The year of the pandemic

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Joe Klein, chairman of Klein Steel, has lost four friends to COVID-19. The virus also took the life of a close friend of Gallina Development president Andy Gallina.

Experience of loss, sadly, was not a rare occurrence in 2020.

Death, isolation and wide inequities were predominant themes in a year shrouded by the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the silence and separation made room for gratitude and, more recently, cautious optimism on getting vaccinated against a disease that in Monroe County has infected approximately 28,000 people and claimed nearly 500 lives.

“I am likely to remember (2020) as a surreal suspension of what normal once meant to me, beginning with the eerily empty streets and ships at sea that could not find ports, and ending with a mind-bendingly chaotic transition from a highly vulnerable to a largely vaccinated world,” says Linda Saalman.

Klein and Saalman are among nearly 200 Rochester Beacon readers who responded to a survey last week titled “2020: The Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Nineteen percent of Rochester Beacon readers are very optimistic that with a vaccine, COVID-19 by mid-2021 will no longer be a public health issue. More than half of readers (56 percent) are somewhat optimistic, while 21 percent are not very optimistic and 5 percent aren’t optimistic at all. 

If they were able to take the vaccine today, nearly three-fourths (74 percent) say they would definitely get vaccinated, while 20 percent probably would and 5 percent probably would not. Two percent are certain they do not want a vaccine.  

Overall, respondents rated the community and its health care system positively in terms of the response to the pandemic. More than half (54 percent) graded the health care system as “excellent,” 41 percent rated them “good,” while 5 percent gave the system a “fair” grade. 

Barbara Mater points to the courage of health care workers and first responders, and consistent positive advice from Michael Mendoza, Monroe County commissioner of health. 

On the community front, 13 percent gave its response an “excellent” grade; 51 percent rated it as “good,” 30 percent as “fair” and 5 percent thought the response to the pandemic was poor.

For Jaime Saunders, the community’s reaction in a time of need stands out as she reflects on living through the pandemic.

“I will forever remember how despite our distance, our community came together in big and bold ways to help one another,” says Saunders, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester. “From neighbors checking in on neighbors to our nonprofits ensuring basic needs were met to our businesses donating masks and supplies to so many generous donations pouring in to the Crisis Fund and ROC the Day—Rochester did what Rochester does best with the power of a caring community.”

Readers’ reflections span a wide spectrum—from more time spent with family, the impact of technology in making and keeping connections, and increased empathy and patience, to the revelation of selfish actions, divisive partisanship, frustration and anger.

Says Warren Hern: “If past pandemics are any indication, we won’t remember much. Sometime later this year, this disease will be declared to be under control, humans will rush back to living a normal life and by 2022 all will be forgotten!”

The following are the complete signed written responses of participants in the survey, conducted Dec. 16-18. Many additional unsigned responses were submitted. As a matter of policy, the Beacon does not post unsigned comments.

What do you think you are likely to remember most about living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Four of my friends died. 

—Joe Klein 

That I was a lucky one, as I have income and didn’t need to leave my house very often. I could work from home and have been living in a bubble with people who care about keeping me and my family safe and healthy. I had more family fun than I ever remember having.

—Kate Bennett 

I will remember an odd, almost dissociative feeling upon stepping outside my home, that I was vulnerable to an invisible, potentially deadly virus. Over time, I became less afraid, but no less cautious and conscientious, and hoped that others would do the same.

—Rob K. Levy 

I will forever remember how despite our distance, our community came together in big and bold ways to help one another. From neighbors checking in on neighbors to our nonprofits ensuring basic needs were met to our businesses donating masks and supplies to so many generous donations pouring in to the Crisis Fund and ROC the Day—Rochester did what Rochester does best with the power of a caring community.

—Jaime Saunders, United Way of Greater Rochester 

Not being able to socialize with friends and family.

