The coronavirus outbreak hit a “critical point” one year ago Wednesday as cases took on an exponential rise and Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, setting in motion a series of events that changed life in Massachusetts as we know it.
“This is no simple anniversary,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone told the Herald as he reflected on a year like no other. “It is both a somber moment in which we take stock in all that we have lost — so much and so many — and it is a hopeful moment as people get vaccinated and a return to our lives seems in reach.”
During this week last year, each hour seemed to bring more breaking news. Baker’s emergency declaration would set the table for school and business shutdowns, mask mandates and limits on social gatherings that endure to this day.
As cases doubled overnight to hit 92 on March 10, 2020, Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel joined Baker at a press conference where he announced the COVID-19 state of emergency and said Massachusetts was at a “critical point” in its outbreak. In the weeks and months to come, cases would continue to rise. One year in, nearly 561,000 residents would be infected. More than 16,100 would die.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh recalled the “surreal” week one year ago in which his administration had to make decision after unthinkable decision.
He remembered the first case in Boston, then a second, then up to six, then 10, “then it just took off,” Walsh said.
His administration’s thinking about the the school year evolved as quickly. The first idea was that the schools would stick it out through April vacation, which was four weeks away.
“And then literally a day later, we were thinking, ‘can we get through the next week?’” Walsh recalled.
Finally, at the end of the week — just a few hours after he’d announced the postponement of the Boston Marathon — Walsh pulled the plug on in-person learning entirely, giving kids and staff just one day the next week to collect what they needed from schools.
To use the governor’s own words, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been “lumpy and bumpy” over the past year.
Life for everyone changed “drastically,” said Gladys Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa in Chelsea. But for the state’s most vulnerable residents, she said life became “desperate.”
“I knew we were poor, but I never saw how bad Chelsea and its residents had it. We have struggled to survive. I’ve never seen so many people hungry, looking for food and making lines,” Vega said. As the pandemic peaked in April, for two days in a row 11,000 people came knocking for food.
Even with case numbers and deaths now falling as vaccines become more widely distributed, the virus continues to test.
Vega said it’s hard to see a way out of the suffering in Chelsea with so many still unemployed and dozens getting evicted by the day. More than 250,000 jobs — mostly in the hospitality sector — have yet to recover, according to state estimates.
During a virtual event on Tuesday, Baker urged people to “lean into” the “next normal.”