Word of a new viral illness came just a couple of months before chaos ensued: Ski resorts were ordered closed: then restaurants, bars and gyms were shut down, and then we were told to stay home.
All of that came at the height of spring break 2020, and in one of the busiest months for the ski industry here and for beach towns around the world.
Even as hospitals filled and deaths surged, speculation about when we would "return to normal" immediately emerged and really has never ended.
Surely by summer people could take vacations, surely by fall kids would be back in classrooms, surely by the holiday we would be able to travel to grandma's house, surely by the end of the year the virus will be under control … and so it went.
Now we are sure of nothing, yet we cling to that worn idea of getting back to normal – a phrase we should have trashed months ago along with the word unprecedented. (Adding "new" or "next" in front doesn't help, it merely perpetuates that there's a normal to which we can all relate.)
Spring break 2021 is a good time for reflection, not just because it brings the one-year mark of many pandemic milestones — the declaration by the World Health Organization of a global pandemic, former President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' shutdown orders — but also because of what we've learned about resiliency in the past year. Spring break is and likely always will be a significant marker of when life was changed by Covid.
And maybe if we can do just one normal thing during spring break this year we'll feel better.
Recovery is personal
Just a year ago, well before I and most others knew how devastating the pandemic would be, I suggested in a column "there is no COVID-19 switch to turn off, and the sooner we get our heads around that idea the better."
I wrote that we should instead build our resiliency — as individuals, neighborhoods, cities, states, a nation, the world.
Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from misfortune or difficulties. Recover, not return to a point in time that is gone forever. Recovery is a term right now most often associated with the economy and reduced to its simplest terms means low unemployment and a strong stable stock market. Economic recovery, however, doesn't equal personal recovery, and we have so much need for that in our communities.
Thousands are recovering from the grief of losing someone close to them or are dealing with ongoing health issues that have puzzled researchers, the so-called longhaulers.
Doctors and nurses with the most intimate view of the devastation caused by the virus may have the longest road to recovery as they deal with daily stress, PTSD and a public that on one hand hails them as heroes and on the other hand refuses to mask up or take other precautions.
School children and college students must recover from a year of disjointed — at best — education. Recovery for schools and districts does not just mean getting students back in the classroom but also figuring out the issues that made distance learning so enormously difficult and ineffective: lack of computers and internet connectivity, poor online curriculum, inability to track students who don't show up online, etc.
Yes, we can all agree that in-person learning is the best educational option, but in this technological age it is distressing to see how ill-equipped most schools are to switch to even short-term, high-quality e-learning.
People who lost jobs permanently and the owners of businesses that closed must find a new path forward. Sure, some made that famous pivot during the year and have found that path, but for others it wasn't so easy.
Recovery indeed looks different for each of us. The list is long and varied.
So a little spring break fever is to be expected. And maybe it can help that recovery if we can just get past that idea of it being "normal."
We saw the spikes in cases and deaths when we tried in the summer and over holidays to just have a little get-together, or take a little vacation. We didn't adhere to the mask and distancing guidelines (it would seem that many Americans have never seen a yardstick, let alone two together).
The thought that college students might take one of those party-time spring break jaunts sent shivers through college administrators months ago, when it appeared obvious that we'd be living with pandemic restrictions through much of 2021.
When spring schedules were posted in the fall, students at dozens of colleges and universities saw that their spring breaks had disappeared or were altered. The Northwest Florida Daily posted an article last month listing 67 schools that had canceled traditional spring breaks to keep students from traveling and bringing infections back to campus.
It wasn't an exhaustive list because Colorado schools weren't on there. Maybe Florida thinks Colorado students go to the slopes rather than beaches. I think they do both.
Anyway, universities in Colorado seemed to take their own unique approaches.
The University of Colorado Boulder canceled the break and added in two wellness days, on Feb. 17 (a Wednesday, so not even adjacent to the Presidents' Day holiday on Feb. 15) and March 25.
That first wellness day apparently did little to ease the pandemic angst on campus, which emerged at a huge party-turned-riot on March 6 .
The University of Colorado Colorado Springs offered two mini-breaks, Feb. 17-19 and March 22-23.
Colorado State University in Fort Collins and CSU Pueblo left in a full week for spring break, but moved it to late April and announced that students would not return to campuses for the last couple of weeks and finals. If they go party somewhere and get sick, they won't bring whatever they have back to campus.
The University of Northern Colorado apparently decided that its students were indeed learning to live with the virus and scheduled a traditional spring break, March 13-21, with this guidance on its website:
Get tested before leaving campus at the on-campus testing site.
Maybe college and state health officials will be able to compare notes and see what worked. Not only in terms of infection rates, but for mental health and building resiliency. I hope at least some informal surveys are in the offing.
Caution should prevail
Traditional spring break resorts, too, are hoping more cautious vacationing. Miami Beach invites people to enjoy the beaches and eat outdoors – and to mask up when there are a lot of people around.
Colorado ski towns are offering the same kind of guidance, bolstered by a state tourism campaign called Care for Colorado that encourages responsible COVID-age tourism. Rules to maintain distancing on lifts and slopes remain in place and visitors are encouraged to review them.
As the number of those vaccinated continues to increase and the science around treatment advances we can learn to live in a world with COVID. We can do that this spring break, and this summer and at celebrations and holidays if we care enough to protect ourselves and others.
Sue McMillin is a long-time Colorado reporter and editor who worked for The Gazette and Durango Herald. Now a regular columnist for The Denver Post and a freelance writer, she lives in Cañon City. Email her at [email protected]
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