We asked Philly-area residents how they’re doing a year into the pandemic. This is what they said.
The stories shared here are some of the ones that affected us the most, and we hope these stories resonate with you, too.
In January 2020, almost no one in the Philadelphia area thought we’d be living through a global pandemic. A couple of months later, we all went home, expecting the lockdown to last maybe three weeks.
Now, we’re here. More than a year later, most people just can’t wait for it to be over. And we at The Inquirer were wondering how it’s been for you to live through this tumultuous time. We asked Philly-area residents how things have been going and what they’re looking forward to.
Many of your neighbors’ last pre-pandemic memories involved dining out, birthday parties, and other gatherings that we didn’t hesitate to attend before. Some lost loved ones and most have worked to stay connected to the family they still have. And one even discovered a long-lost relative in a new pandemic genealogy hobby.
And just about everyone was eager for some version of “normal life” to return, especially as vaccines are becoming more widely available. The top response we received to the question of what people are looking forward to? Sharing a hug with family and friends. And there’s so much more.
The stories shared here are some of the ones that affected us the most, and we hope these stories resonate with you, too. If you have an experience you’d like to share, feel free to post it on social media with the hashtag #OneYearInPhilly.
What was your last memory before COVID-19 changed everything?
“I went hiking with my husband just before and showed him my favorite overlook on the Susquehanna. It’s been closed since March.” — Sherry Pulliam, New Jersey
“An epic birthday celebration — was it a super-spreader? My husband took me to see Boyz II Men. My girlfriends took me to Ladies’ Night Out Comedy Tour. We ate tacos at Juno, elbow-to-elbow with other patrons. The last time my kids saw their friends was for a birthday party at the Palace Skating Rink. I remember us parents barked about sanitizing before the cake. ‘There is this weird flu on the news — let’s be extra careful.’ One of the moms is an epidemiologist. Little did we know. Unthinkable, now.” — Bethany Ostrowski, Cheltenham
“We had a bridal shower for my wife the day or two before the shutdowns all hit.” — Josh Verlin, East Falls
“It was the end of February and I had just met a new friend at a coffee shop. We chatted like crazy. When we parted, we both leaned in for a hug. I didn’t even hesitate but she told me she saw in the news that we were being cautioned to avoid close contact. I was doubtful of this warning, at that point. It ended up being a ‘half-hug.’ I will never forget that moment.” — Michael Donnelly, South Philly
“We spent a lovely weekend in New England visiting friends from Philly who just moved there. We were in bars, restaurants, walking on the beach and enjoying the quaint town.” — Carin Troy, Moorestown
“I was home alone, because my husband had a writing fellowship in Geneva, Switzerland. I was off work on Friday, March 13, and had planned to attend a yoga class at the climbing gym. In the late morning, the gym sent out a notification that all classes were canceled, so I just went bouldering that evening. The gym was already unusually empty for Friday night, and kind of eerie. … The next day, I got an email from the gym saying they were closing for two weeks, and a few days later I had to drive to Newark to pick up my husband from the airport because Switzerland was closing its borders.” — Michiko Kobayashi
What was the moment when it hit you that the pandemic was really happening?
“I’m from Taiwan. I’ve been in Philadelphia for three years. I realized maybe this is real for the first time in January, as I heard from my friend. I started to get very nervous and very anxious. ... So I called my family almost every day to check: Are they OK? It was like heat to me because I knew it was coming.” — Yushan Chou, Philadelphia
“My last pre-pandemic memory is sitting in my Snapchat memories, and it just came up in my one-year-ago today a couple weeks ago. My friends and I were all sitting in our usual lunch spot, laughing because we thought that all it would be was a harmless one-week extension of spring break. It reminds me of the calm before the storm.” — Amani Rivers, Cheltenham
“When I closed my business for ‘two weeks’... it really ended up being 14 months.”
“March 13th. I’m a teacher and my school was suddenly closed that day for a lack of staff. Later that afternoon, it was announced that we were closing for two weeks and everything became very real.” — Liz Zubert, Fishtown
”The hair salon is where we gather to laugh, talk smack, bare our souls, and exaggerate. It’s loud — topics shift quickly from politics, to sex, to the latest weight-loss trend. In my gut, I knew the pandemic was real when the salon was eerily quiet. The biggest news became the elephant in the room. Tick-tock goes the clock. Sedate whispers. Hurry to the store. I have to pick up my kids. If it weren’t real, they’d have been much louder.” — Bethany Ostrowski, Cheltenham
”My girlfriend and I went to Jersey to go food shopping and the ShopRite in Cherry Hill was a madhouse. Everything was picked over. We loaded up our cart as best we could and got in a line that stretched around the store. Strangers were holding each other’s places in line while people kept running back up the aisles for last-minute additions. Luckily, we had toilet paper at home already.” — Benjamin Winkler, Center City
”In hindsight, it was surprisingly late. There was so much messaging initially that this new virus wasn’t so bad if you were young and healthy. I also traveled to Japan during the SARS epidemic, which never developed global reach, so I kind of assumed this would be similar. I have to admit that I didn’t start entirely taking it seriously until a couple of days into the lockdowns. I work at a grocery store, and when the panic buying started, I was kind of shaking my head, wondering what the big deal was.” — Michiko Kobayashi
“I think what made it really real was my sister-in-law died on March 13, 2020, the day everything started shutting down and we could not have a funeral service with my large Irish family.” — Kathleen Russell, Palmyra
How have you connected with family and friends during the pandemic?
