‘My whole world went away’: 2020 through the eyes of Alabamians – AL.com

Posted By on January 4, 2021

As Alabama locked down in March, reporters at AL.com reached out to people across the state to track their journey through this historic moment.

Their stories touch on what was taken for granted, senior prom and live music and church service and haircuts. Some struggled to keep a business afloat. Some struggled to keep their families well. Some got COVID.

Here are eight of their stories as they look back at the end of Alabamas pandemic year:

Jolanda Barnes is an accountant from Valley, Ala. After surviving COVID-19 in March, she says she is still very careful to follow CDC guidelines.(Contributed photo)

More than eight months after beating COVID-19 herself, Jolanda Barnes can only shake her head at people she sees in the grocery store without their masks, or wearing them around their necks.

Im like, Oh gosh, you cannot possibly even understand what this virus will do, said Barnes, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March. And you cant possibly have had it, at all, or you could not have experienced anything related to this virus or else you would gladly pull your mask up.

Her own experience with COVID was harrowing enough. Barnes, who lives in the Chambers County town of Valley near the Georgia state line, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March and spent five days in La Grange hospital and about a week at home on oxygen after that.

By Easter Sunday, April 12, she was able to post short videos of herself singing in a makeshift sunrise church service at her home, but her recovery still lingered for weeks after that. She said it took her at least a month after getting out of the hospital before she started to feel normal again.

The new normal

Barnes, an accountant, is still able to work from home, and says she is being very careful to follow the recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and others to avoid reinfection, or more importantly spreading the virus to others. She tries to limit her trips to the grocery store and wears a mask when she goes.

I can count the number of times since Ive actually been inside of Walmart on one hand, she said.

She attends church virtually, a big sacrifice for her, and still volunteers in the church office during the week. But even though her congregation at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Valley has returned to in-person worship, she chooses to watch online.

Church is definitely a big part of my life, Barnes said. I have not gone back to worship service in person, as far as being in the sanctuary in in the enclosed areas.

Being in enclosed spaces near other people now gives her a sense of anxiety that she didnt have before the pandemic. She knows that since she has had the virus once, she has some antibodies that will hopefully protect her against reinfection, but she doesnt want to take any chances.

I have antibodies, and Ive donated plasma and everything, so I am fully aware that I have the antibodies in my body, but its a world of unknowns, Barnes said. You dont know how long the antibodies last.

Vaccine hesitancy

Barnes said she is not eager to get the vaccine immediately. She worries that there are too many unknowns.

At the moment, I think I want to give it some time to find out any type of side effects, or whatnot, she said. I think for me, because of the fact that I know that I have antibodies currently in my body, I dont feel pressed to actually get the vaccine at this moment.

Barnes said other members of her family, including her mother, are also hesitant to take the vaccine.

Shes leery about it right now, Barnes said, But, you know, were being prayerful about it, and just continuing to try to stay safe, and stay as safe as possible when we go around her.

Jolanda Barnes of Valley, Ala. spent five days in a hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in March.(Contributed photo)

Barnes is not the only one in her family to encounter the disease. She said two of her three brothers have tested positive since she recovered, one of whom had severe symptoms. Two nephews also tested positive, but were asymptomatic.

Barnes said she wouldnt change the events that shaped her 2020. She said the story about her recovery gave hope to others.

Its still a world of unknowns but now were nine months into it, she said. Ive gone through it, and I can look back and say Ive been through it. I survived It, and prayerfully I wont come in contact with it again.

Dennis Pillion

Grayson Cappss experiences in 2020 have benefited from the talents of his wife, Grammy-winning recording engineer Trina Shoemaker. This spring he released South Front Street, a career retrospective she curated. It came out at just the right time to give new pandemic-era fans a handy guide to his extensive back catalog. (Photo courtesy of Royal Potato Family)

For Grayson Capps, a singer-songwriter in Fairhope, a busy live performance schedule was his main source of income, pre-pandemic.

