COVID-19 survivors, others reflect after one year of the pandemic

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Professor of practice of journalism Andrew Smith was waiting for test results that would eventually tell him he was one of the first people to have COVID-19 in the greater Manhattan area in mid-March 2020. Now a year later, he hopes the community will continue to heal as the pandemic continues. (Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s Note: Andrew Smith, professor of practice in journalism and mass communications, is also the chairperson of the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors.

This time one year ago, professor of practice in journalism and mass communications Andrew Smith was waiting on his test results for COVID-19. Given how sick he already was and his recent international travels, a positive test was almost inevitable.

Smith ultimately became one of the first COVID-19 cases in the state of Kansas and the first in the area. While he was ill, he spent about a week in the hospital, and recovery in the aftermath was a slow, months-long process.

“A year ago today, I wish I knew that I was going to be OK,” Smith said.

Smith’s story is one of countless to be told from the last year in the pandemic — from the thousands of people who had COVID-19, the families of those who didn’t survive the illness and those who had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic.

“I think all of us are scarred in some way. Whether that be emotionally, spiritually, psychologically — there’s a lot of carnage in the wake of this disease and pandemic,” Smith said. “I think all of us are going to feel this pretty much for the rest of our lives.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES FROM THE PANDEMIC

The pandemic might have ravaged the economy and caused irreparable damage to the health and lives of thousands in the community, but it’s brought with it some change for the better, too, President Richard Myers said.

When the burgeoning COVID-19 outbreak first shut down in-person operations at Kansas State a little over a year ago, university faculty and staff scrambled to offer education in a fully-remote format. That transition was stressful, but it also provided a new paradigm for what higher education can be.

“We have some flexibility we didn’t think we had,” Myers said.

Myers said he expects K-State and other higher education institutions to expand their hybrid course offerings, mixing the best parts of in-person and online classes to maximize a student’s education.

For Maggie Borders, graduate student in counseling and student development, the pandemic was tough to adapt to but opened the door for more accessibility. Borders, who has ADHD, said she sometimes has a hard time processing audio quickly.

“It’ll take my brain a moment or two to put the words together, and with the pandemic, we’ve got a lot more closed captioning,” Borders said.

For Smith, the best thing that came from the pandemic is the sense of community instilled by the crisis despite the prolonged separation and isolation.

“We as a community are all doing this together,” Smith said. “I think we’ve seen a lot of examples of community working together.”

When Smith and his family were sick and stuck in an unexpected isolation for weeks, neighbors and students did their best to support them. In some cases, that was in tangible ways, like purchasing groceries and sending packages of essentials. But it was also an outpouring of encouragement, prayers and thoughtful messages on social media.

“For me, that was such a huge boost in spirit and for care and for feeling cared about,” Smith said. “As soon as we were better, we’ve returned the favor to other people.”

‘THE BEGINNING OF THE END’

Although the pandemic is still ongoing and new cases pop up in the community weekly, K-State is confident the fall semester will be more like normal than this year has been.

For one thing, every eligible American adult who wants a vaccine should be able to get one soon, but also community spread is down across the state. In Riley County, the positivity rate has been below five percent for about two months.

The university tentatively announced a plan to begin a formal phase-out of most, if not all, campus COVID-19 restrictions on Aug. 1. What exactly that will look like is uncertain, but Myers said he sees a future where more in-person and larger classes are available again.

“I’m confident,” Myers said. “We’ve got to keep everybody safe and so that’ll be uppermost in our minds.”

That isn’t set in stone, however. He said more transmissible variants of the virus continue to pose a threat to further reopening plans, but there is a glimmer of hope that the end of the crisis is coming.

“It’ll give [students] a chance to start to spread their wings and get to know people,” Myers said. “All the things that contribute to their university experience are going to open up, and I’m really looking forward to that opportunity for everybody, but particularly for students.”

Previously, local health officer Julie Gibbs said she believes the story of the pandemic could soon be coming to a close.

“I hope it’s the beginning of the end,” she said. “We’ve been through the height of the pandemic and we know what to do if a problem does occur.”

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Kaylie Mclaughlin
My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.