We all remember a moment last year when unease about the coronavirus started to creep into our consciousness.
Maybe it was when we heard about the long lines outside of Costco and the shelves inside stripped bare of toilet paper and bottles of water. Or the first time someone elbow-bumped us instead of shaking hands (jokingly, but not really). Or when we started seeing people walking around wearing blue surgical masks — and we didn't even own one, let alone know where to get one.
And then came March 17, the day that the Bay Area's stay-at-home order took effect. It was the first in the nation, initiated by our alarmed public health leaders.
In the seemingly endless year since, our unease has turned into a multitude of emotions and unusual, only-in-a-pandemic experiences.
To give us the chance collectively to pause and reflect on the impact these past 12 months have had on our lives, the Palo Alto Weekly has published a two-part series of profiles and recollections of local residents.
We're featuring the stories of those who've been on the front lines, including medical staff, gig workers and an educator, and everyday people. And we also catch up with one person who got COVID-19 even before the public health mandate kicked in.
Jessica Clark, educator
"Before the pandemic ... it was just go, go, go all the time. When all of that stopped, it made you say: Was all that really important?"
When the Palo Alto Unified School District started talking about elementary schools reopening last fall, Jessica Clark reacted both as an teacher's aide and a mother watching her child fall through the cracks at home.
She couldn't help but feel like a guinea pig, but she said her husband's work supervising the respiratory department at a hospital helped ground her.
Throughout the fall, she watched heated debates over reopening intensify in Zoomed school board meetings and on social media, pitting teachers against parents.
But Clark also knew firsthand there were children who desperately needed in-person support. "If I was going to be a parent wanting (my child) to go back, then I needed to do ... my job as well," she said. Read more of her story by clicking here.
Sunny Johnson-Gutter, firefighter-paramedic
"It's just a constant barrage of needs, needs, needs and needs — people who are sick, and they need care and compassion."
Last month, Palo Alto Fire Department paramedic Sunny Johnson-Gutter and three of his colleagues found themselves in a hospital in Bakersfield that was overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
They stayed for two weeks, helping to administer medication, take vital signs and move patients in a fast-paced environment.
Even though the four paramedics had different shifts, they made a point to still meet daily for outdoor meals to share what they'd experienced and support one another.
When they returned, each member of the team went through a debriefing session with a department therapist. The trip, he said, left them feeling "on edge." Read more of his story by clicking here.
Kerry Boynton, medical assistant
"We're at the stage of the pandemic where we can have hope that it can be alleviated, or at least contained."
Kerry Boynton doesn't sugarcoat her experience working as a medical assistant during the pandemic: It's been a year filled with sadness, depression, grief, stress and anger. During the holiday surge in coronavirus cases, she received messages almost every day from her union that another employee had died from COVID-19 while just doing their job.
But with the vaccines rolling out, she now says she has hope she'll see the end to all of that. Read her story by clicking here.
Francisca Vazquez, gig worker
"We are barely recovering."
The beginning of the pandemic felt like a sprint to Francisca Vazquez. That's when she and her household of five at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto found themselves scrambling to come up with a month's rent in April.
Now a year into the public health crisis, Vazquez — like so many others still struggling with the consequences of the pandemic — tells of a seemingly endless marathon for survival, and a life that has largely been put on hold.
To add to the financial instability, there's now a new challenge: Vazquez and her family have to move out of Palo Alto, and soon, owing to a complicated ownership situation at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. Read more of her story by clicking here.
Monica Yeung-Arima, COVID-19 survivor
"I have some immunity, but I still wear my mask and socially distance and do all of the things other people do."
Surviving COVID-19 hasn't blunted Monica Yeung-Arima's caution toward the disease. She follows the research and is aware that her immunity might not protect her against the virus' variants. She also doesn't know how long her immunity will last.
But over the past year, Arima says she's also grown concerned about another type of pandemic: xenophobia. Some people have used the virus' origins in China as an excuse for violence against Asian Americans.
It feels more daunting than the virus itself, she said. Read more of her story by clicking here.
Vanessa Bain, nonprofit leader
"I feel the onus of responsibility to keep my family safe and protected, which has definitely changed the way that I would normally live my life."
As an advocate for essential workers, a mom and one of eight family members stuck mainly at home together over the past year, Vanessa Bain has had to figure out how to juggle the demands of advocating for gig workers, protecting her family and taking care of herself.
"You're not really any good to anybody else if you're not feeling OK or feeling capable of doing things," she said of learning the importance of self-care. "While it's challenging, (it) is long overdue." Read more of her story by clicking here.
Nova Jimenez, professional singer
'It's been absolutely liberating for me.'
Impromptu concerts at unlikely venues have become routine for Jimenez, a private voice teacher and lecturer at Stanford University who has been performing what she calls "sidewalk serenades" for front-line and essential workers and isolated seniors around the Bay Area nearly every weekend since May. She's performed in front-yard lawns, asphalt parking lots and on a sidewalk 11 stories below her audience.
"I think the work I'm doing right now, it's my most important purpose in life," said Jimenez, who has been singing professionally since she was a child. "We're living in all these restrictions and to be able to do one little thing without endangering people, it is freeing. Read more of her story by clicking here.
Sue Crane, retiree
'I have become a much stronger person.'
Sue Crane, 88, has mostly been confined to her apartment in The Sequoias retirement community in Portola Valley since the pandemic sparked San Mateo County to institute its shelter-in-place order.
Crane, who moved into the community six years ago for social interaction, considers taking meals by herself to be the most difficult part of the restrictions at The Sequoias.
"Every day I hate eating alone," she said. "I just don't like it." Read more of her story by clicking here.
Read more stories:
Locals share their experiences of life under the COVID-19 pandemic and takeaways from this hopefully not-to-be-repeated year.
To show how the pandemic has accelerated the region's economic divide over the past year, we've woven together data that illustrates historic losses and unprecedented gains.