CHICO, Calif. – One year ago, today, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the stay-at-home order, and in those 12 months of our lives have been filled with hand sanitizer, face coverings, Zoom meetings, and elbow bumps.
Perhaps it is what we have not had in the past year that is more note-worthy: birthday parties, grandparent visits, holiday gatherings, and for many, no job or paycheck. With vaccinations underway, better days seem possible in the future.
Spring is in the air at DeGarmo Park in Chico. Families, still enduring a pandemic now one year old, are just looking for moments of normalcy.
Related: Part One: One year later: Key points that led up to California’s stay-at-home order
“It’s been very challenging,” said Petra Contreras Swift, a Chico mother. “I’ve actually had to stop working. I worked at a skilled nursing facility as a nurse, and I could not find childcare.”
Like many of us, this mother is tracking the plunging coronavirus numbers and hoping it’s a sign of better days ahead. “I miss getting together with family, good friends, like going out to eat with friends,” Swift said.
However, since the post-holiday coronavirus spike, daily cases are plummeting nationwide. The U.S. was seeing about 250,000 new cases a day in January. Now, in March 2021, it’s down to about 50,000.
“I think there's a lot of reason to be optimistic about those numbers,” Linda Lewis with the Butte County Public Health Department, said in a Zoom interview. “We're certainly on the downward slope. That's very good."
Even so, Lewis said the numbers in many areas are plateauing at a level considered too high by the health experts. “We're all ready to be done with this,” she said. “But we have to hang in there a little bit longer and drive those case rates down before we can open up more.”
Related: Part Two: Maintaining determination for restaurant survival in a pandemic
Still, the projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington show about 38,000 daily infections by May 1 and 11,000 by June 1. Daily deaths, which two months ago were in the 4,000 range, will be in the hundreds in a couple of months. And just above 100, nationwide, by July 1.
“By July the 4th there's a good chance, you, your families and friends, can get together in your backyards, your neighborhoods, and have a cookout or a BBQ and celebrate Independence Day,” President Joe Biden said in a press conference.
However, there is, of course, no guarantee these predictions will come true.
“We’re in a bit of a race between the vaccine and the variants,” Lewis said. The continually emerging variant could halt all this process. But, Lewis says, “the good news is these vaccines that we have now are fairly easy to adapt to a new variant. But we really need to drive the number of cases down in order to prevent other variants from emerging." Pushing toward her immunity through vaccinations is what health experts say is the only way that happens.
“What do you say to people who are reluctant or straight up defiant in refusing to get the vaccine?” Alan Marsden asked Lewis in an interview. "I wish they would follow the science,” Lewis said. “The science tells us these vaccines are very safe and very effective. And it's not just about protecting yourself. It's about protecting the community."