Dana James: We were never in the same pandemic

Rob Ascher of COGS, the University of Iowa’s non-tenure track faculty worker union, writes “Stand up for our health” in chalk on the sidewalk during a protest of UI’s lack of COVID mitigation measures. Sept. 2, 2021. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

I’ll admit it. I’m ambivalent about this stage of the coronavirus pandemic. Twenty-nine months since it began, Americans have long tired of all things pandemic-related, but I find it difficult to move forward and let go of the habits that have kept my family safe. I still wear N-95 face masks religiously. I don’t dine inside restaurants. I avoid large crowds. I’m fully vaccinated and boosted. I use hand sanitizer — sometimes spontaneously.

COVID-19 is still very much a thing despite anyone’s opinion.

As a Black woman, I couldn’t afford to get bored with the pandemic or shrug it off. Early on, the virus began disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, people of color. The virus wiped out entire Black families in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Hospitals refused to treat Blacks for COVID-19, instead sending them home to die. Concerns about vaccine equity quickly emerged.

We were never in the same pandemic.

My husband and I traveled 50 miles away to get vaccinated. While we fought to get vaccinated, others took vacations to Florida, a hot spot in more ways than one. Many rejected advice from health experts who said to limit travel, wear masks and avoid crowds.

The pandemic terrified me in those early days, partially because I was a newlywed. We got married on March 6, 2020, in North Carolina, and honeymooned at Atlantic Beach — a heyday before masking and social distancing became contentious.

A week after we returned, chaos ensued on March 13, 2020, when news of the virus spread, well, like a virus. Those early days felt surreal. Eerily empty streets and office buildings. Days and nights of doomscrolling. I became fixated on death and dying and shared daily virus counts with family members and friends. I wrote a will. I missed birthdays, anniversaries and important dates in the lives of people I care about because I chose to follow medical advice.

President Trump delivers a coronavirus address in the Rose Garden, March 13, 2020. — D. Myles Cullen/Official White House photo

Friendships began to fade. Texts with friends went something like this:

Me: What are you doing this weekend?

Friend: Nothing. You?

Me: Same.

Week after scary week.

Since then, I’ve watched the rise and fall of coronavirus variants; I’ve watched other people go on with their lives as if nothing happened; and I’ve tried successfully so far to stay COVID-19-free. Others weren’t so lucky. My husband’s aunt died of the virus. An old neighborhood friend died. More than 1 million Americans have died, of which 146,948 of them were Black, according to health statistics.

Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses COVID-19 during a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. — video still

The urgency surrounding COVID-19 has ended. But I’m still operating much like I was in March of 2020. The idea of eating inside of a restaurant or hanging out with people outside of my household unmasked disgusts me.

As the world moves further away from the pandemic, it’s mostly Facebook memories that remind me of its toll.

“I don’t know about y’all, but we’re laying low,” I posted on March 13, 2020, the day former President Donald Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency.

That day I posted links to news stories imploring people to stay home, and I shared stories about how increased COVID-19 testing would result in increased positives. I felt a sense of urgency to let Black Iowans, in particular, know about the seriousness of the pandemic. And yes, I confess to stockpiling, ahem, not hoarding, paper products.

Here are some of my posts from that month:

March 16, I shared studies that said for every positive COVID-19 case, there were 10 cases that were unreported.

March 18, I posted the praying hands emoji and said I was staying in a state of prayer, along with a story containing grim statistics about the pandemic possibly lasting 18 months, with multiple waves.

On March 20, I typed, “Give it to God, and go to sleep is harder than ever these days.”

I shared a link that stated it was 2/24/2020 when Trump first learned about the novel coronavirus, and he said it was “very much under control” in the U.S.

March 24, My first use of “Rona” in a post.

March 26, I joked about the Coronavirus Task Force meetings.

March 28, “I woke up, and for a split second, I had peace. Then, I remembered. COVID-19. I pray it leaves the world as fast as it came,” I wrote.

March 29: I posted, “I’ve only ever tuned into the task force update to watch Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

March 30: I posted, “I don’t want the Rona.”


Dana James is founder of Black Iowa News, which publishes on Meta’s Bulletin platform and is distributed as an email newsletter. The lifelong Iowan is vice president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Black Iowa News is a partner in the Inclusivi-Tea podcast about sustainability, inclusion and equity. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 006.

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