March 14th, my whole world went away, says Capps. I remember a barrage of just, everythings canceled.

Capps is known for gritty, literate lyrics peopled by interesting characters. And after some experimentation he found a sweet spot on Facebook, where livestreaming for tips effectively became the modern equivalent of the busking he did his early days.

It also allowed a new community to emerge.

A new wave of fans who didnt know him or each other before the pandemic joined his audience. Soon they had formed a Facebook Group called Grayson Capps Army of Love. As the name suggests, its dedicated to uplifting content and general positivity.

That has been incredible, he says. Its been a life strand for a lot of people who have discovered new friends. I was the focal point but then all these friendships have developed.

A recent performance by himself and Molly Thomas had something like 3,000 viewers and 900 comments. Its a damn peanut gallery when I play, he said. Its more like a reunion.

Mostly I dont feel like its a lost year, Capps says. I feel like its a year of examination. When the year started it was like, Its going to be a great year, were going to get 20/20 vision. In a lot of ways I think people have. I see people differently. Theres people who are beautiful who have become more beautiful. There are people who are ugly and have become more ugly. Peoples true colors have really come out during this time. For me and just about everybody there has been a revelation and an awareness that was not there before.

March 14th, my whole world went away. I remember a barrage of just, everythings canceled.

Grayson Capps, a singer-songwriter in Fairhope

Its definitely a growth experience for me, he says. Ive spent 25 to 30 years thinking Im going to break through and be a star, my ships going to come in, great fame was going to happen. Pursuing that. People can say Im successful, but Im not. Im still a hungry musician whos never really gotten any success. Ive been doing the crazy thing of trying to open a door the same way over and over and again expecting different results. This year has made me re-evaluate who I am, and to be comfortable with it and be home and acknowledge what I have.

That said, he does look forward to playing live again in favorite Lower Alabama venues like Callaghans Irish Social Club and Pirates Cove. I miss those days, he says.

Lawrence Specker

Mary Reinhardt is a cosmetology teacher and stylist who lives in Huntsville. Hair salons in Alabama were shuttered for about six weeks early in the pandemic.(Contributed photo)

In early 2020, Mary Reinhardt, a cosmetology teacher and stylist, was working to establish herself as an authority on hair color in her hometown of Decatur. She started a new job at the salon Parlour Hush Styling Social. Then coronavirus happened, and Reinhardt spent her days at her house in Huntsville.

Im not bitter about closing, Reinhardt said on April 15, just over two weeks after Gov. Kay Ivey ordered salons and many other businesses to shutter. Not everybody is safe.

Reinhardt saw friends and clients contemplating on social media about whether to cut or color their own hair. One day a police officer, still required to comply with uniform standards despite the closure of salons and barber shops, walked to up Reinhardt at a gas station to ask if she would do a house call.

Reinhardt wanted to help, but it wasnt worth the risk. She still had income from her teaching job at the Salon Professional Academy in Huntsville. But she knew other cosmetologists who took house calls because they had bills to pay.

On April 17, when a group of state leaders recommended that salons reopen immediately, Reinhardt wondered, Is it safe? The governor didnt reopen salons then, but many stylists around the state looked toward April 30 the day the lockdown order was set to expire.

When the governor announced on April 29 that retail stores would reopen while salons remained closed, Reinhardt was frustrated.

This plan seems like whats best for the economy, not whats best for the public, she said. You want to do whats best for the public. But if the people in charge say its safe to go to a mall or Target but not to get a haircut, that just seems wrong to me.

Once salons reopened on May 11, Reinhardt was confident in the sanitation and distancing measures, like masking. She gave people what theyd been waiting for a blue mullet, a pink one, mermaid hair.

Thats why we do the job, she said. To make people feel better.

Business was busy at first but as the months went by it slowly returned to normal. COVID protocols and social distancing, too, began to feel normal. I dont feel like my life has dramatically changed or maybe Ive just gotten used to how it is now, Reinhardt said in September.

