big part of my community behind and moving back in with my parents in order to save money and sort of with the idea of riding out the pandemic.”

“We were married in my grandma's backyard”

Jennifer Wong and her new husband, Sam, pose with Jenn’s parents in the background. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wong.

“Hi Bay Curious! My COVID days have been marked by big events! It's been a time of huge ups and downs for me.”

“My partner, Sam, and I had planned to get married in September 2020. We quickly realized this wouldn't happen after weeks passed during the lockdown. And then I was laid off in May 2020. Blah. But we thought, "Hey, maybe we should just get married online while Governor Newsom's order was in place!" That way, I could get onto Sam's health insurance plan too! We ended up filling out some forms online, and the county clerk's office called to ask if we wanted to get married the next day. Naturally, we asked for a few more days to gather the family together and figure out our technology setup. We were married in my grandma's backyard and just four family members were present -- everyone else watched virtually. And since my grandma doesn't have a smartphone or computer, it was pretty complicated! Haha.”

“Drumming has become my antidote to the lockdown”

Photo courtesy of Susanna Zaraysky

"Once the pandemic started, I was not only stuck at home because of the lockdown, but I was also immobile because I had just had two surgeries on my foot and I couldn’t walk. My friend John lent me his large djembe drum. We met almost weekly outside, socially distanced, to drum. He taught me some basic patterns."

"Once music stores opened in the spring, I bought my African djembe drum that has become my companion and platonic love, providing me a partner in meditation, entertainment and self-discovery. Drumming offers me a way to be musical without words. My brain can take a break."

"The meditative repeated patterns in drumming are exactly what I need to get my mind to stop reading and analyzing, and more importantly, to stop thinking about the pandemic. As a kid, I learned to read sheet music both for the clarinet and piano but with drumming, I have to feel the rhythm, follow my intuition and listen to the beat. Feeling like a kid learning a new instrument is fun and brings me back to happier, COVID-19 times. Drumming has become my antidote to the lockdown."

“It’s been hard not to share the craziness of parenthood”

Photo courtesy of Angela Ahedo

"I was six months pregnant when shelter in place was mandated last year. I kept thinking that things would return to normal by the time we had our daughter. But she's seven months old now and she still hasn't met a lot of her family. And although it made my husband and my daughter and our immediate family closer, it has also been really isolating without new parent groups and the library, without singalongs and walks and just having other moms and family members and friends in my life. It’s been hard not to have someone else to share the craziness of parenthood with."

“I lead by example”

Photo courtesy of Evangelia Ward-Jackson

"My name is Evangelia Ward‐Jackson, and I am a longstanding Bay Area resident. I am so fortunate to serve in the Making Waves Academy (MWA) school community as the Senior School Director. Life in the Bay Area has changed dramatically in some ways, and in others not at all. My 22‐year education career has typically consisted of significant on‐site instruction, community engagement, and uplifting activities that involve proximity and togetherness. As a school leader who was responsible for closing our school buildings due to the pandemic, I found myself both ready for the challenge and acutely aware of my own humanity and personal needs during this unprecedented season."

"Just two months into the pandemic, my family suffered five losses due to implications of COVID‐19. Anchoring in 1) safety, 2) rigorous instruction, and 3) social‐emotional well‐being for students and for adults is not only the approach that I have led in our school community, but it is the approach in my personal life as a well. The Bay Area is beautiful, and I am such a proud resident who is involved in the civic affairs of my community as well. Nevertheless, this past year has been about staying home, staying safe, prioritizing wellness, and giving my best, healthily—as, in this way, I lead by example."

“I found that my grandmothers passing has brought our family much closer”

'Here's a photo of my grandmother with all her grandchildren, myself included, at a Thanksgiving dinner in 2015 where we were celebrating her birthday early. For reference, from left to right is: Millie Z, Maggie C, Shirley L, Kelly C, myself, and Tony L,' says Jason. Photo courtesy of Jason Zhou

"Hi, my name is Jason Zhou, and the one thing I'll take away over the past year is the value of family. One relationship that I'll cherish is with my grandmother, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. Her death was sudden and especially difficult to process within the confines of the ongoing public health emergency. It was pretty gut-wrenching having to navigate the proper channels and protocols to accept, grieve and mourn her death. You know, during a time where it was so difficult to be physically with each other for support, especially when it came to giving her a proper farewell. But in the end, I found that her passing has brought our family much closer. We had to make some pretty tough decisions that required emotional resolve and an overall belief in public health protocols. I honestly feel for anyone that's had to deal with the family death over the past year and only hope that families out there were able to pull together and come out stronger as mine has."

