One year ago today, as I laid in the bedroom I grew up in two hours away from Duke, my phone vibrated with the news that we would not be able to return to campus after spring break. It was anxiety-inducing for multiple reasons; for one, I had an appointment at the hospital the following week. I had left all my clothes, all my belongings in my dorm. The steady routine I had fallen into was being indefinitely disrupted.
Most importantly, the announcement made COVID-19 more real, realer than it had been when I left campus on March 6, when I ignored the email that had said “Duke is not currently restricting any domestic travel, but filling out the travel registry will help us know who is traveling where, and enable us to reach you in the event that any circumstances change.”
I never filled out the registry. I didn’t think it would matter in a week, but it did.
The first case of COVID-19 in North Carolina was reported March 3, 2020. I don’t remember how I reacted, as I spent the first few months of the pandemic preoccupied with my own health issues. In retrospect, I can see all the red flags that I should have been paying more attention to — Duke sent its first email about COVID-19 in January, way before what many of us viewed as the “beginning” of the pandemic. Yet, I didn’t pay attention in order to cling to a sense of normalcy, just as many other Americans did. Even now, we are still arguing over when to “return to normal”, whether “normal” should be redefined, whether to reopen, whether our concerns are over exaggerated.
One year in, we have vaccines. One year in, half a million people have passed away. One year in, we still have cause for concern.
In fall 2021, we’re expected to start returning to the “normal” college experience with roommates and in-person classes. I’m both optimistic for the future and unsure of what will come next, because as the past year has taught me, everything can change in an instant.