This week marks one year since the pandemic made an indelible imprint on Rhode Island Catholic and our readers. A week before, on March 19, 2020, we published what would be our last print version of the newspaper until June 11, when we returned to home delivery with our coverage of the Ordination of Father Hiep Van Nguyen to the priesthood. With our chancery offices closed indefinitely, as COVID-19 infections spread across the nation, we continued our coverage of the news and happenings across the Diocese of Providence but delivered that content to readers through our long-established website and our social media pages.
When our staff left the building after publishing that last print version, none of us had any idea when the world would return to even a new sense of normal. A week earlier, my son, who was away in his first year of study for his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, called after seeing news reports of various shutdowns across the country and asked me if the health crisis would be as bad as people were predicting. I told him that I thought it was going to be even worse based upon some reporting I had done a couple of weeks earlier in which I interviewed several sources in Italy about how badly things were unfolding there.
The university soon moved its class offerings to online only, including science and engineering labs, and many of his fellow students started making the trek home to all corners of the globe. With some persistence, I eventually convinced my son that it would probably be safer for him to finish out the semester online from home instead of his room on campus. I flew out to help him pack up his things and move them to a storage facility. This was still in those awkward early days of the pandemic when mask wearing was not yet being promoted as a safety measure, just social distancing.
The flight back in late March was an experience I’ll never forget. Passengers sat spread out at the gate, eyeing each other suspiciously and glaring if anyone dared to cough or even stifle a sneeze. With only 30 passengers onboard our flight, we all received the first class treatment with each of us getting our very own row to ourselves. As we lifted off, we had no idea what to expect in the days to come. We landed back in Providence at 1 a.m., just as members of the R.I. National Guard were setting up an easel at the bottom of the escalators at TF Green Airport announcing that at 6 a.m. they would begin collecting passengers’ names for contact tracing. Finding one’s car in the airport garage had never been easier. It was right in space 1 at the entrance where I had left it, with almost the entire lot around it still devoid of vehicles. The whole travel experience then was surreal.
Although we are still battling COVID-19 on many fronts a year later, there is a growing sense now that with the rollout of the vaccines better days are coming. Locally, reported cases of new infections and deaths are on the decline, at least for the moment, and churches are allowed to fill to 75 percent of their capacity. We have come a long way since the start of the pandemic and have all developed strategies to keep ourselves and our families as safe as possible. Let us not let down our collective guard now when we’re closer to the finish line than we have ever been. Keep the faith and stay safe!