In the Suburbs: The end of our second pandemic year and where are we?

Dec. 31 has arrived and a second year of the pandemic will end at midnight. Among the accomplishments from this second COVID year were, at last, three different vaccines that worked for millions, a booster as an additional insurance policy, the inauguration of our 46th president, Joe Biden, and our first female vice president, Kamala Harris; and a return to in-school learning.

But the year was peppered with horror stories as well, beginning as early as Jan. 6 with the deadly attack on our Capitol by angry, armed insurrectionists, protesting the certification of Joe Biden as our president. That attack, thankfully, has been followed by the arrests and convictions of several of the protesters, a second impeachment, which failed, of former President Donald Trump related to his potential involvement in the Capitol tragedy and the formation of a committee in Congress to conduct an in-depth investigation.

The other big horror stories for 2021 included the surge in new COVID cases from the delta and omicron strains of the virus, as well as horrific, deadly flooding in our area of the country and more recently, pre-holiday tornadoes in Kentucky and surrounding areas that left a trail of destruction and death.

If anyone ever wondered whether Mr. Trump would concede Biden’s victory and ride off into the sunset, just forget about it! He is sticking around and consistently holding rallies that offer a sneak preview of his 2024 presidential re-election aspirations. Throughout the year, we have been reminded of what has become the “Big Lie” - that former President Trump actually won the 2020 election by a landslide and the election was stolen from him. This year was filled with lawsuits and some audits in various states, all of which ended badly for the Trump camp.

Moving away from politics, I joined fellow educators, who had spent the first half of this year in continuing remote education, in a return to all in-school education. I am a reading teacher of an experimental pronunciation and spelling program and with my mask on everyday, I face small groups of middle schoolers and high schoolers, also masked.

I certainly have been encouraged that my students have learned to pronounce and actually spell new vocabulary words like “vaccine,” “pandemic,” “COVID,” “delta,” “omicron” and “booster.” But in light of the continuing COVID cases that are impacting students and teachers in schools like ours and others across Connecticut, my students’ accomplishments are a little bittersweet.

In what seems like an eternity ago, in February 2021, I was able to join other seniors to receive my first COVID vaccine injection. I was the first teacher in my school to achieve that protection. A month later I had my second vaccination and in late November I had my booster shot. So far, I have remained all right, but a close friend, with whom I was to have breakfast this week, canceled due to a positive home test. I’m hoping for good news.

Even though the highly controversial mask ban has been lifted around the state, our school, of course, remains mask mandated and the management of our Fairfield University Bookstore has also opted to keep masks in place. As an additional precaution, my wife and I ordered a large quantity of the KN95 masks.

On the travel front for me, one highlight of this still isolation-oriented year was a quick weekend trip to Chicago to visit my 93-year-old aunt, my brother and sister-in-law and a very close friend. My wife opted to stay home for health reasons. It was a little strange walking around the nearly completed and modernized LaGuardia Airport in a mask, but it was all worthwhile. Thankfully, there were no unpleasant incidents with flight attendants and unruly passengers (now more common than ever) on either flight and my great trip to Chicago was hassle free.

Our other travel highlight was our road trip to Virginia over Thanksgiving to be with my wife’s family. Twenty-one of us - tested, boosted and masked as needed - gathered for an amazing Thanksgiving reunion at our niece’s and nephew’s home. We took that trip in our new electric car, learning all sorts of new lessons about charging stations and predictable charging delays.

For our New Years celebration, due to some upcoming unexpected surgery for my wife in January and her concerns about getting COVID before that, our big dinner will be take out from an amazing favorite restaurant, The Spotted Horse, in Shelton. We love their specialty tacos and more along with amazing desserts. If we can muster the energy, we’ll watch the ball drop in Times Square on our bedroom flat screen.

And as we look forward to 2022, we will remain hopeful that we can see substantial victory in the COVID battle. But more than anything, we want a year of good health, the love of family and the closeness of good friends. Happy New Year to all my readers.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.