On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
It was Friday, February 28, 2020 on The Politics Hour when we first covered the coronavirus in any detail. We discussed it again briefly on The Politics Hour a week later. But at that those moments we had no idea how deadly the virus would become and how the year would unfold. We were talking about elbow bumping and hand washing.
Over the days that followed cases started to gradually increase in the D.C. region and throughout the country and the world. And on March 10 we devoted the entire show on the virus with doctors and public health officials and began covering the COVID-19 pandemic regularly.
This broadcast will take a look back at the year of COVID, with insights and reflection from Emergency Physician and Professor Dr. Leana Wen, Washington Post Columnist and Parenting Coach Meghan Leahy, and WAMU/DCist Staff Writer Elliot Williams.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Dr. Leana Wen Emergency Physician, Washington Post Columnist, Visiting Professor, George Washington School of Public Health; @DrLeanaWen
- Meghan Leahy Certified Parenting Coach, Washington Post Columnist and Author of “Parenting Outside the Lines”; @mlparentcoach
- Elliot Williams Staff Writer, WAMU/DCist; @ecwilliams30
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. In a moment we'll take a look back at the year of COVID with Dr. Leana Wen, Parenting Coach Meghan Leahy and DCist Reporter Elliot Williams, but you can start calling now if you have questions or comments about the last year of coronavirus. It's been a year since the pandemic began. What stands out to you and how did you get through it?
KOJO NNAMDIIt was February 28, 2020 when we first covered the coronavirus in any detail. Of course, no one at that time knew how deadly the virus would become or how this year would unfold. At the time we were talking about elbow bumping and how best to wash our hands. Over the days that followed cases started to steadily increase and suddenly schools and businesses shut down and coronavirus dominated all our lives. Here's a look back at some of the coverage the past year.
KOJO NNAMDIWhat's dominating a lot of conversations today is the coronavirus, which is according to a CDC official not a matter of if it's a matter of when it comes here.
DR. LEANA WENIt is a respiratory virus. It is transmitted in a similar way to the cold of the flu. There is no vaccine.
NNAMDIWhat is the status of coronavirus cases in the District of Columbia?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERWe have four presumptive positives.
WENWe do expect for things to get much worse, because this disease is spreading within the U.S.
SPEAKERRight now they have us closed to everything except digital and remote paper learning.
WENThe reason schools are being closed is that we don't want kids to be congregating together. So while schools are closed, do not get your kids together on playdates. Our best chance of safeguarding our health of this nation is to flatten the curve.
NNAMDIThere are, of course, skeptics. Here is Anise.
ANISEBecause of the media and all these events being highlighted in the media so much it kind of creates a panic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALERespectfully I would disagree with the caller and I do urge your listeners to take this very seriously. This could potentially be a very serious disease that can last for a prolonged period of time, up to years is what epidemiologists are saying.
NNAMDIIn D.C. where African Americans are 44 percent of the population, Black people represent 75 percent of COVID deaths.
WENI hope that we will soon get to the point that anyone who needs a test will be able to get one. But we're not at that point yet.
SPEAKERWith the panic at the grocery stores, you can go one day to the grocery store and the shelves are stocked. You go back the next day and everything has been taken.
WENA number of cases of COVID-19 have been doubling every three days, which is extremely alarming.
MIKAELA LEFRAKLast night D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered restaurants and bars to go all carry-out or all delivery.
NNAMDIThe coronavirus has affected the economy like most of us has never seen before. Thirty million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began with an unemployment rate not seen since the Great Depression.
SPEAKERLast month the month of October had the food bank distributing over seven million pounds of food in one month. And so that's a record in our 40 year history.
UNIDENTIFIEDI don't know how long this pandemic is going to last for. So I cannot pay my rent.
SPEAKERAs far as the cancel rent movement, I mean, it sounds exactly like what it is. Millions of people around the country can't pay rent, and we won't pay. How are you supposed to pay the rent when you're entire industry is shut down by the government.
NNAMDIThey were cooks, musicians, ministers, managers, nurses and teachers. They were spouses, parents and grandparents. They were ours. The more than 7,000 lost to the coronavirus in the Washington region.
WENSome people could end up being very sick, but some people don't get that sick as you said. They don't necessarily even end up in the hospital, but may still be living with these really debilitating and severe long term effects.
SPEAKERI have been healthy and athletic my whole life. I have run marathons. I have no underlying conditions that I know of. So I did not think that I was going to be at risk here, and eight months later here we are.