Thank you to everyone who shared their reflections with us. Now you get to hear from some of us at KQED on how the pandemic has changed our lives.

“In any other instance, I would not have had this amount of intimate time with my child”

'My daughter fell in love with sticks and rocks during shelter-in-place. This one might've been her favorite,' says Pendarvis Harshaw (Photo courtesy of Pendarvis Harshaw)

"Let's see, how has my life changed in this past year? Come on. How is my life not changed? The way that I communicate, the way that I look at the sky, the way that I check the weather, the way that I interact with people, you know, handshakes are now elbow dabs."

"The one area that hasn't necessarily changed but has grown has been in terms of parenting. It's been fascinating to see this evolution of the interaction that my daughter and I have. And I've written about it a little bit in the past, where on Father's Day I spoke a little bit about how I've tried to develop a schedule, you know, because that's what we learned in school. And then I quickly learned that we're going to have to pretty much deviate from the schedule every day because life happens, within life is school. And that's the driving narrative that I've learned through this whole thing, is that life is school where we can use a parking lot as a teacher mechanism or we can go for a walk and it can be a science excursion. Trips to go play soccer often turn into conversations about math. And it's fun. It's fascinating. She teaches me a lot, especially in terms of patience and I'm very fortunate to have spent this time, you know, because in any other instance, I would not have had this amount of intimate time with my child."

“Trying to see what brings me joy on any given day”

‘My sister sent me this photo on my mom’s birthday last year. Here she is with my niece at the window of her assisted living on April 15, 2020,’ says Lakshmi Sarah, a digital producer for KQED News. (Photo courtesy of Gayatri Agnew)

“Hey there, Lakshmi Sarah here, I am a digital producer, reporter for KQED News. What has changed most for me this past year is the fact that my mother no longer fully remembers who I am. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2018. But it wasn't until this past year that that part of the memory loss process has been more clearly happening. And so that has been an adjustment. But it also depends on the day. So, I have been trying to take it day by day and trying to see what brings me joy on any given day. Most often that is going for a hike, being in nature, being surrounded by tall trees or the ocean. But also some days that's painting my nails or talking to my niece and nephew on the phone.

“I'm really grateful that I had this time to reconnect to my spiritual community”

Photo courtesy of Rik Panganiban

"My name is Rik Panganiban and I work for KQED education. Like a lot of people, everything changed in the pandemic, but the one thing I didn't expect was that I would go back to church. I'm a member of the Religious Society of Friends, which many people know of as Quakers, and if you know anything about Quakers, one of the things we're known for is having our worship services in silence. Basically, you just go there and sit in a space with a bunch of other people and meditate together. And then out of the silence, people can speak, but most of the time it's quiet. I stopped going to Quaker meetings about 10 years ago for a lot of reasons, and didn't really miss it honestly. Then the pandemic hit and I just felt so lonely and so starved for any kind of community and connection. And I got this email from my home meeting in Brooklyn, New York, saying that they were starting to have Zoom based Quaker meetings for worship."

"One April Sunday morning, I logged in at 8 AM and basically sat on a Zoom with 100 other Quakers just kind of staring at each other's little boxes for an hour. And I don't know what it was, but I just felt so good after that, just felt like, yeah, this is what I miss, being with other people, people who care for me, who are good people. And I've been going every Sunday and it's made a huge difference in my life. I just feel just much more centered. I feel much more motivated to do my daily meditation, to really focus on what's important to me. So I'm really grateful that I had this time to reconnect to my spiritual community. It has meant the world to me."

“I had to take my mental health seriously”

Photos courtesy of Marisol Medina

"Hi, this is Marisol Medina. Whoo! A lot has changed for me. I had to take seriously my mental health, it's something I've always valued, but I don't know that I've ever prioritized it in the way that I am now. Finding a culturally competent and affordable therapist is serious work, and it took me four months to find one who I feel really comfortable with. And it's honestly what I look forward to every week. It's kind of what gets me through the week. Knowing that I have this opportunity to really be fully honest and transparent about everything that's going on and having a support system that isn't my partner, isn't my parent, isn't my friends, because, you know, we're all going through different things in our different ways. And it feels good to have someone else be there for me."

