After a year under COVID, are we heading backwards?

By Michael Kinney

Back on April 1, 2020, I tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. Exactly one year later on April 1, 2021, I received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

While it was just 12 months on a calendar, at times it felt like time had stood still and I was in an endless loop.

At the time I tested positive, many around the country still weren’t sure this was going to be a big thing. It seemed for most of my friends, I was the first person they actually knew who had gotten the disease. Even those who still to this day deny the existence of the virus were concerned for my health. We were still in the early stages of discovering just what COVID-19 could do and were completely unprepared for the devastation it would bring as the death and hospitalization rates climbed in the ensuing months.  

In those 365 days, I suffered through Long Covid (still do), contracted COVID-19 a second time and watched as I’ve had to alter or completely change almost every aspect of my work and personal life.  

Each day I woke up, I thought there was a chance the symptoms would get worse and there would be nothing I could do to fight it off. It was a stressful and anxiety-filled time that could wear on you.  

Yet, in saying all of that, I still consider myself one of the lucky ones. COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States last year, after heart disease and cancer, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 

On the day I tested positive for the coronavirus, the global death toll from COVID-19 sat at 44,156 and 4,756 in the U.S. 

A year later those numbers had grown to more than 2.8 million deaths around the world and 553,000 in the United States. (7,900 in Oklahoma).  

However, it does seem we have reached a turning point with the injection of the COVID-19 vaccines into the population.

As of April 1, 2021, nearly 154 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, with over 56 million people having been fully vaccinated. According to a CDC study, COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 infections and serious COVID-19 illness. Once fully vaccinated, a person’s risk of infection is reduced by up to 90 percent. 

A year ago, any talk surrounding vaccines was believed it would take until at least 2022 or 2023 before one could be produced, much less the three (Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson) that have been approved for emergency use in the United States. (Astrazeneca has yet to gain CDC approval in the U.S, but it’s being used in other parts of the world.) 

The progress made even had President Joe Biden predicting 90 percent of all adults will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19 and more than 200 million doses administered in is first 100 days in office.  

But even now, as the vaccine rollout has picked up, there have been some troubling signs. With the rolling back of pandemic restrictions and mask mandates being relaxed in states such as Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alaska, Florida and West Virginia, it has health officials believing we are taking a step back to where we were.  

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, appeared on a Zoom press briefing last week in which she sent out an emotional plea to citizens to hold on a bit longer.  

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” Walensky said March 29. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared. I know what it’s like as a physician to stand in that patient room, gowned, gloved, masked, shielded and to be the last person to touch some else’s loved one because their loved one couldn’t be there. And I know what it’s like to pull up to your hospital every day and see an extra morgue sitting outside.” 

The seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests is back up to 62,000 per day. Hospitalizations are at 5,000 per day and deaths are at 900 per day. Those numbers are similar or higher to what was going on during the summer and fall of 2020.

Almost 30 states averaged at least 10 percent more COVID-19 cases each day in the last week of March compared to the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

“The trajectory of the pandemic in the United States looks similar to many other countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy, and what France looked like just a few weeks ago. And since that time those countries have experienced a consistent and worrying spike in cases.” 

A lot of this new surge has to do with new variants, such as the B.1.1.7 strain, spreading quickly through the unvaccinated population. However, all three vaccines in use have shown they are effective against all new variants.  

Other contributing factor are the large groups of young people gathering for spring break festivities and just the sheer number of people refusing to take any vaccine. In a recent national poll by Marist College, 30 percent of adults, predominantly white, Republican males, said they would not get the vaccine.  

The people who were complaining a year ago that COVID-19 wasn’t real or refused to wear masks are the same ones refusing to take the vaccine.

I doubt I’ll get back to where I was before April 1, 2020, anytime soon. Yet, I have reclaimed a few aspects of my old life. With the vaccine, I have been able to travel and work outside of my home state. I can meet with friends and family. Most importantly, I can do it all without the boulder of fear that had been weighing me down for the past year.

But there is still have a long way to go to reach any semblance of normalcy.

Michael Kinney Media

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