SPEAKERWith people gathering over the Thanksgiving holiday, we're right in the middle of a surge.
NNAMDIOur pandemic year is ending with overcrowded hospitals and thousands of deaths each day, but there is hope that vaccines approved for emergency use last week will finally bring us some relief.
UNIDENTIFIEDI'm a Black man in America and here is my just 22. If given the opportunity to take the vaccine I will take it, no problem. But history tells me to be careful looking at syphilis and Tuskegee experiment and many other things that Blacks have suffered at the hands of government.
SPEAKERKojo, I can't tell you how much teachers want to return to in-person learning, but we don't believe it's safe at this time.
SPEAKERYeah. We did end up getting a loan. It took quite a long time for all the paperwork to clear. What we did receive was very helpful and it, I think, enabled us to stay open as long as we have.
NNAMDIHelp by the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, passed by Congress -- how is it likely to affect business, Metro and child poverty in the D.C. region.
SPEAKERMetro is going to get, you know, a good chunk of money that is going to prevent service cuts, massive service cuts that could have been coming. Lots of folks are going to be getting stimulus checks. And that actually has a big benefit for local economies.
SPEAKERI was thinking when the pandemic start how I can make a difference. And I started volunteering. It's just been amazing to be able to help families really.
NNAMDIJoining me now is Elliot William, Staff Writer for DCist and WAMU. Elliot, thank you so much for joining us.
ELLIOT WILLIAMSOf course, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy is a Certified Parenting Coach, a Columnist with the Washington Post and the Author of "Parenting Outside the Lines." Meghan Leahy, thank you for joining us.
MEGHAN LEAHYThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Leana Wen is an Emergency Physician and Professor of Public Health at George Washington University. She's also a Contributing Columnist for the Washington Post. Dr. Wen, thank you for joining us.
WENOf course. Glad to join you as always, Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, start with you then as you were featured in the clip we just played and have been a frequent guest on this show the past year. First, thank you for so generously making time for us throughout this difficult year and giving us such crucial advice. So what has the past year been like for you in your professional life as a doctor and someone who's other role is to communicate medical information to the public?
WENI'll say, Kojo, that it was actually very difficult to listen to the montage that you played, because I have thought through to all the individual times that we were on to speak about the pandemic. And as much as a year ago, we thought about the worst case of what could happen. I don't know that any of us could have predicted that we would be facing a situation of this much tragedy and this much loss in half a million Americans who have died in this last year. I mean, for me, you know, and I think many of the listeners may know that I had a baby during this time.
WENMy baby is now 11 months old. She was born in April of last year. And really every aspect of my life from the professional to the personal has very much been shaped by COVID-19. And I look back now and I think about all the missed opportunities that we had as a country. That there were so many things that individuals did that made such a big difference. Whether it's a decision to postpone a trip or decision to not gather indoors, those things really made a huge difference. It could have been so much worse.
WENBut I also think about the many missed opportunities on the policy level. And I think looking back, I hope that we'll learn the lessons that we should have learned from the very beginning and really focus on what we should do in terms of preventing the next pandemic, because it's not a question of if, but when, and also turning our attention to these underlying issues like health disparities and inequities that have been unmasked by COVID-19.
NNAMDIYou mentioned it. So I'll get to it. Being pregnant and giving birth can be a very stressful time for women. You gave birth to your daughter, Isabel, early on in the pandemic as you just mentioned. Talk about that experience.
WENWell, I look back at some of my writings during that time. I also had the opportunity to work on a video diary with NBC at that time. And, you know, all these things that were so abnormal at the time as in wearing masks or not having visitors that's just what everybody has been going through since. And I certainly have a profound appreciation of what it's like from the perspective of the patient who, again, childbirth or any kind of medical condition is already a frightening time, but to not have your support system there necessarily to also have so much other types of uncertainty I think it's -- there has been a heavy burden that's been put upon our doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and in providers.
WENBut also a really heavy burden on individuals, and we see this also in terms of patients not seeking medical care. I'm really worried about the individuals who for whatever reason have not sought care for their cancer treatment or pre-preventive care or childhood immunizations and so many other things that are by the wayside and mental health issues that I think will -- you really need to focus on coming out of the pandemic too.
NNAMDIHow is Isabel doing?
WENThank you for asking. She's wonderful. She's beginning to -- she stands. She is not that far from walking any day, which I know heralds the beginning of the end as I have a toddler, who's very active.
