We asked our Oakland Voices alumni community members and correspondents: How has pandemic life changed your habits and your outlook? How have you navigated public spaces and health risks now that we are in a different stage of pandemic life? Below, Katharine Davies Samway shares her perspective. Katharine is a long-term educator—a teacher, a researcher, a teacher educator, a professor of education.
There are times when I feel embarrassed, almost guilty, about how the COVID pandemic has not affected me as badly as other people. I have worked from home for many years, so being stuck at home hasn’t been that different for me. I have a nice back yard I can go into when I need a break. I love to hike and walk around my neighborhood, and was able to continue doing this, although fully masked for many months. In time, once we were all vaccinated, I was able to form a “bubble” with our sons and family members living in Oakland and Alameda so we could see each other.
The worst part of COVID was not being able to see our eldest son and his family for over 18 months as they live in the Midwest, in a state that has been slow to vaccinate and in a small town where there are many people who do not wear masks, even in large indoor gatherings. I have also missed seeing friends who are immunocompromised or are simply reluctant to get together, including in outdoor locations.
Even when I was fully vaccinated and could fly, I was reluctant for many months to go through airports, sit on full planes, and be close to unmasked people in indoor settings, in part because I didn’t want to catch COVID, including long-term COVID, but also because I didn’t want to be an inadvertent transmitter of the virus to others.
Only one friend or family member has died of COVID, and until relatively recently, I didn’t personally know many people who had fallen ill due to COVID. Now, I know lots of people who’ve been diagnosed with Omicron, but their symptoms have been relatively mild and they haven’t needed to be hospitalized. “It was like a bad cold,” one friend told me.
I try not to get angry with anti-vaxxers, but sometimes it’s hard when I hear some of the nonsense, if not outright lies, that are shared. Recently, I was driving home from Sacramento. The only radio station that was coming in clearly was a show devoted to misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID. Interestingly, the speaker did not say anything about how almost all of the COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths have been of unvaccinated people. And she did not say anything about our responsibility as human beings to look out for others. The speaker was articulate and self-assured and it occurred to me that, if we all listened to that kind of radio and didn’t bother to check into some of the claims that seemed bogus, maybe we would all be anti-vaxxers.
In an unexpected way, there have been some positive experiences related to the pandemic. One is that, for the past many months, I’ve had long weekly phone calls on WhatsApp with one of my sisters who lives in England. We can’t figure out why we never did this before the pandemic, but it may be due to the fact that we are both now working from home.
A second positive experience has been the interviews I’ve conducted with teachers of children, many of them from low-income homes and many of them immigrants and parents of school-age children while schools were closed. I’ve been hugely impressed by the teachers’ dedication to doing what’s best and necessary for their students (e.g., making sure families had access to computers, the Internet, and food, and seeking out teaching resources that would help their students). I’ve also been impressed by what parents have done to help their children have as good an experience as possible during school closures. I think that the resilience that teachers and parents shared with me is a quality that could stand us all in good stead during this difficult time of a continuing pandemic.