Yesterday, March 13th commemorates the one year anniversary for me since the start of working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If someone had told me that day that I would still be doing this one year later I’m not sure I would have believed them, but everything about this pandemic has been far worse than anyone wanted to believe at the start. This is truly a historic event at a global scale, even outclassing the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the Great Recession of 2008. Additionally, in some ways it’s kind of like all of those previous crises happening at the same time on top of each other plus a pandemic. Given the unprecedented nature of current events, I thought it would be a good idea to jot down some memoirs of what it was like to live through this time while it’s still happening in case grand kids or historians want to know what it was like one day. So here you go future people, these are my impressions of what living through the last year has been like from the perspective of someone who lived it!

February 2020

I’m going to start in February of 2020, because even though the shutdowns didn’t start happening in the United States until March, this was the first month where I started hearing rumblings about the spread of COVID-19 and started taking it seriously. Some friends of mine shared a website with me that aggregated together a bunch of news articles about COVID-19, because at this point most major news outlets weren’t seriously covering the epidemic and it seemed like it was something that was happening “far away” in Asia. This website also had some information about steps to prepare for continuing spread, such as getting N-95 rated masks, purchasing hand sanitizer, and stocking up on essential food supplies in case there was a panic run on the grocery stores. All of these things were remarkably prescient.

I don’t remember for sure if it was towards the end of February or early March, but Amparo and I were becoming concerned enough from reading these articles that we decided to run to the grocery store and try to stock up on essential items like canned goods, bottled water, freezable food items, and cleaning supplies like clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. When we realized that there was very few wipes left, and NO hand sanitizer on the shelves, that was the first time I remember the pandemic becoming a little more real in our lives.

March 2020

At the beginning of the month of March, it was becoming increasingly clear that COVID-19 was something that was going to hit the U.S. at some point, and probably much sooner than most people wanted to realize. There were a lot of conflicting guidelines at the start, very little good information about how COVID spread, and a slowly ratcheting up feeling of fear. At first, guidelines said that it probably only spread via fomites, which are explained very well in the 2011 movie Contagion (also a good depiction of what life during a pandemic is like):

Unfortunately this quickly became clear that it was wishful thinking, and almost all COVID-19 spread was really occurring from airborne infections (breathing the respiratory droplets of an infected person). I tried to order an N-95 mask from an online supplier, but it was already too late. The masks were back-ordered for months because countries in Asia were already a month or two ahead of us in the pandemic and almost all of the supply had already been snapped up. We were able to get some disposable N-95 masks from someone with access to them because of their job, but at this point it still felt kind of crazy to walk around everywhere with a mask on.

It was a very weird time, because for a few weeks I already had the sense that there was nothing to stop the pandemic from ripping through the country, and it would likely last for months. But this was because I was tuned into news articles and information from the COVID-19 website I was following, while mainstream media still wasn’t giving it serious coverage. And most of my co-workers and family still didn’t think much of it, or if they did it seemed like something that would last for a few weeks and then go away. Society in general still hadn’t woken up to the threat, and most people didn’t socially distance or wear masks at this point despite the increasingly terrifying images coming from Italy which became the first European country to get hit badly by the disease.

For about a week before shutdowns hit the United States, I started trying to wear masks in public and carried hand sanitizer around with me everywhere. I tried wearing an N-95 mask for a full day of work, but found that it cut into my face too painfully to wear for a full 8 hour workday. I can only imagine the discomfort and pain felt by medical personnel who did have to actually wear them for the entirety of their workdays in the coming months. On my last day of work at the office, March 12th 2020, I took a trip to the grocery store during my lunch break to stock up on more items and wore a mask to the store. I noticed for the first time that I wasn’t the only one, but it still wasn’t a majority of the people in the store. Later that afternoon, Disney animation management put the word out that the studio was shutting down for in person work and everyone was to be sent home to work for an indefinite period.

The following day, I got up early to make a run to Sam’s Club and stock up on even more items as soon as the store opened for early shopping hours for the members. Even being one of the first customers in the store, the checkout lines were already long and panic buying had most definitely set in with people fully stocking up their carts with supplies. Some people even had two carts with them stuffed full of supplies. And something that I don’t think anyone expected was that it quickly became impossible to buy toilet paper, every store was sold out. I guess the first thing a lot of people start worrying about during a crisis is how they are going to keep their butts clean.

