“You heard the whole thing I just told your husband, right? How you might experience chills, body aches, elevated temperature tomorrow morning?”
I nodded as I sat down in the seat still warm from where Larry had sat just a moment before.
“Any questions before we continue?”
“Just one,” I said, looking right at the EMT. “What’s your name?”
“Kevin,” he said with a curious smile.
“Hi Kevin,” I said. “I wanted to know the name of the man who’s making history for me today.”
His smile widened. “It’s my honor,” he replied.
With just a slight pinch, I was fully vaccinated with my second dose of the world’s fastest-developed vaccine against the novel coronavirus. In 14 days, I will be at full efficacy, my body producing all the cellular “fork hands” it needs to fend off the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Exactly one year ago to the day, my world closed. I remember trying to remain hopeful in the moment on March 13, 2020, when we got the official notice from my son’s school district that the schools would close. I tried very hard to not let the fear at the uncertainty overwhelm me—at least, not at that particular moment. Even so, something very deep in the most primal parts of my brain knew this was going to be life-changing.
And a year later, here I was, a willing and grateful human guinea pig in the great experiment to combat this sudden and voracious disease that has claimed 2.65 million lives to date—532,000 in the United States alone—since I first remembered hearing about this mysterious and deadly virus that had ravaged Wuhan, China and had appeared in Washington state.
As I acknowledge my own personal pandemic anniversary, I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflecting, scrolling through the photos on my phone to try and remember at a visceral level was life was like “in the before times.” I’m so glad I captured the random, fleeting moments I did.
Here are just a few.
Monday, March 9, 2020: His last day of school.
The sun, just barely above the horizon, colored the waking world in golden tones, casting long shadows along the sidewalk as my son, then 6 years old, headed off to his last day of first grade. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time that it would be the last day he would see his teacher in person for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year.
That night, he would develop a high fever.
We have no way of knowing for sure if our son actually ever had COVID-19 or just a very unfortunately timed run-of-the-mill kid virus, one of the many that can be picked up in school. But that fever stayed high and persistent for a solid five days, before finally breaking over the weekend. When we took him to his pediatrician that Friday, March 13—which, I have this crystal clear memory that none of us wore masks in that appointment—his doctor told us point blank that even if it was COVID-19, he wasn’t allowed to test our son.
“The state won’t let us have any tests,” he said. “They’re only giving them to adults who are really, really sick.”
A year later, I’m struck by how exceptional COVID-19 felt at the time. It was so early in the pandemic we had no idea how ubiquitous infections would become.
But back to Monday, March 9: Any fever higher than 100.4° meant my kiddo couldn’t go back to school until he was 24 hours fever-free with no fever-reducing medicines. And so without us knowing what would come down the pike just days later, my son happily enjoyed vegging out in front of the TV while I worked from home.
It all felt so exceptional, then.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020: The day I launched my campaign.
Just the weekend prior, I had my last in-person training with a group of amazing, progressive women leaders and aspiring elected officials through Emerge Massachusetts. After an exceptionally close race in 2019, I had been on the fence about running for School Committee a second time. Through the affirmative support of my Emerge sisters, I resolved that weekend to forge ahead with a campaign run.
Tuesday’s weather was still pleasant, so I threw on some makeup and drove down to Fisherman’s Beach to film a quick, minute-long campaign announcement video with my phone:
It only took a couple of takes and I was able to quickly edit the clips in iMovie to get it up online that evening. Despite the initial hesitation to throw my hat into the ring again, I was excited at the prospect of campaigning. Clearly, my intuition told me “something big is about to start”—but I misunderstood what my subconscious had clearly picked up on.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020: “We want to let parents know: we might have to close for two half-days.”
Wednesday nights are School Committee nights. This meeting was different; instead of meeting at the High School, the meeting was in Dorchester, so our METCO families—Boston resident students who apply to participate in a racial integration program that busses them to suburban school districts—could more easily participate and engage with the School Committee.
Since it was in Dorchester and not our High School, the meeting wasn’t able to be broadcast on our local cable channel. If I wanted to stay in the loop, I needed to head out to Dorchester.
