DISCLAIMER : these are just my thoughts and are not intended for advice on keeping you safe from COVID-19. Always refer to the guidelines from your local authorities for up-to-date information on managing COVID-19.
I still remember on January 20th, I saw news broke out on my Twitter timeline about a “SARS-like virus” being reported in China. The reason why it caught my attention was that I was going to fly back home to Malaysia the next day and my flight to Kuala Lumpur had a stopover at Hong Kong.
The next morning, I decided to stop by Walgreens to buy some face masks so that I can wear them when I’m on the plane and at the airport. And the moment that I remember even today (over a year later) was the price tag label for the surgical masks. It was an offer for 2 boxes of surgical masks for the price of 1.
Me being the pseudo-environmentalist / sustainability enthusiast, I thought to myself, why would I need 2 boxes of face masks? I ended up buying just 1 box and also picked up a box of N95 face mask just as a precaution if the situation worsened in the next few days as I was scheduled to fly back to the US about a week later.
When I came back to the US about a week later, all the masks and hand sanitizer (plus toilet paper) supply were wiped clean off the shelf. At that point, I was regretting my decision of not buying that extra box of surgical masks that was basically “free”. If you want to hear more about my trip back home for Chinese New Year in 2020, the vlog on my YouTube channel goes into more detail.
But looking back at that moment, I don’t regret it as much as I did back then about that extra box of masks because the fact is that I didn’t need that many masks at all. Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the stay-at-home orders were enacted in Arizona, I stopped going out at all.
I switched to doing (a lot of) online shopping at Amazon buying random things, grocery shopping with services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh, ordering takeout from DoorDash, and meeting people through Zoom. I went out so infrequently that I only had to fill up my car once (in September) from the March – December timeframe.
So, today I want to kind of reflect on this past year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. This is sort of a reflection of my yearlong Twitter thread about COVID-19 which you can check out in full below.
COVID-19 / social distancing thread— Dick Wyn Yong 🏁 (@dickwyn) March 28, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19
Shortly after returning to the US after spending a few days with my family to celebrate Chinese New Year, COVID-19 was sort of legitimized by the WHO as cases are beginning to pop up in different parts of the world and it was given a temporary name of 2019-nCov.
The first day that I came back to the office for work after quarantining at home for 2 weeks to ensure that I didn’t contract COVID-19 when I was traveling back home, I had this conversation with one of my co-workers about the name that the WHO gave for this disease. He said something in the lines of COVID-19 is such a stupid name.
And you know what, I completely agree with it. One of the pet peeves that I have developed in 2020 is hearing people refer to COVID-19 with other names such as:
- The rona virus
- The virus
This isn’t all the variations that I have heard but you get the idea, COVID-19 was being called differently all over the place during the early days. These days, it’s been somewhat normalized to being called COVID. But going back to my original point, the name COVID-19 is not as catchy as SARS or MERS which are the coronavirus varieties that came before.
It will be okay
When I stepped off the Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 airplane at LAX wearing a mask, it felt like I have arrived at an alternate reality where COVID-19 didn’t exist. I did not see anyone other than my fellow passengers aboard the plane from Hong Kong wear a mask.
It was a stark contrast compared to 12 hours back when I was at Hong Kong International Airport waiting to board my flight to Los Angeles where almost everyone had a mask on. With peer pressure of looking awkward whilst walking around the LAX terminal with a mask, I took off my mask only to put it back on when I was on the plane for the short 90-minute flight to Phoenix.
That was in late January 2020 just shortly after the US recorded its first COVID-19 case. This mindset of “everything will be okay” dragged on for quite a while and all it took to get the attention of the public and for me to take more precautions was the exponential rise in local transmissions of COVID-19 in the US and not to mention the dozens of news headlines about the rise in hospitalization rates.
That mindset is the biggest reason why I only sparsely went out after the stay-at-home order was enacted in March of 2020. I was genuinely afraid of catching COVID-19 while going out to get groceries or to buy takeout. I was paranoid to the point that if I did go out to buy something, I would (upon returning home), wipe down all the items that I brought back with disinfecting wipes and take a shower to rid my body of any potential encounters with COVID-19 while I was out and about.
I’m not advocating that my level of paranoia was necessary but hey, I managed to get through 2020 without catching COVID-19. But so has a lot of other people that take fewer precautions than me like touching the front of their masks when removing them or not wearing masks when working out at the gym. The point I’m trying to drive here is that some people just think that taking extra precautions is unnecessary.
I would go as far as to say that some people in my age group think that COVID-19 is nothing and that catching it wouldn’t be a big deal because the media says that young adults are less likely to be hospitalized or even die when they catch COVID-19. For me, I don’t think in that way, I’m healthy and don’t have any pre-existing conditions but I just don’t want to risk it. More specifically, I don’t want to entertain the possibility of having long-term health issues due to catching COVID-19.
Furthermore, I think that mindset is also fueled by the lax rules or non-enforcement by the authorities. Like one thing that I can’t get over is the fact that upon entering the US, you’re not subject to an actual quarantine. Sure, the CDC recommends that individuals quarantine upon entering the US, but it is up to the individual to enforce their quarantine to ensure that they don’t expose themselves to others during the incubation period.
One thing that I have wished the US would have done better is the contact tracing. I have seen a lot of other countries have success with strict contact tracing that helped curb the spread of COVID-19 by being proactive towards infections. And the mixed messaging when it comes to mask usage in public spaces is laughable. It doesn't feel consistent as different parts of the country have different standards, it's as if once I step into the jurisdiction of a different state, COVID-19 will automagically act differently. I assure you that is not the case.
Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and up until today, I have been in the US so my thoughts on how COVID-19 is portrayed in the public is heavily skewed towards the American side of things. And in recent months (even before the first vaccine was approved by the FDA), I have been going out more often to do grocery shopping and I have seen more of people’s noses and mouths.
And that’s a good segue to the topic of face masks.
The face mask
Either you wear your mask properly or remove It completely. pic.twitter.com/QrK6AbCjCf— Noor Hisham Abdullah (@DGHisham) July 19, 2020
I’m the kind of person that wears a mask driving alone in my car with the windows up. To some people, that might sound unnecessary but to me, once I am out of my home, I have a mask on, and taking it out just because I am in my car alone feels like an unnecessary step. Especially given that there’s a chance of contaminating the mask while taking it off.
Over this past year, I have developed quite a strict “protocol” when it comes to my masks which includes:
- Once a disposable mask gets off my face, it is going in the trash
- Double masking when I do grocery shopping
- Don’t touch the front of the mask
- Don’t pull the mask down the chin
- Wash my cloth face mask every time after using it
In recent months, I started seeing my neighbors walk their dogs without a mask, parents talking one to one another without a mask after picking up their children at the bus stop, people immediately taking off their mask after walking out of the grocery store or that one time that I saw someone pull down their mask to talk to the cashier at Walmart. These questions have also swirled in my mind throughout this pandemic:
- Why are some individuals so stubborn about wearing a mask?
- Do people know that masks should cover their noses?
- Why do people stare at me when I wear a mask inside my car?
This idea about wearing masks is in my view the defining factor of this whole COVID-19 pandemic. I started wearing masks early on and I followed the guidelines from Asian countries on mask-wearing as the US and the CDC were seemingly flip-flopping on the efficacy of mask-wearing with curbing COVID-19.
And I have never stopped wearing a mask when going out, I see it as a courtesy to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But this mindset that I have isn’t something that everyone has. As mentioned earlier, I have seen my fair share of people not wearing masks in outdoor settings. I can’t do anything but just watch them walk around mask-less and steer clear of those people.
At this point of the article, it might seem like I am taking this a bit too extreme and yes, I am aware of that but for me, taking the extra precautions will provide me that peace of mind. And that’s a tradeoff that I am willing to take. Not only am I actively protecting myself from catching COVID-19, but I am also protecting others by not spreading COVID-19 to them (if I have contracted it). But to be perfectly honest for me, the latter is not likely because, in the past year, I have been in contact with fewer people than ever in my life.
As I am writing this, I have already received my first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. I am extremely grateful that I can receive this vaccine at this point. From studies and YouTube videos, I know that the rollout of the worldwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout will take quite some time and some countries and/or communities will inherently be able to vaccinate their population much quicker than others.
done with my first COVID-19 vaccine pic.twitter.com/lnaaxrh7BC— Dick Wyn Yong 🏁 (@dickwyn) March 24, 2021
This whole transition period of the vaccine being rolled out to the general public to me feels like March 2020 where everyone in the US was transitioning to social distancing and mask-wearing. There isn’t chaos of panic buying toilet paper, but I’m seeing similar things happening where guidelines are being updated on-the-fly for those who have been vaccinated and what they can do after they receive the vaccine.
For example, the current CDC guidelines mention that they’re still learning about “how well vaccines prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms”. And in the same context, they have the guidelines for individuals who are fully vaccinated and suggest that things like “gathering indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household” are possible with minimal risk.
To me, this guideline feels similar to the limbo during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic where the guidelines on mask-wearing weren’t properly established leading to confusion. Maybe it’s just my pessimistic mindset thinking but, if a vaccinated individual has the ability to spread COVID-19 while being asymptomatic and they are able to gather with unvaccinated people, wouldn’t that pose a risk to others?
But anyway, I see the vaccine as another stage of this COVID-19 pandemic. Some people see this as the beginning of the end of this pandemic, but I see it otherwise because I know that we’re not done with this pandemic until the majority of countries are able to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Some countries might return to somewhat normal life and act as if the pandemic didn’t exist, but we know how that ends up being. Remember when COVID-19 first broke out in China, a lot of people like me had the same thought “if it’s on the other side another side of the world, it doesn’t affect me”. So, as long as COVID-19 is still spreading somewhere in the world, it still poses a risk to everyone.
This pandemic has taught me two things. One, humans are inherently selfish towards their own needs. Just look at the resistance of mask-wearing early on when experts weighed on the fact that wearing face masks does inherently curb the spread of COVID-19. And two, I enjoy being in isolation and this year-long period of staying-at-home feels like the much-needed reset of my life that I didn’t know I needed.
It suffices to say that I have for the most part enjoyed this COVID-19 pandemic. This is not something that everyone agrees on as some people hated the idea of not socializing, going out to eat, meeting friends & family, or just traveling. But for me, I have not only reset my mindset, but I have also built up my YouTube channel and video production skills during my time at home.
I am still going to wear a mask (or two) when I go out even after receiving my second COVID-19 vaccine dose. Because as I mentioned earlier, this pandemic doesn’t end until a big part of the human population can prevent the spread of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is said to be a once-in-a-lifetime event but given what I've seen in the past year about how we as humanity has reacted to this issue, I can already foresee that another pandemic of a similar scale could very well happen again during my lifetime.