As we approach the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 global pandemic, MediSked Culture and Engagement Specialist Lee Iannone looks back at the past year’s challenges and advantages.
As we prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it’s been a time to reflect on how many aspects of life have changed but also the countless parts that have remained the same. Change can be terrifying but sometimes, when we are forced to change or make adjustments, it presents a sort of liberation to rewrite the way we do things and discover new ways to achieve the connections we crave and need as humans and inherently social beings.
Moving into a Virtual World
As March of 2020 unraveled, we all headed indoors to keep each other safe and while safety is important, we quickly discovered that maintaining human connection is equally important. Large scale, thoughtfully planned events were canceled at first and it was incredibly sad to miss out on those events. But it wasn’t just the planned events people were missing—it was the spontaneous and casual interactions with people in the community that I really started to miss the most. For my family, we were now going to the supermarket twice a month, when we used to go every other day. We didn’t run into friends or if we did, it became just a quick exchange of eye contact rather than a ten-minute conversation in the cheese aisle.
We started to have video chats with friends and family when previously, people would casually pop over. Then my family in Italy started to reach out over video chats and it dawned on me, “why had we not done this before?” Video call technology has existed for years now. I was so happy that this was now becoming a routine way for us to connect.
At the same time, inspired by what our relatives in Italy were doing from their balconies, we started doing front yard pop-outs in my neighborhood. We all agreed to pop out at 6pm to say hello from afar. Most of the time we hung out for about an hour if the weather was decent enough. We did this for about 100 days consistently.
"We chatted with our neighbors for over 100 hours. We have lived in this neighborhood for about 14 years, but it took the pandemic to really connect with them."
Once it was clear that safer at home orders would continue for some time, galas and events that were postponed in March and April were rescheduled as virtual events and they were impressive. The events generally lasted about an hour, but they often featured musical performances, poetry, art, and speakers from across the world. Auctions and fundraisers were held with the use of new technologies and other creative approaches to ensure organizations could still get the crucial funding for their programs. We saw all the same friendly faces on-screen and our community always found a way to support each other, no matter what. Conferences joined the virtual world as well, increasing accessibility to attend these types of events.
At MediSked, we found a way to continue to volunteer with our community by establishing the MediSked Virtual Visits program where anyone, anywhere, can sign up for a free, themed session to connect and chit chat about movies, music, cooking, art, games, or even ride a virtual roller coaster with a MediSked employee. With loneliness and isolation at record highs, we wanted to do something tangible to help others. We saw the need and wanted to make a difference, and we knew we had the technical understanding required to support the program. Until we can safely volunteer in person again, we are so happy to have this program that helps us connect to and with people. Our volunteers need those connections just as much as other folks in the community do, so it is a benefit for everyone participating.
We know that 2021 might look a lot like 2020 did for a while longer. Having new ways to connect like Virtual Visits will hopefully continue long after the pandemic becomes part of our history rather than our present. Sometimes, it takes an event like this to reevaluate and reimagine how we can connect with each other. COVID-19, in many ways, has given us all an opportunity to learn how to be more creative with our communication methods and how to connect to our local, national, and international communities. There is still much work to be done to be sure that everyone has equitable access. As a community, together we can do this. It is not easy, but it is worth it.