Smile Politely

Reflecting on the past year

The past year has been a roller coaster, to say the least. We decided to take a look at where we are now, as a community, in November 2021, compared to where we were in November 2020, to gain a bit of perspective. What does the glass look like — Half full? Half empty? One thing’s for sure, thanks to above average rainfall over the last year, there is water in it. 

In November of 2020, most of our collective existence was focused on COVID, a national election that was filled with turmoil, and a racial reckoning. 

We knew that two of the COVID vaccine prospects were safe and effective — Pfizer and Moderna released their results early in the month — but it would be December before Emergency Use Authorization was issued by the FDA, and several more months before vaccinations opened to the general public. 

Cases were rising locally, as they were in much of the nation. From November 12th through 18th there were six new COVID-related deaths, 1921 new cases, and 16 people hospitalized. At that time, we’d lost 43 total Champaign County residents to COVID. On October 30th, Governor Pritzker issued an executive order in response to this rise. The most significant impact was to events and restaurants. Capacity was limited to 25% for the former, and indoor dining was closed for the latter. This led to the owner of the Apple Dumpling complaining in the news almost weekly, the owner of JT Walker’s declaring he would stay open, then closing his doors in a huff before hosting a party for Champaign County Republicans, and a bunch of wealthy white people protesting in the parking lot of C-U Public Health District. 

Many K-12 students were learning remotely, and we were facing an isolating holiday season, at least for those that weren’t willing to take the risk of spreading COVID to family members. 

There was a pretty major election that unfortunately left IL-13 in Rodney Davis’ hands, and also gave us Mary Miller. After an excruciating week of waiting for Joe Biden to officially be declared the next President of the United States, our elation over the end of the Trump era was quickly met with concerns over his refusal to concede, and his lies about election fraud (with little to no pushback from our representative). That, of course, ended in an insurrection attended by Miller, where she gave her infamous “Hitler was right about one thing” speech. 

After a summer of protests, blacked out profile pictures, and anti-racism proclamations, not much was happening beyond a proposal for a Black Lives Matter street mural in early 2021. 

Things were not great, but many of us were settled into a sort of pandemic routine, with our Zoom meetings, online events, and figuring out how we might still utilize the outdoors through a Midwestern winter. Illinois basketball was beginning, without fans, a season that had the potential to be the best since 2004-2005. We all continued to put one foot in front of the other, hoping that whatever this is — gestures widely — would not be our existence forever.

In November 2021, we are still very focused on COVID, but a lot of things have changed. We now have not one, but three, safe and effective vaccines available to anyone five and older. And yet, it remains a concern that we cannot completely leave behind us.

In Champaign County, 74% of eligible residents (which is now all residents five and over) have received one dose of the COVID vaccine. 59% are fully vaccinated. In the first week of November, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for a lower dose of the Pfizer vaccine to be used for kids five to 11. All area schools have been fully in-person since the beginning of the year, though with so many students yet to be vaccinated, they are still dealing with COVID cases and quarantines. Booster shots of all varieties are available, basically to anyone 18 and older, and many are taking advantage of the extra boost of immunity.

Last week, the week of November 8th through 13th, there were 473 new cases, and seven Champaign County residents in the hospital. We have lost 168 more people, bringing the overall dead to 211 people. Around 75% of cases this month have been in people who are unvaccinated. 

It’s a strange sort of existence right now. We are masking indoors (well, many of us are), yet restaurants and bars are open. Indoor in-person events are back: at the Virginia Theatre, at Krannert Center, at the Rose Bowl and Canopy Club, fans are back at Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center. Vaccine and testing requirements are varied, and risk assessment is a free for all. 

C-U is experiencing labor shortages, consistent with the rest of the nation. Restaurants and businesses are open, but hours may be shorter, they may close on short notice, and menus might be smaller. MTD has had to reduce some of their routes

However, we’re facing a holiday season with much more hope of being able to safely gather with friends and family, particularly for those who are vaccinated. The addition of community Shield testing and availability of rapid tests at pharmacies adds an extra layer of reassurance if you’re planning to travel and/or gather with others. 

Beyond our ever-changing COVID landscape, our community is facing an epidemic of gun violence. It’s an issue we highlighted earlier this year, and the situation has not improved. Between October 20th and November 13th there have been five shootings. Earlier in the school year, gun violence in the community seeped into our schools. In a matter of weeks, shots were fired outside Champaign Centennial High School, a Centennial student was killed in broad daylight, right in front of International Prep Academy, and a Unit 4 school bus was hit by gunfire. There is ongoing debate about solutions to this deeply rooted and complex problem — with security and surveillance receiving a lot of attention right now. 

And yet, our community trudges forward, finding joy in gathering again, seeing theater and concert stages come back to life, and enjoying bars and restaurants, as we navigate these ever-present uncertainties and process ongoing tragedy and trauma. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top photo by Julie McClure.

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