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Checking In With People 1 Year Into Pandemic: How They're Coping Now

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A year ago around this time, we were just beginning to understand what this coronavirus outbreak would mean for our day-to-day lives. We were learning to wear masks, stay six feet apart and move much of our lives online. For health care workers, it also meant learning how to take care of very sick patients while trying to keep themselves healthy. NPR's Sarah McCammon wanted to know how some of the people she met last March are doing today and what they've learned since then.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: After just a few days of social distancing, Kevin Barthauer's two youngest sons already were going a little stir crazy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KEVIN BARTHAUER: The 6-year-old and the 9-year-old have some sort of mutual destruction pact. (Laughter) They're going to kill each other, I think.

MCCAMMON: That was last March. Since then, Barthauer has been mostly at home with his wife and their five sons. The boys are still alive and still fighting pretty much every day, he says. But over these long months, Barthauer and his wife have learned some coping strategies.

BARTHAUER: We try to do things like separate them and give them individual attention to kind of keep them from going completely batty or driving us batty.

MCCAMMON: Not long before the pandemic hit, Barthauer had been laid off from his job in the restaurant industry, which then went into an economic spiral.

BARTHAUER: I was devastated and worried and looking at the situation like, how am I going to feed these kids?

MCCAMMON: So Barthauer went on unemployment and, in his mid-40s, went back to school. Like his oldest son, he's a freshman in college now, and he's studying for a degree in cybersecurity.

BARTHAUER: And it's weird because I never would have had the opportunity or I never would have perceived, I guess, the opportunity for a change like that.

MCCAMMON: For many essential workers, especially those in health care, there's been little time this year to stop and think about much of anything but addressing the crisis. Last year, on March 16, I met two nurses - Pam Patrick-Thompson and Jenny Fry. They were helping with something that at the time was a brand-new concept, a drive-through coronavirus test site at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MCCAMMON: How's it going so far?

PAM PATRICK-THOMPSON: Actually, it's going better than I expected.

JENNY FRY: For the first day, yeah.

MCCAMMON: As family practice nurses, they've started seeing more patients online and stopped seeing many of their own family members for fear of exposing them to the virus. Patrick-Thompson says she and Fry have stayed healthy unlike too many of their patients.

PATRICK-THOMPSON: Nothing in our training has told us that if you get a cough or a fever that you're going to die in a week. I mean, it wasn't even on our radar, so we've had to adjust to that.

FRY: This is Jenny. Like, personally, I've had to get myself together before I can be there for them because they're contacting us to try to figure out how they're supposed to navigate through it. So you have to just put on a different hat, and, you know, it's tough sometimes.

MCCAMMON: Patrick-Thompson says the vaccine is bringing hope, especially to the health care workers who've been putting their heads down and getting to work day after day. She helped to vaccinate some of her colleagues who were among the first to be eligible.

PATRICK-THOMPSON: I'll never forget that nurse who came in. She was an ICU nurse, and I gave her her first vaccine, and she started crying. So I don't believe we understand the whole level of stress. We're just kind of getting through it somedays.

MCCAMMON: In the months to come, she says, there will be more grief to work through as people start to return to more normal activities. And she says things will never be quite like they were, especially for the millions of people who've lost loved ones in the past year. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Virginia Beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "ALL IN HERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.