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A year like no other has changed us

The pandemic that became official one year ago this month taught us how quickly the veneer of “normal” could be stripped away. We will not be the same for having experienced it.

There is nothing in the memory of those now living that equates to it. The experiences of the children of the Great Depression, who lived into old age only to become the likeliest of victims of COVID-19, come the closest. The Depression was so deep and so long that people were molded by it. They could not stand to see things wasted. They were willing to do without to maintain a savings cushion. They took little for granted.

But even during the Great Depression, during foreign wars large, small and ill-conceived, routines of domestic life continued. People gathered for entertainment and sports. They ate together in restaurants and drank in bars. They went off to school and work.

Not this time.

Last March we began to look at one another with fear. A trip to the store became a harrowing experience. When sent home from our offices, most expected the interruption would be brief. When restaurants and shops closed, we expected the outbreak to calm down.

But as the weeks turned into months, it became apparent this was something none of us had seen before.

The strange behaviors of the virus seemed designed to test our moral compass. It became clearer with each passing week that, while no one safe, this COVID-clad grim reaper was more likely to target the old. Would the young avoid large gatherings and wear masks to slow the spread and protect the old? Or would they ignore the warnings, knowing their odds of survival — of getting only minor symptoms or being asymptomatic — were high?

The results were mixed, but most complied. In fact, Connecticut residents largely did themselves proud by making the sacrifices necessary to control the viral outbreak.

At times the isolation has been terrible. Families unable to visit parents and grandparents in nursing homes. Traditions set aside or conducted virtually. No hugs, no handshakes allowed. Most terribly, COVID victims dying without family nearby.

Health care workers were there, however, and confront PTSD akin to a war experience.

Financially, some suffered terribly with jobs lost and businesses closed, though massive government relief programs, which accelerated our national debt, eased the impact and avoided a second Great Depression. Others, fortunate to work from home, saw the checks keep coming and often saved more. There were fewer things to spend on.

With spring, and the development of vaccines, has come the prospect of returning to some semblance of normal.

But it will be a new normal.

Certainly, we will be more sensitive about the fear of getting sick or making others sick. We better understand the importance of washing our hands. Mask-wearing, at first so strange and then so oddly routine, may linger with many even after the orders are lifted, and particularly during cold and flu seasons.

Many of us will be more comfortable with working from home than when this all began. The technology to do so was accelerated by the pandemic. The reality that it can be done successfully is now well proven.

When the stadiums and theaters and fairgrounds open without provisions for spacing, will we fill them? Hard to say. Those crowded events look scarier than they did back before COVID.

Those generations who have experienced this may never take normal for granted again. We now know it can come crumbling apart beginning with a cough on an airplane flight or by some other event not yet imagined.

Fact, it has often been said, can be stranger than fiction. The past year proved that true.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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