Oliver: Let’s hope we learned something during our past year of pandemic

Despite this milestone, we need to stay the course until the virus is conquered

One year ago, we were staring down a stay-at-home order that was to start March 21. That was a Saturday.

The last time I went into a store to shop for groceries was the following Monday, mainly because that was still an “essential” activity that was allowed under the state order.

I remember being absolutely terrified, so much so that I had a big scarf wrapped around my face. I definitely drew some looks. However, I was ready for the mask mandate long before it was enacted.

Fairly early on in our pandemic year, a friend from college went to Kankakee because his mother was terminally ill from cancer. He went to say goodbye and to gather with the family.

He posted a picture of a happy trip to Dairy Queen with his father and younger brother on his Facebook page. Shortly thereafter, he and a number of his family members contracted COVID-19.

His father, who had just buried his wife, would succumb to the virus. My friend was in and out of the hospital but recovered. Instead of grieving for one parent, he now is mourning both.

That’s one of the reasons that I get upset when people try to discount this virus and try to say that it’s really not that bad. Another friend of mine lost his mother and stepfather within a few days of each other to the virus.

What would happen to Tony if I contracted COVID-19? As a cancer survivor and someone with respiratory issues, I remain at high risk for complications from the virus. Tony, with his Alzheimer’s disease, is at higher risk for contracting COVID by virtue of his not being able to remember to adhere to physical distancing, wash his hands frequently and wear a mask.

So that has meant that I’m doing all I can to stay out of harm’s way. Friends have done our shopping, and as the world adjusted to this pandemic “normal,” it has become easier to do things from home. Thank goodness the toilet paper shortages were temporary.

We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned a few things along the way.

We’re tougher than we thought. We’ve had to deal with so much change and so many things that we had absolutely no control over. That’s scary, but we’re still here.

We’ve learned that our connections to our friends and family are vital. And as much as we might miss our frequent in-person contact, we can be creative and keep those ties intact and strong.

I hope we’ve learned that a public health crisis isn’t a political issue, but I’m afraid that the deep divisions here and around the world aren’t going to be cured when COVID-19 finally leaves the headlines.

We’ve picked up some new skills along the way, whether videoconferencing or baking or some other hobby that we suddenly found ourselves with time to try. I worked on my cooking skills. Not being able to just drop by a store certainly made me work on my meal planning.

Now, as many of us are still waiting for our chance to get vaccinated, we’ll need to stay the course and practice a bit more patience.

Yes, that finish line seems to be right there within our grasp, but until we reach “herd immunity,” it’s still not the best idea to throw caution to the wind.

Marking a year since this pandemic started isn’t anything more than acknowledging that 365 days has passed. It’s not a magic “all clear” signal that the danger has passed.

If we keep doing what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, we really will get through this. And then this period of pandemic, however long it lasts, will finally be over.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.