NNAMDIExactly. Someone you will never be able to catch. If more -- you implied this earlier or I inferred it from what you were saying, if more people had socially distanced and worn masks and had we been led by an administration that had shown leadership and put science first, how different might the outcome have been?
WENAgain, I think it's very difficult to talk about it in this way because we know based on various modeling studies that we could have prevented many, maybe tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of deaths, but how could that be said to someone who lost their loved one that that death was in essence preventable. And yet that is the case. And I think moving forward, what I'm really worried about is that the same misinformation and disinformation that there was and is around mask wearing there is around vaccines. And I think about all the preventable deaths that we can still aim to prevent. But unfortunately we are working against a very difficult time where something as basic as mask wearing or vaccines has been politicized.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy, most parents have now been overseeing online learning for a year now. If someone had told you that last March, what would your reaction have been?
LEAHYSheer terror, you know, as it was happening I thought, we're not going back in two weeks. This is not good. And a year -- I've seen I think like Dr. Wen alluded to incredible strength and resiliency and we don't even know what's been lost yet. And so I don't want this -- people listening to be like, oh, my gosh, so negative, but there's going to be some very long-term emotional, academic socioeconomic issues with our kiddos as related to what's happened in the last year.
NNAMDIWe'll be taking a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the year of COVID. Meghan Leahy, back in May you joined us for an event on parenting during the pandemic. And you said this when I asked you how you and your family were doing.
LEAHYYou know. It's moment to moment, which it is for a lot of families. I feel grateful for a home and food and nature and all the things that I have, and then you also may be want to Thelma-and-Louise out of here.
NNAMDIAre you still wanting to sometimes Thelma-and-Louise out of here driving your car off a cliff?
LEAHYYeah. And there will be legions behind me. No, you know, I think with spring around the corner and the Facebook feeds and Instagram of vaccines bring people so much hope. So I think there's this feeling of like, it's coming. It's coming. It's coming, and we have to temper it with patience. But I do feel better now than I did then.
NNAMDIHow has virtual learning been for your three kids?
LEAHYWell, one dropped out of school. So that was a big success. We ended up moving her into another school that was still virtual, but she needed something different. That took a toll on the family. The other two, one has done very well and one has done, well, but is very, very isolated and is struggling.
NNAMDIAs a parenting coach, I'd imagine you've been busy this past year. What have you been seeing and hearing from parents and kids?
LEAHYThe number one thing -- I've never been busier, which I would trade everything to not be busy for people to not suffer like this.
NNAMDICan I give our listeners an indication of just how busy you are?
LEAHYI mean, if we call ...
NNAMDINo, I'll give them the indication, because yesterday you were supposed to do an audio test with us. With all of the things going on in your life, you completely forgot.
LEAHYI completely forgot and told Kirk like "Sorry." I've never received this many SOS calls, and the number one thing I'm seeing is isolation. The parents feel like they're the only ones where they had happy, learning, you know, typical kids, who now we have kids who cannot get out of bed, will not go to school, are not eating. I've never seen this, right? That within less than a year happily well-functioning kids are completely depressed and anxious, to add to that, the parents feel all alone.
LEAHYNow, of course, I talk to 20 people a week about this. I'm, like, you are in company. But nobody knows that. And even though I'm singing it from the Washington Post and my Facebook and everything that's the added layer of that isolation, which is so not like humans. We need each other.
NNAMDIAre there one -- are there one or two pieces of advice that you found helpful in guiding parents through this challenging time?
LEAHYYeah, I -- to be honest with each other, coworkers, friends, family. When people are like, "How are you doing?" Don't be like, "Great. We're just really grateful." No. Say, "We're not doing so good this week, because what you end up getting is people are like, "Oh, my God, me too. I'm not good either." And that makes us feel better when we feel reflected in other people. And also the biggest piece of advice is we are going for the needs of the situation.
LEAHYWe are picking bad choices out of bad decisions for our kids, right? So the needs of the situation maybe, "You know what? Homework is not getting done this week. It's operation go outside," or, "Yeah, we're going to allow a little bit more tech and I'll play it with you." These are maybe not decisions you would ever make otherwise, but this is what has to happen now.
NNAMDIElliot Williams, you have been covering this pandemic as a reporter, but early on the pandemic, both your parents got COVID. How was that for you and for your family?
