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Opinion | A year of despair

“The cliché is true: There is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.”

Light at end of tunnel

The first case of COVID-19 in Alabama was officially acknowledged about one year ago. Nobody had any idea the pandemic would blow up into what it became, to what it still is.

As of this week, more than half a million Alabama residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 10,200 Alabamians have lost their lives to the disease.

Most of us know somebody who tested positive. Some of us have family members or friends who died from it.

A friend of ours celebrated with a big Thanksgiving last November; she soon got sick, wound up on a ventilator, and she died. She was 59.

I teach at UAB, and I have to give props to the administration and medical team there for managing the pandemic pretty well. I have students who tested positive, but not many, and they all recovered, some without suffering serious symptoms.

During the fall semester, I taught three English classes: two American literature classes with 30 students each, and one composition class with 17 students. The lit classes were fully online, and I admit online is not the best way for me to teach. The composition class was hybrid – about half the students coming to class on alternating days, the students not in class in person joining on Zoom. That’s a hard way to teach a class, but at least I had some student contact.

This semester, I’m teaching four classes, three of them hybrid and one, my seminar for the University Honors Program, face-to-face. Again, the hybrid classes are difficult to teach because it’s like having two separate classes each meeting day.

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They tell us by fall, we should be back to some form of normal. Most first- and second-year students haven’t had a regular college experience.

But all the precautions remain in place – masks and/or face shields for professors, masks without exception for students, whether in class or walking to class or studying in the common areas. I have not had one student who refused to mask up, but maybe that’s because our university includes a world-renowned medical center. We take science seriously at UAB.

We socially distance, in class and elsewhere. There are sanitizer stations all over the place. We wash our hands every few hours. There are sanitizer wipes in classrooms we use to clean our desks and teaching spaces.

And in this one year, neither my wife nor I have tested positive for the virus. I follow very strict protocols. Because my wife, Veronica, has underlying health challenges and is immunocompromised, I run the errands.

I mask if I’m not in my Spencer Honors House office with the door closed, or in my Honda CR-V alone, or when I’m at home. Otherwise, I’m masked. Every. Time. The few times I’ve had to go into a big-box store, I do it quickly, double-masked, and use hand sanitizer when I get back into my car. Our neighborhood convenience store, where I pick up wine and a loaf of bread or bag of cat food, requires masks as well, and I sanitize immediately after I get back to my car.

I’m puzzled when I see people not wearing masks. Masks work. Not only that, but I also didn’t get my annual winter cold this year, and I believe that’s because I’m a vigilant mask wearer.

This week, I became fully vaccinated, and my wife gets her second shot on April 1.

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Still, I believe I’ll continue to wear a mask, even if the time comes where it is no longer mandated or necessary. That just makes sense to me. Besides, I’ve invested a pretty decent amount of dollars in masks.

It is true that people can do everything I’m doing and still get the disease. But not taking strict precautions is practically a guarantee you’ll be exposed. The odds are pretty good that if you have to go on a ventilator, you’ll die. And you’ll often die alone, without family at your side.

President Biden has really stepped up vaccinations, and everybody should take one of the three that are available right now as soon as you can. He has mandated masking on federal property and transportation.

Still, we lost a year of managing the pandemic when the “former guy” barely lifted a finger to interrupt COVID, instead playing down the dangers and ignoring best practices as determined by science. Donald Trump has blood on his hands, for the more than 520,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 and those who were killed in the Jan. 6 Capitol building insurrection he deliberately incited.

This has been a terrible year, March 13, 2020, to March 13, 2021. Just damned awful.

But let us not despair. The cliché is true: There is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

And for once, it’s not the headlight of a charging train bearing down on us.

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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