Pandemic Life: Looking Back On A Year Of COVID-19 Lockdowns
This story is part of a series, Pandemic Life: One Year On. Click here for more.
This time a year ago, pandemic hysteria was gripping the nation. The death toll was rising in New York City, while in San Diego store shelves were out of cleaning supplies. Items like toilet paper and water became rare commodities.
Meanwhile, local gun stores were seeing record sales.
"People are getting crazy over this coronavirus and I want to be able to protect myself and protect my family," said El Cajon resident Daniel Frank who was looking to buy a firearm in mid-March of last year.
There were not even a hundred confirmed cases in San Diego County, but residents were already familiar with the virus. In February, hundreds of evacuees had been flown in from Wuhan, China, where the virus first spread, and quarantined at MCAS Miramar.
Among them were Frank Wucinski and his three year old daughter Annabel. Wucinski's wife, Li Qiong, was still in China at the time.
"She (Annabel) doesn’t understand what’s going on, why mom’s not here," Wucinski told a KPBS reporter at the time.
On Feb. 14, within days of the first evacuees arriving, San Diego County officials declared a crisis.
“Acting out of an abundance of caution the county of San Diego is taking an administrative action by declaring both a local emergency and a public health emergency," said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher during a news conference surrounded by hospital and county health officials, as well as those from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On March 9th county Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten announced the first presumed-positive test for a San Diego County resident.
"I will not go into details about the case except to say that the case is a female in her 50's and is hospitalized and okay," Wooten said.
On March 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom would issue a first-of-its kind order. "We are calling for the home isolation of all seniors in the state of California," he said.
Newsom also took aggressive measures that day to begin mitigating the virus’s spread, including the closure of all bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs.
Things began to snowball in the following days.
Indoor capacity at restaurants was cut in half and social distancing measures put in place. Major conferences at the San Diego Convention Center were being cancelled, schools were closing, then San Diego State University students were sent home.
"It’s absolutely nuts they gave us less than 48 hours to get out of here," said SDSU freshman Chase Conderman who was moving out on short notice with the help of his dad.
On March 19 all Californians were ordered to stay at home.
"Let’s bend the curve together," Newsom said during a televised news conference. "Let’s not regret — let’s not dream of regretting, go back say we coulda-woulda-shoulda."
Then, on March 22, the pandemic took a deadly turn here. "We will be reporting our first death for the county of San Diego," Wooten said.
The county’s Chief medical officer Dr. Nick Yphantides had this message that day: "Without alarming but with bright eyed realism we are still in the eye of the storm — and we are asking you not board up your windows, but to board up yourselves at home, please."
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer also took action.
"Now I am directing city of San Diego staff to move forward with the closure of all parks, beaches, boardwalks, bays, city lakes and trails to the public until further notice to slow the spread of COVID-19," Faulconer announced during a news conference.
But it wouldn't be until May 1 that San Diego County began requiring residents to wear face coverings when out in public.
"There are 64,000 Americans who have died in the last two months," Fletcher said that day. "The danger that is presented is real and you can’t reopen an economy if you don't have a handle on your public health situation."
At first it was hard to track the virus's spread. Testing samples had to be sent to the CDC lab in Atlanta for confirmation and you needed to be showing symptoms or have a doctor's referral to get a test. But soon state-sponsored sites began opening in San Diego for the general public.
As the summer months approached, some businesses began reopening. But then cases began rising and health officials warned that we were heading in the wrong direction. It turned out that the summer surge was just a preview of a much bigger surge in the fall and winter months. The county's health system was stretched to its breaking point during the holidays and the number of deaths continued spiking.
"We know people are hurting out there and we know they’re tired of the pandemic — you know what we’re damn tired of it too," said Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder on Dec. 23 when the pandemic pushed the health care system to the brink.