“I have only seen my parents three times in the past year. I have done most of my socializing with friends on Zoom, or by visiting places outside together (the Philadelphia Zoo, the Southwark Community Garden, etc).” — Dick Furstein, Center City
“This has been hard for me. My whole family is in Germany. I try to visit them every spring, and my mom turned 70 in May 2020 — I had to cancel my trip to celebrate with her. My mom has several serious health conditions, and my biggest fear has been that something would happen to her and I couldn’t go. I also have a 3-year-old niece I haven’t seen in two years now. WhatsApp has been a lifeline, and I have a Skype subscription that lets me call Germany very cheaply. We’ve done a few group video calls. Still, I feel very cut off from them.” — Michiko Kobayashi
“I’m not the best with connecting with family and friends usually, but social media has definitely been my friend. I try to keep up with them through their weekly/monthly posts and their Instagram stories, and that’s enough for me.” — Amani Rivers, Cheltenham
“Yes. In a strange way it has brought me closer to people I haven’t spoken to in decades. People are reaching out, all over, online.”
“Phone calls, texting, Zooming. I am an extrovert and this social distancing is not me at all. I so crave being with people and really connecting, seeing smiles, giving hugs.” — Diane McNitt, Lansdowne
“Our store is open to walk-in customers, I still feel very connected to the Germantown community — my parents come into the store once a week. Friends I keep connected through tech like everyone else.” — Kate Lange, Germantown
“Usually, Thanksgiving is held at my parents’ house for my extended family and there had been years that we’ve had 30 people there at their house. And this year that wasn’t an option. They have a garage door that they propped open, and they put some heaters on their side of the garage door and I just bundled up. We had a table that was half in and out.” — Leo Vaccaro, Fairmount
“In the early days, we did a lot of nature walks. I discovered paths I didn’t know existed — despite having grown up in Philadelphia. I Zoomed with a close friend to drink margaritas and binge-watch Ozarks. ... My dear father and stepmother set up Christmas dinner in our yard, complete with hot soup and hand-warmers.” — Bethany Ostrowski, Cheltenham
What’s a new skill or hobby you picked up during the pandemic? What’s been your escape?
“I think the isolation really forced me to be with myself. And one of the ways I learned to be with myself was through creating art. I found that was when I felt that I was acting from my best self, and really engaging in my passion.” — Kimberly Ashby
”Baking. I don’t just make plain cakes anymore. I can make multilayer cakes, ice cream cakes, and once I even made an eclair cake. For me baking is very relaxing, so it has been the main escape for me.” — Callie Bergson-Hilbert, West Chester
“Cooking! I never cooked anything other than really simple things before. My escape continues to be running.” — Teresa Rothaar, Claymont, Del.
“The biggest change for me has been going back to school. When everything was shutting down, and a lot of the college students I work with took a break, I signed up for online classes in business management. I have always enjoyed working in retail because every day is different, meeting new people, doing lots of different tasks. The pay was never great, but I liked the work. The pandemic, though, has brought out the absolute worst in people, and for the first time I felt a real urgency to get out of this public-facing position. I still want to work with people, but maybe not with all of them.” — Michiko Kobayashi
“Yes, we hopped on the COVID puppy train and we will enjoy our newest dog for a long time.” — Kathleen Russell, Palmyra
“Currently employed as a security guard, I’ve used my art skills to make coloring sheets for the children while their parents engage in very important business. While my patience with COVID-19 has gradually reached an ebb, I’ve relied on my talents to help me get through this tough time.” — Terrence Chambers, West Philly
“I got pregnant in April and had my baby in December so parenthood is definitely new to me!” — Liz Zubert, Fishtown
“I’ve started a photo project for 2021 of taking a picture at the exact time of sunrise everyday somewhere outside.”
“Watching movies is definitely one of my favorite hobbies nowadays. It also has brought me peace; I think it’s because for the duration of the movie, I’m watching somebody live a different life, which definitely helps me to get away from reality and imagine what it would be like without the pandemic and everything.” — Amani Rivers, Cheltenham
What are you most looking forward to on the other side of the pandemic?
“I’ve been telling people I’m ready to jump into a mosh pit. But, really, most of all, I want to see my family. Germany’s vaccine rollout has been agonizingly slow, but everyone I want to see over there is in a high-priority tier, so, hopefully, I can go visit sooner rather than later.” — Michiko Kobayashi
“I just did the biggest one — hugging my vaccinated dad and stepmom — breathing easily and having dinner inside. Hopefully a vacation somewhere bustling is in our near future.” — Bethany Ostrowski, Cheltenham
“My needs are simple. I just want to be able to go to the store and run errands again without fear of contracting a deadly disease.” — Teresa Rothaar, Claymont, Del.
“For things to go back to normal, and the return of special events across the city.” — Terrence Chambers, West Philly
“I’m looking forward to seeing my grandparents the most. They have all gotten the vaccine, so, hopefully, I will see them soon. I also hope to go back to school.” — Talia Mono, Bella Vista
“Hugs!! The simple pleasure of hugging someone you care about!” — Chris Miller, Bucks County
“Not second-guessing every interaction or worrying that I put myself or a loved one at risk.”
“Going to concerts!! I miss concerts so much and I honestly can’t wait to be belting my lungs out, probably sitting in some nosebleed seats, laughing with friends and going to some two-star diner after.” — Amani Rivers, Cheltenham
“Being around other people again. Basketball games with fans in the stands. And, of course, celebrating our wedding with our friends and family.” — Josh Verlin, East Falls