WILLIAMSYeah. So it was terrifying to say the least. This was almost a year ago now so early on in the pandemic as you mentioned. And this was before the CDC had issued its mask guidance. This was before we knew much of anything. Pretty much all I knew was that Black families were being affected in high proportions. And for those listeners, who don't know my family is Black. And my mother -- I got a call from my mom who herself was experiencing mild symptoms, a low grade fever, fatigue, but she was driving my father to the ICU and they live out in Philly. And the next 10 days were terrible. You know, just fear that I would get a call and that would be it that my dad would be gone. And I can say having covered it for a year that that's a call a lot of people have gotten. It certainly changed my life.
NNAMDIYour parents thankfully survived COVID-19, but are they still experiencing symptoms nearly a year after like too many people are?
WILLIAMSSo they did survive. Thank God. And they're doing okay. They do have some lingering symptoms, shortness of breath. But, you know, my dad is the first to tell you that he donates his plasma very often saving who knows how many people with his antibodies. And now they both are vaccinated. My mom's a social worker, who's helping to administer the vaccine at an independent living home. So to show the sort of dichotomy of going through it themselves now on the other side it's miraculous if you ask me.
NNAMDIYou thankfully were able to take some time off from work to be there for your family. But what did the personal experience of dealing with COVID-19 have on you when you returned to work and began reporting on the pandemic?
WILLIAMSWell, it certainly colored every aspect of what I reported on. It wasn't a story that I could ignore. I know that I would wake up in the morning and look for the latest news, because it impacted my family. It impacted many people I knew and I knew that -- I knew how important it was to get this reporting right. I don't think I've ever had an assignment more crucial than this, and that was apparent right when I came back to work.
NNAMDIDebbie in Greenbelt emails, "Just as Dr. Wen alluded to there are people who have not dealt with underlying medical issues due to various reasons. Both my mom who is 85 today and my sister have not followed up due to the many frustrations of seeing a doctor during this time." Leana Wen, what advice would you give to Debbie?
WENI would say to Debbie and everybody else to please encourage your loved ones to make the appointments that are needed, because we know that there are many other medical issues that continue. That actually these underlying medical issues could exacerbate the effect from COVID-19 if you were to get them -- if you were to get coronavirus, but also healthcare and medical care doesn't stop in a time of COVID.
WENAs in if you have underlying high blood pressure or diabetes or heart disease, these issues continue even while a pandemic is raging around us. So many people are getting vaccinated now, which is fantastic. I definitely say to anyone, who is fully vaccinated, if you've been putting off any medical appointments of any kind whether it's dental cleanings or colonoscopies or elective surgeries, you should get that now. You are now well protected yourself.
WENBut I'd also say to other people who have not yet gotten vaccinated that medical offices have gotten very good in this time in preventing infection. And the rate of transmission in terms of acquiring coronavirus getting your routine medical care is very low. And I would highly encourage anyone who's been putting off routine preventive screenings for themselves, for their children, to make sure that they do that now, because we don't want to have the rest of healthcare suffer in the middle of this pandemic too.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Glen speaking of the things that people feel they will miss after the coronavirus has passed if and when it does. Glen tweets, "I will miss the lack of traffic and really hearing birds. The week of lockdown I went for a bike ride at 8:00 p.m. and crossing the major Colesville Road in Silver Spring, the only car I saw was a Greyhound bus with "Go Home" on its sign. It was glorious." So there are some people who feel that what we're going through now -- there are aspects of it that they do appreciate. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation of the year of COVID. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the year of COVID-19 and how it has changed our lives. We're talking with Dr. Leana Wen, an Emergency Physician and Professor of Public Health at George Washington University and a Contributing Columnist for The Washington Post. Meghan Leahy is a Certified Parenting Coach, a Columnist with The Washington Post, an Author of "Parenting Outside the Lines." And Elliot Williams is a Staff Writer for DCist and WAMU. Elliot, you were never a health reporter. But like many reporters you became one because for a good portion of the year there was just one story to report on, COVID-19. What was it like to cover one story for so long?
WILLIAMSWell, so before the pandemic I could tell people that my stories often covered the wacky elements of D.C. You know, I covered an overweight cat before the pandemic. That was my shining story, but as soon as the pandemic took over our lives, a few of us reporters at DCist and WAMU got together and formed internally something called the health hub where we knew that every day we'd get together, meet and report on the health aspects, the social aspects, the cultural aspects that were impacted by COVID-19. And so as you mentioned, I became sort of a health reporter overnight. I got into journalism to cover arts and entertainment, but, you know, you learn reporting skills and they apply to no matter what you're covering. So I learned how to do it very quickly.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy, the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color and low-income communities. What kinds of strategies have you been recommending to those parents who are dealing with these added pressures right now?