—Andrew Doniger 

I am likely to remember it as a surreal suspension of what normal once meant to me, beginning with the eerily empty streets and ships at sea that could not find ports, and ending with a mind-bendingly chaotic transition from a highly vulnerable to a largely vaccinated world. I will remember it as encapsulating and revealing both the strengths and weaknesses of our inextricably interlinked global community, from the astonishing speed and sophistication of vaccine development, to the equally astonishing reveal of our inability to grapple with the complex collateral damage caused by our laser-like focus on striving for wealth and dominating nature.

—Linda Saalman 

How quiet the roads were and how clear the sky was in April when everything was shut down. How annoying it is to have to think twice before doing anything “normal”: Wait, are they open? Wait, can we do that/go there? How devastated some business owners/employees must feel to be labelled “non-essential.”

—Stephanie Siegrist 

The randomness of impacts on individuals and businesses. For some, this has been the worst of years for many reasons. For others, their business has prospered. For many, wealth has increased. Some of the most health cautious have still gotten incredibly sick and some who are cavalier are still healthy. Random year. 

—Bill Carpenter 

Loss of a close friend to COVID.

—Andy Gallina 

Don’t take anything for granted!

—Shirley Nagg 

Faces blotted out.

—William Pruitt 

That fact is stranger than fiction. Who would have thought that there would be such an inept and deadly Presidential response combined with selfish individuals willing to put themselves and more importantly others at risk by not wearing masks and social distancing despite the evidence and exhortations of the scientific community. This is in stark contrast to the amazing selfless efforts of our health care community, other direct responders and all those who continued working even if their jobs required them to be “covered face to covered face” with other people. —Larry Broser. 

Isolation; disruption of human connections; appalling inequity.

—Anthony Suchman 

The negligence of the Republican party is responsible for the unnecessary deaths of American citizens due to Covid-19. 

—Donald Van Hall 

So many people infected and dying because people chose to not wear masks and keep social distance. We have a selfish society.

—David Terp 

Being thankful that so far no one I know has been infected, that way too many people have lost, may lose their friends and/or loved ones from, the isolation and how much I looked forward to a trip to the grocery store. My other memory will be the gratitude for the people who put their lives on the line every single day to care for those who caught the virus. Their sacrifice was enormous. —Mickey Cherry 

The kindness neighbors and complete strangers have shown to each other. People having conversations—perhaps because we appreciate more than ever the gift of human interactions. 

—Karen LoBracco, Brockport 

Haven’t gotten through it yet, so don’t want to jinx. 

—John Magee 

Although my husband and I enjoy each other’s company tremendously, I miss being with others in person. My work, my volunteering, our time with our adult children, friends and other family are all affected. Being able to go out more than once per week for necessities is a drag. Real human contact is so important to me/us. I will be so happy when that is possible again.

—Loret Steinberg 

1. The inability to visit family and friends due to risk of COVID. 2. RCSD didn’t offer in-person learning to city children.

—Bill Ansbrow 

Isolation and loss of family interactions. The democratization of arts and culture through the web.

—Stuart Berger 

Shock at resistance to following CDC guidelines, shock at Trump admin. And people politicizing COVID.

—Jean Bainbridge 

How President Trump botched the response to the pandemic and his callous disregard of science and facts.

—Dominick Annese 

I will remember the courage of the health care workers and first responders, the consistent positive good advice from Dr. Mendoza, and the clear disregard for health and safety among those who still chose to gather en masse without facial coverings while their neighbors and family members were suffering from the virus. And the tragedy of the nursing homes where patients were at first returned to a situation where they could not be sufficiently isolated to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among residents and caregivers.

—Barbara Mater 

The absence of family and activities.

—John Strazzabosco

I will remember both the way that the majority of Americans took steps for months to help protect the health of all of us, and also unfortunately the way a minority of Americans selfishly ignored science and refused to cooperate to help others.