Thats why we do the job to make people feel better.

Mary Reinhardt

As 2020 came to a close and vaccines started rolling out in December, Reinhardt said she was optimistic about the new year.

Im looking forward to a sense of security and feeling safe, she said.

Ashley Remkus

Rabbi Steve Silberman (second from left) is pictured with his family. His synagogue, Ahavas Chesed, in Mobile closed in March and services went virtual.(Contributed photo)

A reminder of the pandemic can be found in the deserted parking lot of the Ahavas Chesed synagogue in Mobile, normally the bustling center of the citys small Jewish community during Friday and Saturdays Shabbat.

Community has been at the core of Jewish life for thousands of years, since the time of Abraham, said Rabbi Steve Silberman during an interview with AL.com in April. Thats always been at the heart of our identity. So when prayer is stopped, as a communal experience, it becomes debilitating. When I cannot go to a hospital or a familys home, its debilitating.

Being part of the community and the group is as much a part of my tradition as breathing.

Yet the pandemic forced the synagogue in March to close its doors to regular gatherings. Rabbi Silberman, 59, who has lived in Mobile since 1990, told AL.com in April that hed already attended two funerals where people were forced to social distance. But since then, he has also faced personal challenges, as a husband and father of four. His wife became sick with a mild case of COVID-19, as did his daughter, who is a student at the University of Alabama.

I tell you that because it was scary for my family, he explained this month.

While Rabbi Silberman, who is known as Rabbi Steve among some in his congregation, said there have been some unexpected positives this year he and his small team have embraced technology. His congregation can now follow weekend Shabbat services on YouTube, while Zoom is where people meet to sing on Saturday evenings. Monday afternoons Zoom meetings are for studying proverbs with kids storytime coming at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays online group focuses on spiritualty.

If we do reopen, I plan on keeping video conferencing and other technological methods to stay in greater contact with my synagogue people who for whatever reason cannot make it to the physical building, because they are away or sick, he said.

There have also been some rare in-person gatherings. Every second Sunday morning, members of his congregation meet under the front porch of the synagogue to catch up and eat a donut, all socially distanced with masks, of course. They have become accustomed to bringing their own lawn chairs, he added.

Being part of the community and the group is as much a part of my tradition as breathing.

Rabbi Steve Silberman of Mobile, Ala.

As for the future, Rabbi Silberman said it was too soon to speculate about the vaccine, although he conceded that he has hope that his congregation can begin a normal schedule again in the not-too-distant future.

Wed love to have a party when all this is all over, he said. I have no idea where or when that might take place. Maybe in peoples homes or in a variety of homes, or perhaps the synagogue. Well celebrate being together again, the community that weve all missed so much.

Hey, we may even drink a little wine.

Christopher Harress

Caren Tinajero is a DACA recipient and first generation college graduate. She became a nurse after graduating the University of Alabama at Birmingham during the pandemic. (Contributed photos)

Navigating a maze of uncertainties may be new for many Alabamians, but not for Caren Tinajero. Shes used to ambiguity as recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program commonly known as DACA.

The Obama-era program protects immigrants who were brought into the country as children. Tinajero was 6 when her family moved from Mexico City to Jefferson County. After being approved for DACA at the age of 16, she enrolled in nursing school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

She became a first-generation college graduate who attained her childhood aspiration to become a nurse, but the pandemic forced UAB to host a virtual graduation. The decision brought her to tears, building on the stress of 2020 as she waited for the U. S. Supreme Court to decide DACAs fate.

Im still going to be a nurse and I can still help those people who are going through so much right now, she told herself. I dont want to just help my people. I want to help this country because, for me, this is my country. Its all I have known.

Tinajero accepted a nurse position at St. Vincents Hospital and was at orientation in June when she got the good news: The Supreme Court rejected Trumps 2017 attempt to end the DACA program. According to the Center for American Progress, an estimated 1,100 DACA recipients in Alabama are working in education, healthcare and food-related jobs.