LEAHYOh, you know, it's really about as your -- the package before was playing, and I'm with Dr. Wen, listening to that, I was, like, "Oh, my God, not feeling re-traumatized, but kind of emotional." Community supports, and especially in D.C., things started happening to support people. It was just hard to find it.
LEAHYSo, I tried to, as best I could, be the arrows -- go here, go there, call this person, don't stop. You know, email this person. Because help was coming. You know, a lot of things were going wrong, but a lot of people were stepping forward. So, I saw myself as an arrow.
NNAMDIHere now is Brenda, in Ellicott City, Maryland. Brenda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRENDAHi. Yes, my son has had two doses of the vaccine, and -- but he's very high-risk, he works as a busser in a grocery store. And I'd like to know if there's a way, since he's immunosuppressed, to be sure that he has enough antibodies. Like, where can I get him tested?
WENSo, it's a great question, and one that we get a lot from people who want to understand: How well-protected am I from the vaccine, is getting the vaccine enough? And here's the thing -- there is no way to find out, as in there's no test that you can do.
WENAnd an antibody test may show that you have antibodies, but it actually may also show that you don't have antibodies. But you still could have protection through other means of your immune system protecting you, as well. And so, we do not advise that people who have received the vaccine to get an antibody test, because that result is not going to help to show whether you are protected.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Brenda. And now on to Lisa in Washington, who's back with us. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISARight. Hi, Kojo. Thank you for your patience. I was the drop a minute ago.
NNAMDIThat's all right.
LISASo, I really appreciate it. The last time I talked to you was when we had an earthquake in the District of Columbia, so I've been with you a while, and I'm gonna miss you. But listen, I just had a really quick question about the vaccine. Because this is the scoop: I've seen a lot of messages, millions of them on both of my neighborhood LISTSERVs, and I'm under 65. I apparently have no condition, you know, that would allow me to get the vaccine earlier than May 1st, I believe, for being under 65.
LISABut I'm not sure if Dr. Wen is aware of this, but there does seem to be this just growing, like, anxiety and frustration about the fact that they're glopping, like, 16 to 64-year-olds together. I'm just a little over 50, but I'm getting inundated every day, like, with people making me feel like I'm missing the boat or something because I don't have a condition, I'm well under 65, and they say, "Oh, hi, have you gotten your vaccine yet?"
LISAAnd I'm starting to be like, Lisa, you are an idiot. What are you missing, what are you not knowing? How come half these people have already gotten the vaccine before --
NNAMDIWell, Lisa, you seem to be undergoing a fair amount of stress. Allow me to have Dr. Wen respond.
WENI understand, Lisa, where you're coming from. And a lot of people have raised the issue of, well, if there's going to be expanded eligibility and more people are going to be eligible to get the vaccine, what about me? As in, I have been having trouble even getting access, because it's such a hodgepodge, piecemeal system that exists in so many different states.
WENAnd I know that it's really difficult for people to navigate existing systems. And so, I would say then we are in -- I know it seems very frustrating right now, and it is very frustrating right now -- but we are headed to a much better place, soon. The Biden administration has said that by the end of May there's going to be enough vaccine supply for every adult American to get the vaccine.
WENNow, that doesn't mean that everybody's going to be able to get the vaccine by end of May, but at least we're going to have enough supply. The administration of the vaccines is also ramping up substantially, to the point that we're now at nearly two-and-a-half million vaccinations done every day.
WENAnd so, I think that, again, it's very frustrating for the time being, but the more that the Biden administration and that state and local governments can be increasing vaccine sites, the better it's going to be. Mass vaccination sites may not be the most convenient for many people.
WENMany people may prefer going to their community pharmacy. They may prefer to go to their primary care doctor's office, their heath center that they normally get their care. And the more that can be done, and the more mobile sites and setting up vaccination sites in churches and schools and workplaces, I think that's going to go a long way. So, I would just urge patience on everyone's part, because I know this is really challenging, but hope is very much on the way.
NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you. We got an email from Marguerite, who says: "I miss so much hearing kids screaming at recess at Oyster Adams' Middle School." On the other hand, here is Denise in Alexandria, Virginia. Denise, your turn.
DENISEHi, yes. So, you know, I really want to say that my family and I have enjoyed this time at home. Sure, it's been tough. You know, yes, we're tripping over one another. You know, no, virtual school hasn't been easy. But I honestly have enjoyed spending time with my child. And we have struggled -- I mean, struggled more than you can imagine in terms of whether we should send our child back to school for some sort of hybrid learning.
