This past year has been, to put it mildly, one hell of a ride. March 2020 could be split neatly into the first two weeks and the last two weeks; even here in Atlanta life went from normal to a complete shutdown in the blink of an eye. Before our (admittedly half-assed) lockdown in April non-essential employees had already stopped going into the office, parents pulled their children out of schools, and the whole city went into hibernation mode.
Georgia was the first to lift a statewide lockdown, as of May 1st, 2020 non-essential businesses were allowed to reopen with a few capacity restrictions on indoor dining. And while businesses took their time in preparing for COVID era operations, by the end of June most restaurants and retail stores had reopened.
More notable is what didn’t happen -- people didn’t immediately return to their pre-COVID routines. For almost a year, I ate in almost empty dining rooms and shopped in deserted stores. Companies did not bring their employees back into the office, which left our normally jammed highways empty to the point where I could treat my commute like my own personal Gumball Rally. Even as late as January, my local mall’s parking lot was so empty my mom asked me “are you SURE they’re open?”
And then, almost to the day when everything came to a grinding halt, everyone seemed to decide that it was time to resume normal activities. In the span of two weeks, I went from having zero traffic on my morning commute to having pre-COVID levels of traffic. Dining rooms that were practically vacant are now near capacity. Indoor retail is busy again. Sephora put the product testers back on the shelves.
Why now? Honestly, I have no clue. Unlike other big cities like NYC, Atlanta didn’t recently lift any restrictions or have any pent-up demand -- we’ve been free to do basically whatever we choose since May of last year. Perhaps it was hitting that one-year milestone and everyone deciding “yep that’s enough time to go back to normal now”? Maybe it’s the normal springtime urge to get out of the house? Optimism about the vaccine and our dropping caseload? People reaching their COVID fatigue breaking point?
It’s not just an Atlanta phenomenon either; the whole country seems to be trending in this direction. The number of people filing for initial unemployment claims has dropped to its lowest number since the pandemic started, for the week ending on 3/13 there were 684,000 initial claims filed. Still extremely high to be sure, but a stark departure from the weeks where that number was at or over 1M. Given the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen lately, I expect that number to keep dropping as more people feel comfortable going out and about again.
As for myself, I finally got the email that I’ve been waiting for since December -- the email telling me that I’m eligible for the COVID vaccine. I’ll be getting my first jab (Pfizer if you were curious) on April 8th. That, plus everything I see happening around me, makes me feel optimistic that this whole horrific ordeal will be over soon.
I’ve maintained, ever since the lockdown was lifted in Georgia, that the economy will not recover until enough people feel comfortable returning to their pre-COVID lives. It looks like we are reaching that point now and that is making me feel something I haven’t felt in a long time -- hope for happier days ahead.