Two years ago, on March 11, 2020, Oklahoma City was where the pandemic turned from abstract to concrete. The Thunder game against the Utah Jazz scheduled for that night was never warned, but it was a tipping point.
Since that day, when COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic — the “day that changed everything,” as some have dubbed it — the virus has changed countless lives in Oklahoma.
We have lost over 15,000 Oklahomans to COVID. More than 42,000 have been hospitalized with the virus. And hundreds of thousands of people have tested positive in Oklahoma, where the entire state over one million cases have been recorded.
The anniversary of the pandemic comes as many yearn for normality, even as the state records dozens of new COVID deaths each week. In September 2021, the COVID death toll in Oklahoma reached 10,000. Not even six months later, we lost 5,000 more Oklahomans.
Even before new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that most healthy Americans can now do without masks in much of the country, many Oklahomans had long since lost theirs and returned to life pre -pandemic. Hospital leaders crying out for help at the height of the omicron surge saw the strain of the virus dwindle, and some military reinforcements have now left.
As we enter the third year with COVID, state health officials have said it’s time to learn to coexist with tit virus. For two years now, Oklahomans have been doing just that, despite the losses, disruptions to their families and jobs, upheavals in education and health care, and economic fallout from the pandemic.
For many, this era will leave deep scars.
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COVID has overwhelmed the healthcare industry
Nurse Bobbi Six will not forget how isolated her patients were as the pandemic progressed.
“Having to do things like hold the phone to a patient’s ear so family members can say goodbye, or FaceTiming and holding the patient’s hand – being the one who was there with them, so they don’t Were not alone,” said Six, who worked at an Oklahoma City hospital after graduating in 2019, until November 2020. “For me, that was the hardest thing.”
Six recalled going to bat for a patient – “the most unforgettable patient I will ever have”, she said – when it became clear the patient was not going home. The patient’s daughter had flown in, but at that time visiting policies were still extremely strict.
“I had to fight with the administration just to let the girl in, so my patient wouldn’t be alone,” Six recalled. “The look that crossed his face every time the girl came in, and the way they cried, and the way this patient hugged me and thanked me – it weighed on me.”
As the hospital’s roster grew and rooms filled, that sometimes meant caring for patients in beds in the hallways, Six said.
When she decided to leave her job as a hospital bedside nurse for infection control work at the state Health Department, it was not an easy choice. But it was a relief, she says.
“I don’t feel like I’m coming into work wondering if I’m going to lose my license today, or if I’m going to have more patients than I’m going to be able to handle,” Six said. . “It was really nice to get away from it all and also be able to realize the different ways that, even if it was very short lived, the ways that it affected me and how I view health care, and the change that I want to see in health care now.
As for COVID, Six expects it to be with us for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has made health care issues all the more urgent to address, she said.
In May, she will march outside the State Capitol alongside other Oklahoma nurses, calling for safe patient ratios and highlighting other critical issues for nurses. Six is one of the organizers of the May 12 march.
“COVID,” Six said, “has been like an accelerant to a fire that has been burning in health care for years now.”
COVID has affected entire families
Gwendolyn Hunt, from Jenks, is a single mother of four boys, aged 4 to 17. The pandemic has been difficult for her, to say the least. She has caught COVID twice, which means her children have also fallen ill.
“There’s four of them, so it’s like boom-boom-boom,” Hunt said. “This first time, I was out of work for almost two months. It was one child after another, so I couldn’t go back until we were completely clear.
At that time and throughout the pandemic, her children missed important treatments: a specific type of therapy called applied behavior analysis (ABA) for her two young boys with autism, as well as physical and speech therapy, either because they were sick or because they were therapists. was sick.
ABA therapy is crucial for her young boys, Hunt said — it helps them with their behavior and even tolerates various foods and textures.
“It was a really big deal for us,” Hunt said.
Telehealth is an option for some of the therapies, but sometimes the boys find it difficult to get their treatment through a screen.
They have now moved to home therapy, but even that has also been canceled a few times due to COVID concerns.
For Hunt, how COVID will affect his future to some degree rests in the hands of the people around him.
“I think it would be better if we took more precautions, but I think it’s because we’re like, ‘Hey, that’s how it is and we’re stuck with it’, which people don’t like. really do it all. they can do,” she said.
She’s had enough of the masks, too, but “I just think don’t be selfish,” Hunt said. “You have to think of others.”
The story continues below.
COVID-19 has created a new ‘normal’ for immunocompromised people
Catherine Cronin doesn’t yet know what “normalcy” might look like for her, but she expects masks and COVID precautions to be part of the picture.
Cronin, from Edmond, underwent surgery for a liver transplant in September 2019, after having what doctors believe was a rare but serious reaction to antibiotics he was prescribed after a cat bite.
Post-transplant precautions are a lot like COVID precautions, she said. After several months spent mostly at home, Cronin returned to work in February 2020.
“I had four to five weeks of what was my new normal, and then COVID became a thing for all of us,” Cronin said. “I went straight back into the bubble, straight back into lockdown.”
Life today is not radically different for Cronin than it was two years ago. She wears a mask everywhere she goes. Her husband and adult children had to take the same precautions as her.
“I need them to be as careful as me because they could give it to me more easily – anything, not even just COVID,” she said. “The flu could put me in the hospital. A bad cold could turn into pneumonia and that would send me to the hospital.
Even though many move forward, Cronin will have to “make the same kind of choices I’ve made all along,” she said.
“I still have anxiety,” she said. “I’m happy for the 97% of Americans who aren’t immunocompromised, and I’m very happy that life seems normal to them. … But my life doesn’t change because everyone else does.
In the uncertainty of the pandemic, Cronin found community through the TRIO Oklahoma Chapter, an organization for transplant recipients before and after transplant. The group’s Zoom calls on Thursday night were a “godsend,” she said.
Another transplant recipient, Lorrinda Gray-Davis, started the group’s Oklahoma chapter in April 2020, seeking a way to combat the loneliness of not knowing anyone who’s had a transplant, and a way to connect with others and cope. together to the changes of COVID.
“I’m just doing something that I wanted – that I really felt was missing,” she said.
Gray-Davis, of Yukon, did not elicit an immune response following her COVID-19 vaccination, she said. Cronin, on the other hand, did, although his response was not as strong as it would be in someone who is not immunocompromised.
For Gray-Davis, she doesn’t imagine her life will ever look like it did before the pandemic.
“I feel left out,” Gray-Davis said. “I have to protect myself. I can’t just go out without wearing a mask and be in places that are unsafe for me. »
March 11, 2020 will forever symbolize the starting point of COVID in Oklahoma. Two years later, thousands of Oklahomans are still paving the way forward. Gray-Davis’ hope, she says, is kindness.
“It’s very simple, but be kind and respect others. If you see other people wearing a mask, that’s OK. I’ve had people look at me like, “Why are you wearing a mask?” “, She said. “But I know what’s at stake.”