DENISEJust because, you know, we know -- we are African-American and Asian, our family's blended, or it's biracial, and we are really concerned about how this virus affects people of color. And I know scientists say that it doesn't affect children as much, but one child getting this virus and dying is one too many. And I don't wanna be the one to mourn the loss of my child, or to have to deal with the residuals, right, if my child gets the virus. So, we are just torn. We don't know what to do.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy, what would you advise Denise to do?
LEAHYI hear Denise loud and clear, and I would like to say to every parent echoed in what Denise is saying that there are things we've learned from this about how we like to live with our families, and they should be noted as values we wanna take forward, whether it be outside, whether it be playing more games, whether it be a slower pace of life, these are good things.
LEAHYSo, well done, Denise, on realizing that. It is making decisions in real time based on the best science we know, and your feelings. And so, I would recommend that you consult regularly with the school and a trusted doctor, and know that your decision will not be perfect. Every decision comes with maybe some level of threat, but you know your family best, and no decision is permanent.
NNAMDIDr. Wen, any advice for Denise?
WENYou know, I think that there are a lot of difficult decisions for people to be making now and going into the summer and fall, too. I would say that, at this point, we can't look at anything as zero-risk. I mean, there really is nothing that's zero-risk, and there's nothing that's 100 percent risk. I think that that risk calculus is going to change over time, as more and more people get vaccinated, as individuals get vaccinated.
WENAnd also, I think instead of just thinking about risk, we should also think about benefit, and about what are those activities in our lives that are the most essential. Going to school may be one of those things that's really essential for our children. Now, there is some level of risk, and we want to reduce it as much as possible, but the benefits may substantially outweigh the risks.
WENAnd I think it's important for us to now think about values and about the degree of risk, rather than just say: Is this thing safe or not safe? There's nothing at -- so, there's nothing that's zero or 100 percent safe or unsafe.
NNAMDIDenise, thank you very much for your call. Elliot, you and your fellow reporters at WAMU produced some "Year of COVID" pieces. One of them profiled 29 locals from all walks of life and looked at what their experience was like the past year. Who did you profile for the story, and what were some of the highlights?
WILLIAMSRight. So, I interviewed three different individuals from across the region. I talked to, quote, unquote, "Patient Zero," Father Tim Cole, of Christchurch, Georgetown, who was D.C.'s first confirmed COVID case. And I had spoken to him a year ago, so it was actually really nice to check back in with him and see how he was doing, how he had recovered, and what he'd learned over the past year.
WILLIAMSAnd for him, it's not surprising to learn that his faith in God was strengthened through this experience, and his mission as a priest strengthened, as well. I also spoke to a comedian, Martin Amini, who I'd been following for a while now in the local D.C. comedy scene.
WILLIAMSAnd he still put on shows in his dad's backyard in Gaithersburg, Maryland, as venues shut down. So, it was really interesting to talk to him and learn how he kept people laughing. And then the last person I spoke with was a COVID long-hauler, a young woman from D.C. who came down with COVID in March 2020, but is still experiencing the lingering symptoms of COVID.
WILLIAMSAnd just talking to her about what this past year has been like really put things into perspective, that this is not just a short-term thing as, you know, you might see sometimes, that we'll be done with this soon. For her, she has no idea how long she'll be dealing with these symptoms, dealing with the repercussions of having to think every decision through of whether she can even go for a walk, because she might be winded for the next week, and talking about the relationships that have been strained in her life. So, those three interviews personally impacted me, but also in context with the 29 interviews we did really painted this past year in a light that I think was helpful for us to see.
NNAMDIElliot, you also reported on the affect the pandemic has had on local businesses, and you focused on Anacostia. Tell us what you found. How were businesses affected there?
WILLIAMSSo, yes. I went to MLK Ave and Good Hope Road for a day and just spoke door-to-door to different businessowners. And, you know, we mapped out the nearly 400 businesses, brick-and-mortar businesses that have closed across the city.
WILLIAMSSurprisingly -- or unsurprisingly, depending on who you ask -- in Anacostia, not that many businesses have closed. In fact, I spoke to the local business improvement district, who said that no businesses have closed as the result of COVID, directly.
WILLIAMSWhat we learned from our reporting is that this was already a community that was underserved, that was underinvested in, and needs the attention from the city. You know, a lot of businesses there had to look at their, you know, back-of-the-restaurant and look at their books and get their affairs in order in order to apply for grants and get the relief they needed. These businesses were struggling, but they were relying on their resiliency that they've always had to make it through in D.C. Southeast.
