I miss so many things these days. What a different world we live in now compared to the one we knew not even a year ago.
Back when winter was turning into spring, about the time COVID-19 was becoming a part of our everyday vocabulary, I was one of those people who pretty much dismissed the virus.
My Facebook friends may remember how I vowed, early on, there was no way COVID-19 would change the way I live. I was going to keep right on doing the things I loved, not worrying about this little "flu" everyone was getting so worked up about.
Boy, did I ever miss the mark. Like so many others, I soon learned, as we used to say in my old neighborhood, "This thang ain't nothing to play with." We all know now, COVID-19 is real and ... serious.
In fact, a month ago, the week of my birthday no less, I had my own scare with the virus. (Or I thought it was the virus, anyway.) The first week of September, my breathing became labored. The problem began early in the week, and, at first, I tried to ignore it. But it worsened each day to the point where I'd be out of breath just walking to the mailbox.
Like any of us in the COVID-19 age, I feared the worse. My fears directed me to the emergency room at Merit Health Wesley where, thankfully, I tested negative for COVID-19. But, on the other hand, I did test positive for pneumonia. (Nice birthday gift.) But, mind you, as one of my neighbors pointed out, who would've ever thought the day would come, we'd be thankful for a pneumonia diagnosis? (As opposed to the alternative.)
I'm much better now, having beat pneumonia.
But COVID-19 is still with us, on a number of levels. I'm missing "the old days," and the simple pleasures COVID-19 has stolen from us. No more hand-shaking, or hugging a friend we haven't seen in a long time. Comforting someone with an arm around the shoulder? Forget that, too. (No more of the touchy-feely stuff.) These days, we must practice our social distancing, keeping at least 6 feet apart from each other. Most retail stores even have markers on the floor reminding us, don't get too close!
I miss visiting friends and family. OK, I do have one small circle of friends, my Monday night krewe. We used to meet at one of Hattiesburg's night spots, like Thirsty Hippo or Mahogany Bar, where we'd discuss our lives, politics, and generally offer our solutions for fixing the world's problems. Oh, we still get together on select Monday nights, but now meet at a friend's home, staying protected in our own little social bubble. We sit outside, maintaining 6 feet separation, never touching each other, not even a fist or elbow bump. We stick with much safer "air-hugs."
Except for a curbside chat with one of my neighbors every now and then, that would be about the extent of my social life these days. Heck, I even get a little nervous visiting family members or older friends – those friends even older than me, I mean.
I'm not much of a moviegoer, but every now and then, I'd venture to a local multiplex to see the latest Godzilla movie. But, these days? I'm leery of being in a theater, surrounded by a couple hundred strangers, laughing, talking too loud or (gasp) coughing, possibly spreading who knows what into the air. Yep, I miss going to the movies. (Just not the 12-bucks I had to fork over for a bag of popcorn and a small Diet Coke.)
I miss traveling. I haven't made the usual trip to my "other" hometown, Los Angeles, this year. I try to make it annually, but with COVID-19, who wants to be stuck on a 757 jetliner, wearing a mask for that long? A flight out of Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport is a short one-hour flight over to Houston. That would mean wearing a mask from the minute I arrive at the airport, plus for the duration of a quick flight to Houston Intercontinental Airport. There, waiting for my connecting flight (another hour) I'd have to keep my mask on. Wait, I'm not finished. After connecting in Houston, there's an almost three-hour flight over to Los Angeles. On the ground at LAX, I'd have to remain masked for another 30 minutes (if I'm lucky) waiting for my checked bag to arrive at baggage claim.
By the time I walked out of LAX, counting airport wait and flight time, I would've been wearing a mask for close to eight hours. Whew! Hey, wearing a mask for 30 minutes while shopping at Walmart? No problem. But flying across country all masked up, that's another story. Not to mention, would I have to place myself in quarantine for two weeks once I arrived in Los Angeles? All things considered, I think I'd rather drive.
Let's talk about pro and college sports. Football? I miss seeing those thousands of fans packing the stadium, cheering on their favorite teams. They're part of the excitement. But, a football mega-stadium built for 80,000, with only a fraction of that many spectators? Just not the same. The games on TV aren't nearly as much fun with those sparsely filled stadiums. Worse, a number of pro football players have come down with the virus, threatening to put the rest of the season on hold.
Speaking of TV, let's talk about "Judge Judy," one of my afternoon favorites. I was excited when the show finally began its new season. But, wait a minute. Judge Judy, her bailiff, the defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses are all there, but, hey, where's the audience? Thanks to COVID-19, the show's usual courtroom gallery of spectators is missing, meaning there's no one to react to her quips and one-of-a-kind wit.
Judge Judy is known for delivering some great lines but, without the gallery there to react, her wit and humor fall kind of flat.
Then there are the TV game shows. "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" no longer have studio audiences. Alex Trebek, Pat Sajek and Vannah White all maintain social distance from the contestants. On "Wheel of Fortune," when it's time for a contestant to spin the wheel, their hands don't physically touch it. Instead, each is given their own plastic sleeve to spin the wheel, sort of like their personal "Wheel of Fortune condoms." That way, their hands don't come in contact with the wheel, where another contestant has touched it. (Are we getting a little carried away with all this?)
Worst of all, my favorite, "The Price Is Right" is stuck airing reruns. Other game shows may be able to pull off that no audience thing, but the studio audience IS "The Price Is Right." There's no such thing as social distancing when you have more than 200 audience members stacked toe-to-toe, all waiting to hear their names called, followed by…"Come on down!" What's a "Price Is Right" fan like me to do?
So, here we are, I'm sure, missing things from our previous lives. You remember, the way we lived back in, say, January.
Seems like half a lifetime ago, doesn't it? In the meantime, fall has arrived and, along with it, comes flu season.
Should we expect things to get even worse, perhaps even, a double-whammy of COVID-19 and the flu?
A local doctor friend pointed out on my Facebook page the lessons we've learned from COVID-19, that is wearing masks and social distancing may come with a silver lining. Looks like my doctor friend has some backup, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), flu season may be milder this year, thanks to those measures we're already taking to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In a report, published Sept. 17, researchers found that flu activity is at "historic lows." But let's not get complacent. When it comes to flu season, nothing is certain.
It's still important to prepare for both the flu, and COVID-19.
We're all waiting on that promised COVID-19 vaccine. Depending on who you believe, it could happen late this year or as far out as spring of next year. Whenever it arrives, right now, we shouldn't let our guard down.
2020 will be remembered as the year that turned many of our lives upside down. Besides the cautions we've taken, the fears we've had to live with and, of course, losing, to date, more than 200,000 of our fellow Americans, this has been a mean year.
I'm guessing most of us have been touched personally by COVID-19. We can still win this fight though.
Until a vaccine arrives, we now know, practicing social distancing, frequent handwashing and wearing a mask are our best defenses against COVID-19.
In fact, CDC director Robert Redfield told a Senate subcommittee that wearing a mask could be more effective in preventing individual COVID-19 infection than getting a vaccine.
(Mask up, Hattiesburg.)
Because of COVID-19 (milder flu season or not) most doctors say it's doubly important to get flu shots this season.
Let's hope my doctor friend and the CDC are right about the flu being milder this year. (We could use some good news.)
It's mid-October. In just a couple of months, 2020 will be over as we gear up for a brand-new year.
All those things we've missed this year, taken from us by COVID-19?
Well, here's to hoping and praying that 2021 will be the year we get them back.
The being out with friends, the traveling, the eating out, the sports, you know, all of that fun stuff.
And, oh yeah, I, for one, can't wait for those brand-new episodes of "The Price Is Right!"
Be safe, everybody!
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.