But about a month after the ruling, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security blocked new applicants. A federal judge then ordered DHS to start accepting new applicants. But Texas teamed up with eight other states to challenge the programs legality in another lawsuit.

In the fall, a busy work schedule kept Tinajero mostly distracted from the election news. But she knew what was at stake. Trump continued to push for strict immigration polices while Joe Biden, then the Democratic nominee, promised to reinstate DACA.

Tinajero couldnt vote because she is not yet a citizen, although she hopes to become one and is married to a US citizen. Instead, she began to share her story. Tinajero used to be quiet about her being an immigrant, but these past four years encouraged her to speak her truth.

Maybe I will help change someones mind, and that could possibly positively impact everyone in our country and make a difference through their vote, she said.

I dont want to just help my people. I want to help this country because, for me, this is my country. Its all I have known.

Caren Tinajero

While at first Tinajero didnt work directly with COVID-19 cases, in October she became one of the more than 15,000 healthcare workers to be infected. She took off work after feeling a fever, by the time she tested positive she lost her sense of taste.

She quarantined at home away from her husband, who tested positive right after her. Even after she recovered, she felt hesitant to start work again. She was worried about getting her coworkers or her elderly patients sick. Tinajero waited until the hospital gave her the all clear to return.

As cases rise in Alabama now, following the holidays, Tinajero said the hospital is making extra space for stable COVID-19 patients. She said her coworkers have been taking turns helping out due to staff shortages. Tinajero has spent a shift taking care of COVID patients, which she didnt expect as a new nurse. But after a more experienced nurse showed her where to find the proper PPE and medicines, Tinajero said she was happy to help.

Confronting a pandemic, and with DACA still up in the air, she said, her faith and her family keep her grounded. She didnt receive any scholarships for college. So she gets choked up talking about how her mother would get home late after cleaning extra homes or how her father would ask for pay advances from his boss.

In honor of her them, she decorated her graduation cap with a picture she took with her parents during the first day at nursing school, Monarch butterflies and a quote that says in Spanish: When you see me flying, remember that you gave me the wings.

Even if I try to pay them back, I wouldnt be able to pay them for all the work and sacrifices theyve done for me at this moment, She said. I may not know why all of this is happening, but I do know God has a plan for it, even if I dont know why.

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Sam Bowman graduated Daphne High School amid the pandemic, but he missed out on a ceremony, baseball season and prom.

For Sam Bowman, the coronavirus pandemic cheated him, and thousands like him, of high school memories.

Bowman, who turned 18 in May, was devastated by the losses in 2020: Missing a baseball season in which he had high hopes for success, the cancellation of the schools prom and a graduation that was hurried and devoid of hugs and handshakes.

His senior baseball season would have been a culmination of a career beginning in eighth grade. He started at third base during his sophomore and junior years. He earned all-county recognition and received honorable mention for the all-region squads. He was shifting over to play shortstop for his senior year when the season came to an abrupt end.

They told us that they thought wed be able to play the teams in the county and I thought, At least I could play those teams and go to the playoffs, said Bowman. Then they canceled the whole thing. It was really disappointing.

But the most painful loss had little to do with the pandemic. On July 30, Bowmans close friend, Dalton DeFilippi, was killed in a car crash. DeFilippi and Bowman worked out together, went to the beach together, and hung out at my house and swam and just a lot of different stuff.

It was tough, Bowman said. Ive known him my whole life. Ive been good friends with his brother. (Dalton) lived his life to his fullest. He was a great kid.

Bowmans fall semester as an incoming freshman at the University of Mobile was a challenge. He moved into a dorm in August and had to adjust to a mix of in-person and remote classes. His grades, he said, suffered somewhat in the strange environment.

I think Ive definitely grown in the past year ... as much as it stunk, I came out better for it.

Sam Bowman, Daphne High School graduate

Then he got COVID-19 in late October.

Excerpt from:

'My whole world went away': 2020 through the eyes of Alabamians - AL.com

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