When the 1st anniversary of the first Enhanced Community Quarantine passed by, I thought back to what I was doing last year. The answer was: hacking my lungs out in the emergency room/driveway of Saint Luke’s BGC. That third week of March was when turd (to put it politely) hit the fan the first time for the nation’s coronavirus response: suddenly, COVID-19 was a real threat, there were no tests, beds were filling up, and we were all scrambling.
At Saint Luke’s (the driveway being the hospital’s COVID-19 triage area), I sat for nearly eight hours. They couldn’t administer a test, and I was below the age range for worry, so while I got a blood test and a chest x-ray (the results being “upper right-lung respiratory infection”), I was sent back home with a list of meds. I had also, the week before, lost my sense of taste and smell but no one knew this was a COVID-19 symptom. I was also always tired, but I work in media, so it’s par for the course. I merely thought it was because I had spent too many hours each night binging Crash Landing On You until 3 am.
I don’t know where I possibly could’ve gotten it: contact tracing was non-existent. All I knew was that there had been a possible outbreak at my chosen place of exercise. But I had also been to multiple work events in the weeks before, and like everyone I knew, had schmoozed with people, kissed cheeks, and sipped wine without a care in the world. We had misplaced our trust in our government officials (well, not me, because I never trusted him in the first place) and had assumed we were safe on our shores.
A year later and this is what we know: nothing has changed. We are back on ECQ in a markedly worse position than before: buried in debt, the government has bungled the virus response so much we are now the last place in the ASEAN. Contact tracing: non-existent. Tests: hard to get and expensive. Beds: nearly full. The only thing that has changed is that vaccines now exist, but even that is a rat race. Private companies are buying in, and while I don’t blame them (because not everyone in a private company has the same level of privilege as say, the CEO), we could stand to regulate it a little more. The average Juan, once more, is losing out.
If I can have one thing I am proud of in this terrible year, it is that I never left the house. This is not strictly true: I did run errands (groceries, the vet, that one time a visit to SM Homes was necessitated by someone in my house throwing a fitful pique over the state of our cloth napkins), I went to the dentist, I picked up our Christmas dinner food, and I had a haircut. But pleasurable occasions to leave the house were practically non-existent, save for the one time I went out for the Cul-de-Sac 80% off anniversary sale and with my gift certificate came home with a pair of nude, ribboned pumps from Delpozo. But that has been it.
I skipped my office department’s Christmas dinner, I haven’t gone to the beach, and I haven’t seen any friends. I don’t leave the house for work: the last time I did was a shoot in a house that was practically behind mine, but otherwise, everything has been done at home, on my laptop, in my bedroom, sometimes dressed up, sometimes in my pajamas. Granted, I suppose it has helped me get better skin because I spend all my time indoors and never wear makeup anymore. I am, at this point, paler than the moon. This must be the one small blessing I can have.
It has been a pretty miserable year, and at some point, I wondered why I was taking it so seriously. Most everyone I know seemed to have given up: people privileged enough to stay at home, who should have shouldered the burden from our front liners, pretended like we were New Zealand and that the danger had passed. The government keeps harping on and on about the economy, forgetting that an economy functions when people participate in it, and obviously, people can’t participate if they’re dead.
To be clear, at least some people are still strictly living their lives at home. I interviewed Tina Cuevas last year, who mentioned that she had started isolating herself even before ECQ had been called. “I also felt it was the responsible thing to do and the only way we can flatten the curve,” she had said. Contrary to public knowledge, Tina is a homebody, so the adjustment wasn’t too hard on her. Today, for Tina at least, nothing much has changed.
My reasons specifically have to do with the fact that I live with my parents, both of whom are senior citizens, and my mom, who has diabetes and has recovered from breast cancer, is walking comorbidity. Most young people can afford to navigate life with COVID-19 but continue as close to normal, but I literally can’t. I also know people who have personally been affected by the disease, both in my extended family and with close friends. The danger has always been real for us and has never left.
Last January, I wrote an article, telling people to stop throwing parties and being foolish. I wrote it before the current surge, just when news of the variants was popping up. Unfortunately, it seems like no one in a position to listen, actually listened. I remember interviewing someone and asking if they thought it was safe for businesses to start re-opening even more, in anticipation of the variants. This person, having no reason to believe otherwise believed it was safe, and that people had been behaving reasonably responsibly. The truth of the matter is, however, we can’t control human behavior.
I noticed it on the rare times I went out: malls did seem fuller, and contact tracing was gradually less enforced. Each time I entered a mall I always took care to fill out the contact form on my phone, and I did it each time I entered a store inside the mall. When retail started opening up, each store was militant about making sure people filled out the information. A few months later, these rules have gotten lax.
I urge everyone to remain cautious: this fight isn’t over, and because of the decisions from those at the top, we are in the long haul. Vaccination is looking like a long and arduous task, and even after that, we can’t for sure say what the future will hold: the vaccines, like the virus, are in a state of flux: no one knows how long immunity will last. It seems like COVID-19 is set to becoming an endemic, an occurring annoyance like the common cold, and hopefully, one with less devastating effects. But like the economy, we’ll all never know if we’re all dead.