It’s November 2023 as I’m finalizing this post for publishing. I first wrote a draft of it in September of 2022. At that time and now, Covid isn’t gone, but it’s enough in control that I feel like I can look back and record what the experience of this time period has been like. It’s been a time unlike any other in my lifetime.

It began in March of 2020. My kids were six, three, and fourteen months. I was working for Big Nerd Ranch as a software consultant, and I was about six months into a contract with a client that was local to Atlanta. Since I had begun at BNR I had mostly worked from home, but since this client was local, every week or two I would drive down to their headquarters to work from their offices.

It started with toilet paper. The news was reporting that the coronavirus was spreading, and people nervous of shortages were buying up toilet paper. I don’t know why that in particular was what people were worried about. I made a joke about it on Twitter, but then I realized “hang on, I use toilet paper!” So we went and bought several packages from the drug store nearby.

The week of March 9th, all the businesses shut down. Everybody was told to stay home out of caution. I made a grocery store run to try to stock up on food that wouldn’t spoil. Lots of the grocery store shelves were already empty, which was pretty scary.

Cities and states were trying to figure out what to do, but pretty much all of them had some kind of shelter-at-home order in place. Businesses necessary for survival like grocery stores were still open, but every other physical building was closed.

New York City was one of the first places in the US to be hit the worst. There were photos of bodies piling up in vans and on the streets because the morgues were full. Once the stay-at-home order went out, there were photos of the streets of New York and even Times Square completely deserted in midday. That had never happened; up until then a deserted Times Square had been a visusal shorthand in fiction for an apocalypse.

Nobody knew how the virus was transmitted at this point, so many people weren’t taking any chances. Grocery stores set up mechanisms to place orders online and have the groceries brought out to your car. Grocery store employees would ask if you wanted them to touch your trunk to close it, or if you wanted to do it yourself. Some people like me disinfected groceries when they got them home, marking off half the counter as clean and the other half contaminated. Fast food restaurants shifted to drive-thru only and folks placed their orders online so they wouldn’t need to hand someone a credit card and risk contact.

At this point, the world waited to see what would happen. Would we find a cure? A vaccine? A test? Might the virus would go away on its own? After two months, by May of 2020, some people were tired of waiting. The governor of Georgia was the first governor of a US state to lift stay-at-home orders, dismissing warnings from public health experts. This was based on declining infection and death rates, without considering the fact that the most likely cause of the declining rates was simply the limit to exposure, and that re-increasing that exposure would likely lead the rates to climb back up (which it did). Avalon, a high-end outdoor shopping center in Atlanta, was one of the first places in the country to re-open. In the part of town where we lived, a business posted a giant sign that said the survival rate is 99%, and to choose faith over fear. 1% of the population of the US is a lot of people to die; I think the choice is more about choosing love for them.

Because I already worked from home and our kids were homeschooled, our day-to-day life wasn’t so impacted by staying at home. The biggest change was not being able to see family: since our parents are older they were more at risk from the virus than us, and even if we didn’t have symptoms we could be carriers. But it was important for us to isolate from others, too, not just family: many hospitals were full, so if we took up space in a hospital, that meant that others might not get the life-saving treatment they needed. We had to be cautious.

The other big change was church. We were attending Browns Bridge Church at the time, which is part of the North Point Ministries (NPM) network. In years past NPM had been slow to set up online service streaming, but by the time of the pandemic they had finally done so. As a result, they were able to continue to stream services online and we and all the other attendees were able to continue viewing. The kids’ ministries started posting videos online in place of their services.

We weren’t in a church small group at a time because we were hoping to move from Forsyth County to a predominantly-Black area of Atlanta. We continued on with that move process, looking to sell our house and buy a new one. We made long car drives from Forsyth to the East side of Atlanta, trying to minimize our exposure by avoiding being around other people anywhere except bathroom breaks. When we visited houses, because our kids were too young to be cautious about touching things, my wife or I would stay in the car with them and the other of us would go inside with the realtor.

In May of 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer with three others looking on, kicking off one of the largest waves of civil rights protests in recent years. However, there was a medical risk of assembling to protest: the way the virus was transmitted was still not clear. In particular, it wasn’t clear whether outdoors uncrowded events were any safer. There was a protest in the Cumming town square, and while we didn’t attend out of concerns for covid safety, we drove by and honked and waved to show our support. I didn’t realize at the time how significant it was for there to be a Black Lives Matter protest in the Cumming town square in light of the Forsyth County racial cleansing of 1912.

My wife’s side of the family had planned a vacation in Orlando for June of 2020, including a visit to Disney World. The theme park was of course not an option as it was completely closed. But we decided it would be safe enough to do the vacation at the rental house if our family isolated there. On the drive down we stayed in the van other than bathroom breaks, and we packed as much food as we could. We kept up the grocery disinfecting while on the trip to some degree.

Our house search seemed to have come together, and we went under contract in October 2020 to both sell our Forsyth house and buy a house in Conyers, GA. However, our buyer delayed and ultimately fell through. Wanting to go ahead and get our family established in the Conyers area, we found a rental house and sold our Cumming house to a different buyer. We moved our family down to Conyers just in time for me to oversee the nationwide release of a web app I helped build for a fast food chain to support pandemic ordering. Because our Comcast internet at the house wasn’t reliable, I made the drive into Big Nerd Ranch’s Atlanta office early the morning of Monday, November 9 to get a reliable internet connection to make sure the app was working. There was no one else in the office.

In November of 2020 the first covid vaccines were made available in the US for people who were the most at-risk: people with pre-existing medical conditions and older people. Our parents received the vaccine and this decreased the risk for our immediate family, although we still had to consider the risk of transmitting the virus along to other vulnerable populations.