NNAMDIHere now is Charlotte in Falls Church, Virginia. Charlotte, your turn.
CHARLOTTEHi, there. I heard one of the callers comment about the difficulty of finding a place to get the vaccine. And just from hunting around for my own parents, you know, I just came across some stuff in the area that could be helpful for people. There are a bunch of Facebook groups. There's Nova Vaccine Hunters. There's Maryland Vaccine Hunters, and there are people, volunteers, who go on there and they can connect maybe, like -- maybe you have, like, an aunt who's familiar with Facebook, but not too technologically savvy, and people you can connect with can find appointments for you. There's just also kind of helpful hints, like, for instance, you should sign up for a Walgreen's account before you sign up for the vaccine shot, because otherwise you'll waste time signing up and your slot will be gone. So, there's some local resources that can be found there.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us, Charlotte. Here now is Ed in McLean, Virginia. Ed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDHi, Kojo. I'm with the company RGS Title. We're a real estate settlement company. And a lot of folks, I think we need to recognize the hardworking frontline people who are realtors. We at RGS Title have been open for the whole year, helping people buy, sell, refinance their homes (unintelligible) municipality, county, state, city, to get taxes. And the realtors have been on the frontline, too.
EDWe've been doing the closings socially distanced. And I just want to thank those frontline people, realtors, in the real estate world, helping people in this hot real estate market. It's been a tough year for all, but we're getting back to normal soon, and I want to say thank you to all the realtors.
NNAMDIOkay. And thank you for your call. Alice in Ashburn emails, "Not to invalidate the struggle most people have had this year, but the COVID pandemic enabled me to do many things I had been putting off and unable to do, previously. I was able to get a better job, move to a more affordable area, pass a certification test I had previously failed several times, lose weight, get hip surgery, and now I am becoming a first-time homebuyer."
NNAMDIWell, very good for you, Alice. Meghan Leahy, it hasn't obviously been all bad. What were some silver linings this past year, for parents and kids?
LEAHYSo, I've never had as many parents spend this much time with their children. And it was, after the initial shock, they started to really love it. I have seen a silver lining in that kids have gone to their parents and said, "I don't like soccer, anymore." And parents are listening to their kids.
LEAHYI have seen a silver lining in nature, in rediscovering D.C.'s parks, in rediscovering the city, and the vibrant arts community that kept going in all these ways. So, there have been some beautiful silver linings of the simplicity of being home, and with people you love.
NNAMDIIt was certainly a challenging year, but we tried our best to lighten things up from time to time. Here's some of that. We start with a segment on the pandemic, pet adoption craze. Remember that? A segment we did two days after the election to, well, district us from what was going on.
NNAMDIIf Snookums the turtle was able to vote, how would he have voted on the ballot initiative in D.C. to decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms?
FEMALE 1I think Snookum would probably have voted yes to decriminalize that, because Snookums likes vegetables.
MALE 1I'm trying to make the best of COVID, but I miss a lot of the simple things, you know, like being able to cough in public. That used to be a thing, without people judging you, like, giving you evil looks and stuff. I even miss annoying coworkers. You would go in the office and, like, you would sneeze, they go, "God bless you." They were so excited, so enthusiastic to say, "God bless you." Like, you're sneezing, achoo -- "God bless you again!"
MALE 2At one point, there was a resident of D.C. who complained about the Kennedys having a naked horse on their lawn, and I really don't know -- I guess this person had not been brought up on a farm or had never seen a male horse before. I don't know what they expected President Kennedy to do, like if there were supposed to be pants.
NNAMDI(laugh) Well, this is for all of our guests. I'll start with you, Meghan Leahy. What were some things you did to decompress, to laugh, and to try and enjoy life during this strange and unprecedented year?
LEAHYI started showing my kids the movies I grew up with -- which, by the way, did not age well, but were so ridiculously funny, and a lot of comedy. That's what we did at home. Lots of silliness and lots of breaking of rules.
NNAMDIHow about you, Leana Wen?
WENI don't know that I did so much that's different, but I did a lot more of the things that my family and I just didn't really have that much of a chance to do before. For example, we went for, and we go for so many walks in our neighborhood every day, and so do my neighbors. I've met so many neighbors that I didn't even know live here.
WENBut I think because a lot of us have young children, we know one another and I think cannot wait for the day when our young children are able to play together once again.