"Another thing is I started a relationship, literally one week into sheltering in place, and the first maybe two and a half months was really, really difficult because we could not be near each other in the ways that we were used to. There's a lot of kinks to work out and figuring out how to stay connected, how to do a lot of the stuff that you would normally do at the beginning of a relationship, but suddenly having to do it virtually was very challenging. But ultimately, I think it was worth it for the health of our families, our own health. And I'm happy to report that we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary in two weeks."

“I put a lot more thought into family”

'Here's part of what my family will look like in the future: Finley! Already a fan of Bay Curious and The Bay' says Devin Katayama, host of The Bay podcast (Photo courtesy of Devin Katayama)

"Hi, my name is Devin Katayama and I host The Bay podcast. I would say over the last year I put a lot more thought into family. A big part of that was because my wife and I had our first child, a baby girl, Finley, and also because my parents have mostly been in our bubble at various points during the pandemic. And they really actually were our best friends at one point — which has never really been the case. So, I've gotten a lot closer to my family, but I've also had a lot more time to think about what our family is going to look like in the future."

“I realized it was a blessing”

Photo courtesy of Debbie Jue

"One struggle I overcame was losing my job at KQED after 19 years, and a divorce. I realized it was a blessing because I found the right role at KQED with a schedule that I really enjoyed. While in sheltering-in-place helped me recognize that my partner wasn’t the right fit for me. It was a lot harder and easier to cope with grief –harder because I’m used to being surrounded by friends and family and not being able to receive hugs...it was really hard. Also, it was easier, because I didn’t have to roam the halls at work or be in meetings when I was dealing with my emotions with the aftermath of my divorce."

“We know how fortunate we are just to be able to be together”

Photo courtesy of Sandee Althouse

"There's a small but mighty silver lining to the pandemic in our house. My husband and I work completely opposite hours and have precious little time together. Now that he works from home we have more face time on my days off. We know how fortunate we are just to be able to be together and don’t take it for granted."

“This past year taught me that my world can grow, even as it shrinks”

Photo courtesy of Mina Kim

"This past year, my world got bigger as it got smaller. I stopped commuting to San Francisco. I stopped seeing friends and colleagues, running into people on the street or seeing smiles from strangers. But while this world shrank, another world grew. On the radio, instead of hearing from listeners once a week, I started hearing from them 5 days a week and from across the state, filling my need for broader connection. And my family life grew. It deepened. My spouse and kids expanded my definition of joy and I know them now in new ways. This past year taught me that my world can grow, even as it shrinks."

"I just love my bicycle. I use that time on my bike to feel vital and empowered"

Photo courtesy of Beth Huizenga

"I rode my bicycle back and forth to work every single shift at KQED, and I felt so grateful that I had a strong body, to do that, and get air in my lungs, and fresh air in my face, and blow my hair back a little bit. And it's a short ride. Before the pandemic, when I would go underneath the Bay Bridge, you could hear the trucks clattering and clanging really loud, even at 4:30 in the morning. And then after the pandemic, hardly anything."

"During the curfews, during the police barricades, downtown, whatever the situation was, I felt very empowered that I had this bicycle that I could ride. I just feel really appreciative of this thing that got me around, and I felt safe on the bike in a way that I wouldn't have felt safe just walking in the pitch black dark. On the bike I felt kind of invincible. And in fact, I've never had a problem in almost two years of doing this. But during the pandemic, I would say that I use that time on my bike to feel vital and empowered so I could bring that to KQED and run that board. And, you know, that's my job – running the board, an operator of the master control and an announcer. And I guess I shouldn't be too surprised about any of this because being Beth Huizenga and that's a very Dutch name, Huizenga, we'd say in the old country and Dutch people, I can safely say they love their bicycles. And I guess I really connected with my heritage because I just love my bicycle."

We know the impacts of COVID will weigh heavily for the upcoming years. Find mental health resources and support here. You also might like our previous episode "COVID Could Impact Mental Health for Years to Come. Here's How to Cope."

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