As part of that night’s meeting, our Superintendent gave an important update about how the district was planning for possible school closures due to coronavirus. Our Superintendent presented a robust, thoughtful plan that drilled down into four distinct, color-coded “threat” levels, for lack of a better term.
I remember taking copious notes to share on Facebook once I got home. Re-reading all the notes now, it’s clear to me now that our district’s plans all hinged on a single assumption that no one in that room could have truly foreseen…
That we’d have the luxury of time to actually implement them.
Thursday, March 12, 2020: No school tomorrow.
There is exactly one photo on my phone from March 12—a photo of my son and my husband, sitting on the couch with our new puppy. I can’t help but notice how short and neat their hair was; they must have had recent haircuts.
My son still had a fever — no other symptoms, just a fever that wouldn’t break. We knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to school on Friday—but then just before dinner, we got the robocall from the district: schools would be closed to students only on Friday, March 13, 2020.
I remember so vividly at the time thinking, “Huh. Looks like Judah will have missed almost an entire week of school this week. Hope he doesn’t fall behind.”
We had no idea what was in store for us.
Friday, March 13, 2020: Should we be worried?
No school on Friday. I was grateful my job had been so flexible so I could work from home all week while Judah lazed his days away on the couch, playing the Nintendo Switch and watching Zebra Gamer YouTube play-throughs. We received another dinnertime robocall from the school district—Swampscott, along with 27 other North Shore-area school districts—would close for all students, faculty, and staff through March 27.
I remember having two very distinct thoughts: first, that maybe this whole COVID thing was a big deal and second, Judah hadn’t gotten any real social or personal closure with his classmates, since he was out sick all week.
“Should we go to the grocery store and like, stock up on some stuff?” I remember asking so casually (so naively!) to Larry.
“Yeah, it’s probably not a bad idea,” he replied.
I went to my local Stop and Shop, around 8 o’clock at night. I was not prepared for the bare shelves. I found it all eerily unsettling. My gut told me I needed to capture the moment, so I started snapping some photos with my phone, all the while texting my husband about all the things I couldn’t find.
Me: Well we are SOL on cookies then
Larry: Whole Foods?
Me: I’ve heard it’s been a madhouse all day and if you think it’s gonna be any better I doubt it.
There’s barely any produce left there’s no oranges no bananas it’s kind of crazy
Larry: His fevers headed back up.
Me: On my way
I got popsicles and butter and some other things
Me: This is stressing me TF out.
Larry: Me too
Judah’s fever finally broke that Saturday.
Everything snowballed so quickly as the world shut down around us.
That Sunday, Gov. Charlie Baker closed all schools through the end of March. On Monday, March 16, 2020, I became an impromptu homeschool teacher. On March 23, 2020 all non-essential businesses were ordered to close and the following day, March 24, 2020, my town issued a mandatory stay-at-home order.
The world continued to shut down around us. The April town election was postponed. Schools were closed for the rest of the school year. I ended my campaign. Our governor was forced to secure the Patriots’ plane just to get enough PPE for our frontline workers in some Ocean’s 11 style caper to circumvent the Trump administration.
Remote learning was a train wreck. We hosted Passover over Zoom. We never left the house without a mask. We wiped down every grocery item with every Instacart delivery.
Judah turned seven.
There was no regular birthday party; just friends standing on the lawn, holding signs, as our local fire department drove by with its shiny blue fire engine and a big “Happy Birthday!” sign draped along the side.
I turned 38.
A friend from college, Jonathan, wouldn’t live to see 39.
Months later, I lost a second friend my age to COVID.
I’ve lost count of the number of people I know personally who have either contracted COVID or lost a loved one to it.
We have been so very, very lucky.
Which brings me back to March 13, 2021—exactly one year later. We’ve made it this far, yet we still have so far to go. And the only way out is through.
But for the first time since this all began, I finally have some hope.
Keiko Zoll is a storyteller doing social good. Follow her on everywhere on social @keikozoll.