April 2020

The following months were a mad scramble by the general public to figure out how best to adapt to living in the midst of a pandemic. Being something that hadn’t happened in about a century, most people in the era of modern medicine and technology probably never expected to have to live through one in their own lifetimes. There was some incredibly poor guidance by the CDC at first, in my opinion, to tell the general public to not buy or try to wear masks. This was with the good intentions to not drive the general public to snap up medical grade N-95 masks which were in short supply, and instead let people working in medical care have them. This came back to bite us later, when studies showed that even cloth masks were effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19. I began sewing cloth masks at home for myself and Amparo using some online instructions:

I also made some cloth masks for my parents and shipped them, as well as for other family members. Meanwhile, Disney Animation and Amparo’s workplace at Los Angeles Unified School District were trying to figure out how to get everyone up and running for working from home. This was something that was possible for me before the pandemic, but the studio hadn’t invested yet in the necessary infrastructure to support hundreds of people simultaneously working remotely. For a while we couldn’t actually connect into the studio during peak hours, and instead just had video chat check-ins. Meanwhile Amparo was trying to figure out how to do her job remotely, which turned out to mostly be possible for counseling, but not for her assessments which required to be in-person to conduct with the kids she tests. Once Disney had upgraded their systems and we could all connect, my job turned out to be pretty doable from home, although still frustrating on occasion when it would have been easier to meet with people in person.

May 2020

After about two months of quarantining at home for the pandemic, I think both Amparo and I were starting to go a little stir crazy. At one point, we weren’t even leaving the house and had all groceries delivered to us. Eventually we decided it was either insanity, or taking the risk to venture out a little bit for exercise and outdoor breathing space. We started going for runs around the neighborhood again, and I bought her a new bike. We also decided the safest thing we could do for a trip during the pandemic was to start trying to camp and go for hikes again. One of our earliest adventures was a day trip to the Trona Pinnacles:

We stocked up on camping supplies as well, and started attempting some longer overnight trips using a camping tent set up in the bed of my truck:

During all of this, our camping trips turned out to be a silver lining that I have really enjoyed. I hope after all of this is over, we can continue to go on further camping and hiking trips, they truly helped preserve our sanity during all of this.

June – August 2020

After several months into the pandemic, time truly started to blur together and we were losing track of days a bit. The first early panicked days of the pandemic slowly began to fade into boredom, repetition, and acceptance. We continued our camping, and made a trip over the 4th of July weekend to Joshua Tree. During all of this, we kept in touch with friends with online gaming and movie watching parties on Saturdays. Cases would surge, and then subside. Throughout all of this, we were fortunate that both of us stayed employed, and weren’t having to survive this terrible pandemic alone. We’d been lucky enough that we watched from a distance as communities around the country go through the economic devastation of closures, and losing loved ones to this awful disease without being the ones who experienced these things ourselves. At times, it’s hard to not feel guilty about not being someone experiencing hardship, but not being able to help either.

Over the summer during the George Floyd protests, we tried to do our small part as well and participated in a Black Lives Matter car caravan protest here in Pasadena, as well as donated to several organizations fighting for social justice. It felt like the least we could do, and honestly it felt great to get involved in something important for change. While the Trump administration failed to get a handle on the virus and doubled down on police brutality against peaceful protestors in Washington D.C., it felt good to do ANYTHING at all about it.

September – December 2020

For a brief time in the fall around October, cases had dipped lower and we felt safe enough to go to a pumpkin patch we had visited before the pandemic began:

We even risked going to a brewery near the patch where it seemed like we could socially distance pretty well and let our guard down to enjoy some food and beers:

However this wasn’t to last, as cases surged to their highest levels as fall turned into winter. We risked a trip up to Seattle over Thanksgiving to visit my oldest brother, who had also been able to quarantine safely during the pandemic. It ended up being the only time during the first year of the pandemic that we saw other family members in person, and it was a great relief from our social isolation over the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas things took a turn for the worse, and for the first time several friends and family that we personally knew also caught COVID. Fortunately for the most part everyone recovered, but we were incredibly saddened to hear that Amparo’s cousin passed away in the hospital while under treatment:

A good friend of mine made some artwork to raffle for the fundraiser, and we are incredibly grateful to all our friends and family who supported his fundraiser as well.

January – March 2021

That brings things up to about present day. For the Christmas holidays we did a remote celebration with our families online by video, in much the same way that all our other work and social interactions had moved online last year. The Orange Turd thankfully lost the election, vaccines were approved in December and began to be rolled out nation wide, and we finished another movie at Disney called Raya and the Last Dragon:

Amparo got priority on the vaccine since she works in education, and got her first shot a few weeks ago. I’m still patiently waiting my turn as a completely non-essential, yet lucky worker. This pandemic has truly changed everything about our lives in ways big and small, and I can’t believe we survived an entire year without catching it. We’ll see what happens during pandemic year two, but I’m optimistic that the worst is now behind us as vaccines slowly allow the country to put it in the rear view mirror. And one day when our kids ask us about it, I’ll point them to this blog post!

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