—Peter Collinge 

COVID-19 pandemic memories I’ll likely remember: 1) Cooking so many more adventurous restaurant-quality meals! 2) Shopping and delivering food and meals to friends and family like we never have before! 2) Becoming more empathetic and flexible with people and their unique situations, BLM, health issues, privileges I took for granted. 3) Pros & cons of so much Zoom/screen/seat time!

—Ed Donnelly 

That 2020 was basically a “lost year” for the world.

—Max Remley 

That so many people refused to take it seriously and act responsibly. At the same time, so many took it very seriously and really reached out to help others. What a split response.

—Jane Ellen Bleeg 

The loss of fellowship and time spent with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and the community at large.

—Dave Smith 

That the community came together for the most part and wore masks and took it seriously, unlike certain regions of the United States. And that RIT students were amazing and finished fall semester with in-person classes by following the rules and the 3Ws—Wash hands, Wear Mask, Watch Distance.

—Bob Finnerty 

People try to be generous.

—C. Bruce Lawrence

The changes to our everyday life, particularly work life.

—Patricia Anthony 

Zoom becoming a major factor in our daily lives.

—J. Thomas 

I have been heartened by many peoples’ ability to choose to look at the positive aspects of the pandemic: the coming together as a community to combine resources; to be creative with adjustments; willingness to help strangers; be flexible; learn and grow from mistakes; develop a global view, etc.

—Judy Lawler 

I’ll remember how frustrating it was to not visit with family and friends. But also how important and useful technology was to help us keep connected.

—Remy Fenster 

Outstanding work done by medical teams and frontline workers. Selfishness and ignorance of people who refuse to follow regulations. Changes in my life that I have had to make to deal with coronavirus. Power of prayer.

—Josephine M. Perini 

How important technology is to stay in touch with family and friends.

—Don Bartalo 

If past pandemics are any indication, we won’t remember much. Sometime later this year, this disease will be declared to be under control, humans will rush back to living a normal life and by 2022 all will be forgotten!

—Warren Hern 

Thank science for Zoom!

—Chris Pulleyn 

Seeing some people ignore the need for precautions, seeing businesses forced to close due to the virus and its economic impact, seeing the disparities in how the pandemic has affected those most vulnerable, seeing health care workers remain steadfast in their concern and care for those afflicted.

—Stephen L Gaudioso 

Checking the NYT-JHU maps every day for case/death counts and having our young adult children come home for remote work and remote classes.

—Max McGinnis 

The complete and willful failure of the federal government to address the pandemic.

—Matt Krueger 

The extreme spread and acceptance of misinformation.

—Max Lazary 

Lack of human interaction.

—Jessie Marvin Lazeroff 

I have seen the Pareto Principle well in play here. Twenty percent of the community is galvanizing and collaborating in remarkable ways. I am humbled by the generosity I have seen in the “hey, Rochester, NY! What do you need? What to you got group.” I am touched by the artists in town particularly Shawn Dunwoody, Ephraim Gebre, and Lucy Ray. It is exciting seeing the next generation of activists who are continuing Rochester’s legacy of positive change. In the rigor, …

—Jennifer Sertl 

The feeling of isolation from lack of contact with family and friends. My wife has been my rock.

—George D. VanArsdale 

As usual, the ability to see what’s under one’s nose is not that common.

—Mike Rudnick 

The walks, the isolation, the anti-science anger, the anti-reason anger, sadness, remote schooling, inflexible people, resilient neighbors, creative neighbors, working from the basement, and the appreciation of true quiet. And, lots and lots of dog time.

—Aron Reina 

The many small, quiet activities my daughter and I did in the early days of the shutdown—mid-day walks, chalk drawings on the driveway, puzzles, baking, and more.

—Melissa Greco Lopes 

The lack of social contact. Zoom is great and far better than a phone, but the ability to hug family members, shake friends’ hands and go to a crowded theater was taken for granted. I will be more grateful for those moments in the future.

