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The US pandemic at one year: Looking back at the week everything changed, and looking forward

This week’s news coverage of the coronavirus will toggle between retrospectives about the one-year anniversary of the pandemic and forward-looking reports about vaccines and variants. I have compiled what some news outlets are doing to mark the moment, but first, here is a flashback to twelve months ago.

What this week last year felt like

March 9, 2020 was a Monday, the start of a new workweek. It was the day when CNN began to use the term pandemic to describe the outbreak. Dr. Sanjay Gupta explained that day that the WHO and CDC hadn’t taken the step yet, but it was necessary. “Now is the time to prepare for what may be ahead,” he said, previewing closed schools and canceled events.

That same day, Fox’s Sean Hannity accused the media of “scaring the living hell out of people” and said “I see it, again, as like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”

On March 10 the cancellations accelerated. Conferences and concerts were postponed. The US was in the midst of what one reporter called a “low-key slowdown.” The New York Times’ banner headline said “MARKETS SPIRAL AS GLOBE SHUDDERS OVER VIRUS.”

On March 11 the WHO began to call it a pandemic. The US slowdown turned into a full-blown shutdown. Bloomberg Businessweek published a prescient cover calling 2020 “the lost year” due to coronavirus. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for the virus. The NBA suspended its season. President Trump gave a prime time speech and made things worse.

On March 12 the New York Post’s front page said the world had “TURNED UPSIDE DOWN.” New York Times editor Dean Baquet told his newsroom that this was the biggest story since 9/11. News outlets shifted into public service mode. The AP said that people around the world “became increasingly closed off from one another.” Almost every media company postponed almost everything.

On March 13 — appropriately, Friday the 13th — more companies implemented work from home plans. Even more events were put on hold. Stocks continued to plummet. The crisis overwhelmed the news nervous system. New York felt different. We were all in this together. Trump said “I don’t take responsibility at all.” A New York magazine headline warned: “This will get worse.”

One year later, “trying to make sense of what it all means.”

The past twelve months have answered the question raised by The Atlantic’s Ed Yong in July 2018: “The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?”

I checked in on Sunday with The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who said, “Our writers, including Ed, Sarah Zhang, James Hamblin, Zeynep Tufekci and so many others, have been helping our readers make the smartest decisions — on the individual level, and on the institutional and governmental level — for a long time now, and this week we’ll be trying to calculate the awful losses of this past year, and trying to make sense of what it all means.”

Paying tribute

President Joe Biden is using his first prime time address on Thursday to commemorate the one year since the pandemic shut down most of the country. Here’s a look at what some major media outlets are doing:

— “CBS Sunday Morning” featured four stories about the anniversary on Sunday.

— The New York Times national desk is publishing the “Who I Lost” project.

— HBO will premiere “Covid Diaries NYC” on Tuesday. The documentary features five young filmmakers telling “the stories of their families during the first wave” of the pandemic.

— GBH News, based in Boston, will air a day of special programming on Wednesday, marking the day a state of emergency was declared in Massachusetts.

— MSNBC will air an hour-long long edition of Nicolle Wallace’s daily “Lives Well Lived” segment remembering Covid-19 victims Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

— NBC and MSNBC will both air special reports from the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday: Chris Hayes will anchor “All In America: The Year We Meet Again” at 8 p.m. and Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie will helm “Covid One Year Later: Life After Lockdown” at 10 p.m.

— ABC will air a special “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the “Coronaversary Show,” on Thursday night. Kimmel’s guests are Pete Buttigieg and Joel McHale.

— Fox News will air segments titled “COVID – 1 Year Later” across its programming slate.

— “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC will air “Reading Their Names,” a 90-minute special, on Tuesday, March 16. Per the station, 484 listeners will read the names of 1,780 people who died from the virus.

— Later that week, Lehrer’s show will electronically bury a “2020 time capsule” hard drive. Submissions are still being accepted here.

Sunday front pages marked the moment

Benjy Renton compiled some of the US front pages that looked back on the past year. The Tribune-Review in Pennsylvania headlined it “The deadliest year: What have we learned?” The Day in New London, Connecticut said “pandemic deaths leave an unfillable void” above sketches of some of the local lives lost. And The Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Washington ran the names of every confirmed Covid-19 death in the region on the front page.

The current state of play

In “the fight against the deadly coronavirus, we’re finally moving a few steps forward,” Ana Cabrera said on CNN Sunday afternoon. “But every day we see unfortunate things around the country that threaten to take us a few steps back,” from the easing of restrictions to the spread of variants.

“We are so close,” Dr. Leana Wen told Cabrera. The vaccines are miraculous: “We are at the point now of reaching almost 3 million vaccinations a day.” Supply will soon catch up to demand and vaccine hesitancy will be the primary problem, Wen predicted. “We need to illustrate to people the freedoms that will come their way very soon once they are vaccinated,” she said, “but we also have to keep up these measures in the meantime.”

Every day, a little more light

Some hours it seems like every other post in my social media feeds is from a newly vaccinated friend-of-a-friend. But it’s important to keep in mind that, as CNN’s Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan wrote, “we’re still months away from most Americans getting vaccinated.”

Getting back to pre-pandemic “normalcy” is not an off-on light switch. “Think of it more like we are turning up the light on a dimmer switch,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner told Don Lemon. “It’s been really dark and now it is going to get progressively more light.” Every day, he said, a little more light: “We are going to see that over the next several months. I’m sure of it.”

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

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