On January 6th, 2021 the US capitol was invaded by domestic terrorists looking to stop the certification of a legal US presidential election. Fortunately, government officials were kept safe and the election certification proceeded. On January 20th Joe Biden was inaugurated as the president of the United States without incident. But since then authoritarian domestic terrorists have continued to try to plan ways to subvert democracy.

January of 2021 was the biggest infection and death peak so far, but there was hope that spreading vaccination would defeat the virus for good. However, at the start of February we got unrelated bad medical news: an extended family member had passed away due to health challenges unrelated to covid that had extended over many years. There was no evidence of covid in their system, and the hospital system had had capacity to treat them as well as they could. Every visit to the hospital and the funeral risked covid exposure, so we limited it to only my wife attending, but we knew we needed someone there to support our family.

My wife and I received our two-dose vaccinations in March and April of 2021, as soon as they were available for our age group. At this time, the vaccine was still hard to track down: I had to drive over an hour, to a church in a rural area far from Atlanta, and receive the vaccine in a large church that was operating (at least during the week) as a vaccine distribution center. In June 2021, case rates were the lowest yet. Vaccines weren’t yet available for the children, and although they weren’t at much risk themselves, we wanted to limit their exposure as a risk of transmitting to others. But we felt confident getting together in June 2021 for the annual family vacation for my wife’s side of the family.

A tradition at Big Nerd Ranch was an annual hackathon, “Clash,” which in 2020 had been held fully virtually. In July of 2021 we were looking forward to being back in person. The first day of the hackathon was held in a celebratory way without masks. However, the next day the CDC announced the recommendation for people to mask while indoors in areas of high transmission regardless of vaccination status. This meant that the second day of the hackathon switched to required masking. This clearly illustrated for us that covid was not going away that easily.

My wife and I decided that we wanted to buy the house we were renting, and after making several offers, we were able to buy it in August 2021, becoming permanent homeowners in Conyers. In September of that year most churches were beginning to reopen. We tried to attend Buckhead Church and Decatur City Church but ended up attending Annistown Road Church nearby in Snellville.

I had been in the habit of attending and sometimes speaking at software conferences, but they had all been cancelled or gone virtual during the pandemic. I was accepted to speak at the LIVE workshop at SPLASH 2021, on October 19 in Chicago. It was my first time flying on a plane since the pandemic started. I was surprised how normal it felt to be in the airport and to fly—at least when there wasn’t someone nearby who was coughing. Disappointingly, I was the only one of ten or so speakers at the workshop who attended in person. Because of this, for the next conference I was attending, RubyConf on Nov 8-10, I decided to attend virtually. This ended up being a bit of a mistake, as there were many in-person attendees and their experience was prioritized, meaning that virtual attendees had to make do with the content we could get. It wasn’t clearly communicated which talks we could or couldn’t see, and issues with some of the live streams were slow to be addressed.

The first round of covid booster shots was approved late in 2021, and we received our boosters in December. By this time, vaccines were easier to get: it was not hard to sign up for a spot at a nearby pharmacy, and there was little wait when you arrived. That same month, the vaccine was approved for children as young as our seven- and five-year-old. They received both of their shots. Our youngest was not yet eligible, leaving him the one remaining unvaccinated member of our family.

However, in December 2021 it finally happened: our family tested positive for covid. By this time, cases of vaccinated people getting covid were no longer called “breakthrough cases;” it was understood that the vaccine was not fully effective, even with the booster. The children never had more than a slight fever. Jen and I had symptoms about like a normal flu. By the time of Christmas, we were feeling mostly recovered, and were believed to not be contagious, but we wanted to play it safe. Because it was not too cold outside, we had a Christmas gathering with my wife’s side of the family on our front porch.

Having recovered from the virus, we knew that we had some level of increased immunity, although we understood that that was only temporary as well. January of 2022 was by far the highest spike of cases, although the spike of deaths was not as high as the previous death spike. It is sad to think that while we saw each previous spike of deaths as terrible, this spike was treated as somewhat good news: the death rate per infections was much lower, showing that the virus was effectively less lethal at this point.

BNR’s 2022 Clash event was held in the middle of May. There was an increase in case numbers, but not enough to make us worry about cancelling the event or affecting attendance. By this time BNR had moved to a new, smaller office, but there was enough space for all attendees to fit without much sense of risk. However, for the second year in the row a major covid milestone happened during Clash: on May 12, 2022, the United States marked 1 million covid deaths. By this point, the covid pandemic had for some time been the deadliest mass casualty event in United States history, having surpassed HIV/AIDS at 700,000 deaths and the 1918 influenza pandemic at 675,000 deaths.

In 2022 the state of the virus was tracked using CDC Community Levels, a simplified measurement intended to communicate to the public how to assess the severity of the virus’ spread in their county at a given point in time. When the virus was low or medium we would go out unmasked. When high, we would minimize the amount we went out, and mask when we did.

In August and September we had quite a bit of travel: a road trip from Atlanta to Colorado stopping to visit various friends, a family vacation, an extended family reunion, and I traveled to Europe for the first time: to Poland to attend a conference. I gave a talk, but I decided to have it presented via video, so that there was no pressure for me to go in person in spite of covid risk, or if there were other travel logistical challenges. The Europe trip went well enough that I proposed a visit to England to attend a conference that I was giving a virtual workshop for, and to visit my client at the time in person.

Writing this in November 2023, I’ve now received four boosters. Are things back to normal? The least cautious folks treat it that way. But it’s still very common to see at least one person masked at any store you go to. The CDC no longer seems to be publishing community levels. We mask when we have symptoms of sickness, to limit their spread and in case we are covid positive. Before and after exposure to large groups of people, and when we have symptoms, we pick up rapid tests from the drug store. And we expect more boosters in the future, possibly annual ones.