—Kevin Best 

The impact on and the courage of our health care personnel and all the other frontline-like workers in groceries stores, post offices, EMT’s and on and on.

—Bill Wynne 

Stress that it caused with me.

—Gary DeBlase 

How Governor Cuomo neglected to include thousands of disabled citizens in NY State in his phases of re-opening for 5 months, leaving them languishing in group homes, unable to see their families, unable to leave their residences, for 5 months with NO acknowledgment from their governor. It was only until family members like me began going public with this neglect that the governor finally included them in his public statements. Had we not said anything, it seems as if he would have been fine just ignoring them. These are often seriously disabled human beings who cannot articulate their loneliness, their pain and suffering, who completely depend on the kindness of their fellow human beings to humanize them to those in power. It makes me sick how my son and others like him were ignored while the governor waxed poetic to a national magazine how having dinner with his daughters nightly “kept him sane.” No thinking of others with family members in nursing homes and group homes who could not see their loved ones, many of whom died ALONE. That was such a tone-deaf statement it spurred me to action. I will NEVER forget that. I had written to his office repeatedly and nothing changed in the governor’s daily addresses until I published a piece in USA Today. That got his attention but it still sickens me that it took public scrutiny to warrant my son and thousands of other vulnerable human beings to get this governor to even acknowledge them. Nursing home residents are different than group home residents due to the vast difference in age and health conditions. His neglecting to even address an entire population dehumanized them. On the flip side, the second most memorable thing I will recall about living through COVID-19 is how our world rallied to develop vaccines and other treatments, how healthcare workers risked their lives to save others, how neighbors looked out for each other, how one neighbor left me a bag of flour on my back step when I posted online that I couldn’t find any to bake for my sons. This means that in my mind there is a darkness and a lightness when I think of this godforsaken virus, the chiaroscuro of the human heart.

—Jerri Lynn Sparks

Not being able to see family and friends.

—Michael Straight 

Not seeing family and friends and altering my daily activities. Staying endlessly at home.

—Sheila Gissin Weinbach 

Loss of personal and professional social interaction.

—Rob Brown 

What I will remember about COVID-19 pandemic 2020 is how fragile we are in the face of an infectious disease and that truly we are divided in this country. The humanitarians vs the selfatarians.

—Marita Ferre 

How the United States had the highest infection and death rates compared to every other country in the world. A simple thing, wearing a mask, could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives but we had a massive failure of Presidential leadership. The people have accepted the loss of personal freedom to smoke cigarettes in public places. Laws prevent that. Why is wearing a mask in public such a burden and any different from being prevented from getting lung cancer and heart disease from second hand smoke? A pathologic narcissist in the White House purposely divided the country for attempted personal political gain. Boot licking sycophants fawned all over him assisting his demagoguery. My friends working tirelessly in the front lines of our hospitals placing themselves at great personal risk, had greater risk because of this leadership failure. I will remember most that emotion can replace facts, science and reason easily and we can descend into chaos unless people of all parties stand up to nonsense and autocratic bullies.

—Eric Blair, Chili

Gratitude for the blessing of living with a spouse I love and who shares with me the outrage at how Trump and his administration failed to deal in any constructive way with the pandemic, including the joint commitment to spend every moment that we could in working (ultimately successfully) to defeat them.

—Emily Neece 

I miss seeing family, friends and colleagues.

—Lisa Smith 

Isolation on the negative side, ability to expand my creativity on the plus side.

—Dorothy Skye 

If I have to pick one thing, it is the radical loss of social contact. My favorite things to do all involve live performance and gatherings. It has been so depressingly quiet, with nothing to look forward to or plan for.

—Melissa Boyack, director of marketing, Geva Theatre Center

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. Paul Ericson is executive editor. All coronavirus articles are collected here.

One thought on “The year of the pandemic

  1. all top notch responses. challenging times for sure but we did have the best summer in my 50 years in rochester. imagine how bustling rochester would’ve been this summer with its festivals. peace

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