Over the last year, I have experienced unbelievable stress in my job as a journalist because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, like so many others, this stress was also in my home, in my relationships with my family and friends, and even in my simple trips to the grocery store.
I spent New Year’s in Portugal and by the time I returned home in January, my mother, who is a nurse, was talking about wearing masks at work and preparing for an overflow of patients in her hospital’s ICU. I recall her telling me, “This won’t be good. This isn’t just a flu.”
By late March, she was already telling me about a shortage of protective gear. Her and my dad were sleeping in separate beds and living in separate parts of the house, unless unavoidable because she worked on a COVID-19 unit in her hospital. On a family Zoom call, my dad sat in his office, my mother in the bedroom. They both said they couldn’t wait for this to be over.
We heard reports of moving morgues in New York City because the body count was so high, there was nowhere for them to go. One of my relatives lives in Brooklyn and took a part-time job cycling around the city delivering supplies to hospitals. He told me he saw a garbage truck, but there wasn’t garbage inside, there were bodies. The news said the moving morgues were coming to Oregon soon.
My grandparents, who live in the midwest, contracted COVID-19 in the summer. They each have comorbidities, which heightened my family’s fear. While a big illness in the family would usually warrant a trip, we all had to stay home and wait for phone calls and texts to give us updates. They ended up recovering from COVID-19, but during their illness it was hard not thinking about how we likely wouldn’t be able to fly out, even if they were hospitalized. If they had died, there wouldn’t have been a funeral, per state and CDC restrictions.
My other grandparents, who live in Oregon, housed me during college, and when COVID-19 hit and universities shut down in March, 2020, I had to make a decision. Would I stay and risk infecting my grandparents who are part of the higher risk demographic or would I seek new housing in the middle of a housing crisis? Then my job at the time called and told me I was furloughed. With my school online and no job to physically show up to, I decided it was best to move back in with my parents, who live in Washington.
Social life deteriorates
After a month, my job called and said they were reopening, so I moved back in with my grandparents. Slowly, I saw my social life deteriorate. Friends would text and ask if I was available for dinner or drinks, and I had to decline, saying I was concerned about our safety and the safety of my grandparents, who I would be tracking whatever germs I collected back to.
I was so afraid of infecting myself or others with COVID-19 that I kept my distance from family and friends for over a year. I even quarantined myself in my room on a few occasions, and often avoided being in shared spaces with my grandparents, since I regularly saw the public for my job. I self-isolated and fell into a strict new routine: work, home, grocery store.
In late August, my university reopened for in-person classes, but we were all wearing face masks, sitting six feet a part, and as a commuter, I wasn’t allowed to hang out on campus after my classes. It was difficult seeing many of my friends’ faces, but only being able to wave or nod at them. I did my first non-Zoom, in-person, reporting in January, 2021. I wasn’t vaccinated, but I began to feel hope for a return to ‘normal.’
Finally, in March, 2021, I became eligible for the vaccine. A couple weeks prior, I was sitting in Governor Brown’s virtual press conference, when OHA officials announced that all Oregonians age 16 and up would be eligible for the vaccine in the coming weeks, and President Biden announced that all states would have eligibility opened up by April 19.
At first, I didn’t rush to sign up for a vaccine. I knew I would likely have to wait until summer to actually get an appointment. Then one of my editors messaged me. There was a vaccine clinic not too far from me that had a surplus of vaccines, and I qualified because I was a member of the press.
When the first dose of my vaccine (Pfizer) finally entered my arm, I finally felt a little less afraid, even hopeful. I felt relief. Not only was I protecting myself, I was protecting my family, my friends, my classmates, my professors, my employers, coworkers, and doing my part to protect the nation. With each vaccine, we all take a collective step toward healing our nation, toward living with less fear and more hope.
Many communities are skeptical about the vaccine, especially people of color and women—due to historical record and discriminatory health care practices. The public discourse surrounding symptoms has created fear. While symptoms can take place with any vaccine, and we know that there are rare cases of severe symptoms from any of the current vaccines available, the important thing to remember is that these reactions are extremely rare.
With my first dose, I didn’t experience any symptoms. With my second, I felt a ‘flash flu,’ as I’ve dubbed it. I was sore and tired, but the symptoms passed quickly within 24 hours. Ultimately, the vaccine was worth it.
I feel safe around my family again. Because Columbia County is now at Extreme High Risk, I am working remotely, but I look forward to returning to an in-person work environment, and I feel prepared to see my coworkers, engage the public, and do my job with hope, not fear. My recommendation, if you have the chance to get vaccinated, don’t wait.
In Oregon, everyone over 16 is currently eligible. If you live in Columbia County, you can seek vaccination at most WalMart, Walgreens, Safeway, and other such retail locations as well as selected medical outlets, including the expanded mass vaccination site at the OHSU Clinic in Scappoose. Drive-through clinics are also established in the Portland metro area. Appointments are necessary. To learn about appointment details and find a location near you, visit the Oregon Health Authority website.
For Columbia County residents that cannot seek vaccinations, the county is operating an in-home vaccination program. For more information, call Columbia County Public Health, at 503-397-7247. The county is also providing free transportation to clinics, if needed.
Aurora Biggers is a general assignment reporter for The Chronicle. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.