Stroud column: Never thought about those phone photos telling the COVID-19 story, but they do
I got an email this week from Sonya Hemmen, head of school at Ross Montessori in Carbondale. The subject line was “One year ago,” and attached were several cell phone photos she had taken on March 11, 2020 of students gathered shoulder to shoulder in the school’s spacious entryway.
The images were from the school’s “Peace Presentations.” There were fun hats, special certificates were handed out, a teacher was playing guitar and students were singing.
My how things have changed.
Such a gathering wasn’t even allowed for several ensuing months. Once students returned to classrooms in the fall, any such gathering would require facemasks, students would be separated into smaller “cohort” groups, spaced 6 feet apart … oh, and no passing of papers and certainly no singing!
March 11 was the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It came just six days after the first “official” confirmed case of the novel coronavirus (as we knew it then) in Colorado — though we now have a pretty good idea it was actually “here” even as early as December 2019.
March 14 marks the anniversary of Garfield County’s first confirmed case. There have since been 5,297 confirmed cases in Garfield, though many, maybe even a majority of those have been asymptomatic.
Sadly, there have been 39 COVID-19-related deaths in our county alone, 5,986 in Colorado, 524,935 in the United States and 2.6 million worldwide.
In her email, Hemmen noted that 9News NEXT journalist Kyle Clark had asked viewers to look at the images on their phone from that fateful day when our daily lives, indeed our whole world, changed — and to take some time to reflect.
So, I did.
I hadn’t taken any photos on March 11 specifically, but I did find a series of videos I shot March 6 from a concert I attended at the Belly Up in Aspen. From my vantage point just above the dance floor you could see hundreds of heads bobbing up and down to the pulsating beat. There were plenty of high-fives, toasts of the cocktail glasses and lots of hoots and hollers from the crowd.
On the bus ride back home to Carbondale that night I remember idle chatter and a few jokes on the crowded coach about coronavirus.
About a week later I remember feeling strangely “off.” Not quite sick, no fever, no cough, but a little achy and low energy for a few days.
I now wonder of course if I maybe contracted the ‘rona myself that night in Aspen. Testing for COVID-19 was extremely limited then, and after a couple of days I felt fine, so they probably wouldn’t have tested me anyway.
In any case, the next series of images that show up in my phone were of the hastily organized drive-through food distribution organized by LIFT-UP in Carbondale to help people who were suddenly out of work when the ski resorts, restaurants, hotels, concert venues and other businesses shut down.
Next were a bunch of pictures of my wife and I painting the garage — something we’d been wanting to do for years, and since we were stuck at home during the “Stay at Home” phase of the public health restrictions, why not.
Later in the spring and throughout the summer were lots of gardening photos. My wife has always been an avid gardener, but I decided to take it up myself, taking care of a small plot to help keep me occupied during the shutdowns.
There’s also a series of photos and videos shared to me by Daniel Self, pastor at The Orchard church in Carbondale, to use for a “Day in the Life” COVID-19 diary series the Post Independent participated in with other media across Colorado.
In April and again later in the year are several selfies from a Rotary Club project that I participated in, showing me gathering up restaurant gift cards to hand out to frontline essential workers in our community.
And, of course, lots of pictures of our attempts at normalcy in an abnormal year — camping, hiking, mountain biking, a socially distanced Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot.
Maybe there’s a “pandemic-year-in-review” coffee table book in the making in all those photos, who knows. Or, maybe I’d just as soon forget 2020 altogether.
Being the journalist that I am, though, I’m probably not going to wipe those photos from my phone anytime soon — anymore than I would the ones from those two trips to Europe in 2016 and 2019, loads of fun times with Rotary Exchange students, many a Carbondale Mountain Fair, or any other life event I’ve documented visually.
Thanks for sparking that little trip down memory lane, Sonya, and for the reminder to reflect on a most difficult year.
As she said in her email message, “A lot has changed for all of us since then. One thing has not changed … We at Ross Montessori love our community compassionately. We are so fortunate to have your children with us every single day, and we do not take the responsibility of teaching through the pandemic lightly.”
Here’s to not taking any task or any day of our lives too lightly, or anything for granted.
John Stroud in managing editor and senior reporter for the Post Independent.
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