Journal entries are among the ways people are helping to archive COVID-19
Author: Matthew Cook
Person writing in a journal

What do you think you will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic a year from now? Will you remember how your feelings evolved and what day-to-day life was like?

Same questions, only it is 10 years from now. How much do you think you will still remember?

The more time that passes, the more the pandemic’s finer points will fade. Small as they may be, they hold historical value. This is one of the reasons Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP) initiated the Archiving Our COVID-19 Stories project. Every experience—good and bad—holds a lesson for future generations, which is why diverse participation is critical. 

“All of us, in the University of Rochester community, are going through this historical moment together,” says Miranda Mims, the Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation. “Although this has been a challenging time, our stories, and the perspectives and cultural lenses they are told through, show the differences and similarities in the ways we individually and collectively have experienced the pandemic. This project has the unique opportunity to be a uniting and instructive force.” 

Calls for submission to the project have asked for the University community to provide their journal entries, photographs, video and audio recordings, and even their social media posts and artwork. As we've seen through the May Bragdon Diaries, journals and diaries, in particular, can provide a rich chronological lens through which one can examine an extraordinary period of time or set of circumstances.

Thanks to a University of Rochester Medical Center staff member and courtesy of Melissa Mead, the John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian, we can give you a window into one person’s pandemic experience that spans the last three-and-a-half months through a collection of their journal entries. 

Entries have been partially condensed and edited for length and clarity. Names have been removed to preserve anonymity.

March 13, 2020

I'm becoming very anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world…Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced that gatherings of 500 or more people are prohibited starting today at 5 p.m… 

There's been another rush on the grocery stores and bulk stores like Costco. People are buying up all the toilet paper for some reason… Talk is all over work, social media, etc. It's impossible to not see stuff about it. Emails are coming from everywhere about it… Folks say it's not that bad, coronavirus isn't new, etc. But then I also see lots of panic…

It's just all very worrisome and makes me wonder what will happen here in the hospital. And what if I get sick from being here at work?! Lots of craziness and everything up in the air at the moment.

March 20

New York has the most cases in the country. It's hard to know what exact numbers are correct. The NYS Department of Health displays one number, the CDC displays another… Testing is only being done for those who are sick enough to need care in the hospital. Otherwise, anyone with symptoms is being told to stay home and quarantine…

Some hospital staff will start to work remotely next week, swapping off every other week with a buddy… It's just a surreal time right now with everything being closed and all of the social distancing happening. But this appears to be our new normal at the moment.

March 27

So much changes in a week. New York State has now topped the nation with its number of cases…Governor Cuomo is building several temporary hospitals, and the military hospital ship is due to arrive in NYC on Monday… New York State has been put completely on pause... State laws are being passed for rent relief, pausing all evictions, and other measures since many people have been furloughed from their jobs…

UofR is even making its own version of Purell, called URell. My best friend is in quarantine. Her doctors think she is sick. She can't get tested because they don't have enough tests… She went to urgent care, where she had to communicate through her car window with workers that looked like they were wearing hazmat suits. They think she has pneumonia…

Thankfully work has been slow… The hospital has the fewest patients in what must be decades, and the ED is eerily empty… Unfortunately, I think everyone is going to know someone that ends up dying of this, and everyone will certainly know someone who gets it.

April 10

This week was the first week I worked fully from home… URMC instituted Dr. Chat Bot, an online questionnaire that we have to answer every day we work to indicate if we have symptoms... We have to answer it every day, even if we're working from home, so they know if we could be called in to help on-site…

This week I made 13 masks… The masks are being embraced not because they completely keep the virus out, but because it discourages you from touching your face. I've been trying to remember to take mine with me when I run errands, but it's a hard habit to get into.

April 17 

The stay at home order for New York has been extended to May 15th. Now, to go out in public, you have to wear a face mask… Otherwise, everything just seems to be the same, and this is our new normal—working from home, seeing friends over Zoom… ordering take out from restaurants instead of going out to eat, and entertaining ourselves at home…

I've been working on projects that I had previously been chipping away slowly at, such as converting all my music CDs into MP3s, cleaning out my desk, shredding old documents, and typing up old handwritten journals…

I wonder how long it will take for everything to get back to normal…

May 1 

The week started off with an email from the CEO and CFO of URMC telling us to expect furloughs on May 8th… I understand that they wanted to warn people so they could make smart financial decisions, but at the same time, that just means we all have 2 weeks of anxiety, wondering if our job—that we think is essential—will be deemed non-essential…