NNAMDIHow about you, Elliot?
WILLIAMSSimilarly, I started going for more walks. I definitely started exploring Rock Creek Park, with your recommendation, Kojo. And I also, my partner and I got a cat. We've long-wanted a pet. She's been surprisingly quiet during this segment here. Her name's Bibi, and she's sort of lightened up and brightened my world.
NNAMDIOn now to Liz, in Chevy Chase. Liz, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LIZHi, Kojo. First of all, just wanted to say thank you. I started calling in recently and was sad to hear you're retiring, but appreciate you being here for everybody. Also, my silver lining for this past year was up until before the pandemic, any time I applied for a job and it was remote, I would turn it down, because I like the social aspect.
LIZBut I'm also an introvert, and I found in the past year that I actually get more done, and I'm more efficient and able to get my work done to a better level than I was before, probably because I'm not spending a lot of time worrying about traffic and commutes.
NNAMDISo, you --
LIZAnd as much as I miss the Metro, I will not be getting on it again any time soon, so, yeah.
NNAMDISo, you've learned to enjoy working from home.
LIZYeah. Yeah, in a nutshell.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for sharing that with us. Here now is Martin in Frederick, Maryland. Martin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARTINHi, there. I've been hearing a lot about how the vaccine provides partial immunity or immunity towards the more severe cases of COVID, and I'm trying to understand how that works with the vaccine. I always thought it was all-or-nothing.
WENWell, I want to make sure that I understand the question that's being asked, so let me just maybe rephrase it and say that, right now, we have three vaccines that are authorized in the U.S.: the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. All of them are extremely effective at the endpoint that I think really matters, which is preventing severe illness -- illness that's severe enough that you can end up in the hospital on a ventilator, or die.
WENThat's what we care about preventing. We don't care as much about preventing the sniffles and a mild cough. We care about that level of severe illness. So, all three of the vaccines that we have are very effective at that endpoint.
WENNow, I do think that there are variants that are emerging in other places, including the variant that originated out of South Africa, the B1351, that look as if the vaccines that we have could be slightly less effective against those variants.
WENBut I still would highly urge people to get whatever vaccine you have access to when it's your turn, because they will protect against all the variants, and in particular against the severe illness, which again is the end point that we really care about.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Wen, what are the latest guidelines from the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, and what worries you in the coming days and months in terms of where everything stands?
WENWell, the CDC released guidelines recently about what it is that fully vaccinated people can do, and I think that's fantastic. We really need to be letting people know about what are the freedoms they now have back once they're fully vaccinated, and that includes fully vaccinated people can get together with one another, including indoors, without masks.
WENVaccinated grandparents are probably okay to see the rest of their family, as long as there aren't a lot of other unvaccinated people around in that group. What worries me is, actually, complacency. I think that we will hopefully get to a much better place this spring and summer.
WENI mean, there is still the possibility of a fourth surge, of course, but I think overall, we're going to get to a better place come the summer. But I worry that by then, people are going to have let down their guard and maybe not see the point of getting the vaccine, and that, as a result, we could be in for a really bad fall and winter, because we never reached herd immunity. So, I think there's hope on the horizon. I would just urge people, get vaccinated, and until then, certainly keep up our guard.
NNAMDIVaslav emails: "My girlfriend and I were lucky to go through the past year without too much trouble. Though we both contracted and recovered fully from COVID, we also survived living in a small, 500-square foot apartment with both working from home."
NNAMDI"The best silver lining was listening more to our favorite show, the 'Kojo Nnamdi Show.' It's been a lunchtime ritual in our home and a steady dose of news and interesting topics. We were devastated to hear about the retirement, but at least we will still get the Friday politics show." Yes, you will certainly be getting the Friday politics show. Dr. Leana Wen, thank you for joining us.
WENThank you very much, Kojo. I'll miss your show very much, too.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy, thank you for joining us.
LEAHYThank you. You are the joy of my life. I love you.
NNAMDIElliot Williams, I miss seeing you, but thank you so much for joining us today.
WILLIAMSI miss seeing you, too. Thanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIToday's show on A Year of COVID was produced by Kurt Gardinier. Coming up tomorrow, when the pandemic hit, the thriving food scene in the D.C. region was hit hard. Restaurants navigated phases of reopening. Some pivoted successfully to takeout and delivery. Others struggled, and some shut down permanently. Join us for a look at the region's restaurant landscape, with special guest José Andres. That's tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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