For the past month, my stepfather has been in the hospital… Well, they finally got an oncologist to go see him in the hospital and give him the news that he has stage 4 [cancer] of the lungs and that no treatment is possible… It's hard to know when I should start pushing to see him, or if I should wait until we get him into some kind of hospice facility… I just want him to have some kind of peace of mind and creature comforts in his last days, but the pandemic is making that very difficult…

May 8

This week was probably the toughest week of the pandemic for me… almost all the hospice homes are closed due to the pandemic. On Sunday, we all went to visit him at the hospital. Only two people were allowed in at a time… Early in the week, we had to give up the idea of a hospice home for him and let him go to a nursing home, which was something he had wanted to avoid at all costs… Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly on Wednesday morning, so we were never able to visit him again… On Thursday, my mom and I went to the funeral home and made arrangements… We're lucky in the fact that my stepfather didn't want a normal funeral. However, he did want a large party with his ashes in a place of honor, a good old Irish wake. We are not going to be able to do that until it's safe to have large gatherings.

Another thing that happened this week was that the furloughs in my department were announced. One of my main clients was furloughed to part-time, and I was told I won't be working much with them anymore. Instead, I'm being reassigned to other clients. It's a very sad time, and I have to wonder a) how long until the furlough is over, and b) when will I ever be called back work on site.

In general, I feel like I'm starting to let my guard down as far as the virus goes. My mom and I stopped wearing masks around each other because they're just so uncomfortable… We don't hug or kiss or share food or drinks. So, in that way, we're being "safer" than if we weren't doing anything at all, but it's also just getting ridiculous trying to live life and do things while my glasses are constantly fogging up.

May 15

Things look to be opening back up soon… I currently have no idea when I would physically go back to work… I think everyone is experiencing this phenomenon of pandemic fatigue or quarantine fatigue. I personally have been feeling it this week - being more tired in the middle of the day, struggling to keep my eyes open while I work…

All in all, I'm ready for this to be over and for everything to go back to normal, but I'm also not ignorant enough to believe that it will over any time soon.

May 22

I'm a little less concerned about the COVID numbers this week… I'm no longer as concerned about the number of folks in the hospitals. However, it does still look like our number of cases is rising more than the number of people getting better.

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend… I went out to get propane for the grill last night... It's still interesting to see how entrances and exits are limited so that traffic can be more one-way in and out of the stores. Cashiers have these rigged plastic shields on their counters with a small area to slide products underneath for scanning…

Other than that, it's just basically been the same around here. The weather is getting better, so I'm starting to do yard work and such. Work has been a bit busier for me, so I'm not as bored during the day. I'm still playing a lot of Animal Crossing New Horizons... Oh, and we're watching lots of TV.

June 6

Phase 2 of reopening started last week… Over the past week or so, there's been unrest in the nation, outrage sparked over another police murder of a suspect in custody, caught on video... I think it sparked things off more than other recent incidents because of the pandemic and the economic issues at the moment… while I was babysitting, there was a lot of rioting and looting happening in the city… There are also concerns about how the protesting, rioting and looting is going to lead to a second wave of COVID infections…

I had to go in to work on Tuesday morning, and I was in a clinical environment where I could not maintain social distancing from several providers and patients for four hours. I wore a mask the whole time, and so did the patients and providers, but you could see that not everyone made sure to have the mask up and over their nose the whole time. Once I saw someone remove the mask to cough… I didn't say anything because it's totally not my place. But I was certainly grossed out, and I'm generally concerned about how effective we're being.

However, I will say the current environment of activism and trying to be an ally to the black community. Doing the work to be anti-racist has really been the theme of the week, putting much of my concerns and attention to the pandemic on the back burner. 

June 12

Yesterday was my second day of having a job be on-site instead of Zoom, and I'm doing another one this afternoon. Everyone there continues to wear masks, and the patients are screened before they can go into the back. Some patients wear surgical masks, some wear homemade fabric masks…

Wednesday, I ended up breaking social distancing with our friends…I inherited my stepfather’s convertible and took…a drive up to the lake and back. We didn't wear masks because we figured the air whipping around us would act as a kind of barrier… I think that most folks are probably doing similar stuff…Today is the beginning of Phase 3 in NY….

I am worried about another pandemic in the fall... I have no idea how close we are to having a widely available vaccine. Some say it could be early next year... I really don't want to go through this again, where we'll be stuck in our homes for months on end again… I'm not making any major plans. I was supposed to have a big 40th birthday celebration in September, but I'm not sure if that should happen or not. I will say, I'm really tired of all the unknowns! I would love to know when this will be over; when I will go back to work; when we won't need to wear masks anymore and if we will ever be able to get back to “normal.” ∎

If you would like to know more about the Archiving Our COVID-19 Stories project, contact Melissa Mead at Interested in contributing? Fill out this brief submission form. Enjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.