By Caleb Lunetta and Emily Alvarenga
Signal Staff Writers
Exactly 365 days ago today, a sentence that at sunrise that same day would have sounded dystopian and foreign to all but a few became the battle cry and infallible truth for millions of Angelenos by sunset: “Stay home, wear your mask and flatten the curve.”
While leaders at all levels of the government attempted to project confidence and/or control, an undeniable discomfort was reaching a crescendo in the background.
March 19, 2020, was the day a number of state and county officials stood at their respective podiums, being broadcast live into people’s homes and phones, to make the stay-at-home orders official. Their respective speeches solidified a government edict whose scope and gravity hadn’t been seen in generations, yet was an inevitable guarantee given the weeks of previous reporting that the storm had arrived: the novel coronavirus.
In the week leading up to Jan. 23, 2020, the day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control officially warned citizens against traveling near Wuhan, China, 14 international locations, including the United States, China and France had all reported at least one case of COVID-19 to the international community.
On Jan. 26, 2020, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department would announce its first case, while public health officials, like Director Barbara Ferrer, would develop into household names in Southern California, due to her and a legion of medical colleagues explaining how a far-off or single case in a nearby community during a pandemic can exponentially increase, and do so rapidly.
On March 13, 2020, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital received its first result indicating a patient tested positive for COVID-19, and within three weeks, the hospital would report its first death.
Santa Clarita Valley school administrators announced the week of March 20 that the temporary pause for on-campus learning would be extended for all grades through May 5, and soon, parents would experience a similar plight when the public health order would be extended indefinitely.
Isolation and closures
Social distancing and unilateral isolation, which forced most businesses and restaurants to close their doors for what they thought would be days, but ended up being months, under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s direct order had already forced people into their homes, closed off from family and friends.
As weeks turned to months, the beginning of the COVID-19 era was labored through across the world. Month after month, stay-at-home restrictions were extended, and with each extension, a mixture of fear, confusion and loss hung over the SCV, the state and entire nation, as it became clear the age of COVID-19 wouldn’t be over soon, and moreover, would continue to upend their lives as they knew it.
Even through the darkest of days, things began to look a bit brighter, as a trickle of acceptance crested the horizon, and what shone through within the SCV — and became the breath of fresh air for many around the community — was that old and young alike felt fear and anxiety toward the state of the world, but ingenuity and desire to help one another would be their universal source of comfort.
“Santa Clarita is no stranger to adversity,” Santa Clarita’s then-Mayor Cameron Smyth said on March 19, 2020. “Just in October, starting with the Tick Fire and the largest evacuation in our history, followed by the tragedy at Saugus High School, the community has come together time and time again to meet the challenges. I have no doubt that this will be the same.”
Smyth’s message quickly became reality. As it had done through the good times, along with the bad, such as past natural disasters and even school shootings, the SCV community rallied together, finding ways to be there for one another while physically distanced.
Helping one another
While the feeling of distance complicated matters, neighbors put their minds and hearts together to join one another in the mutual void that was an unprecedented time, learning how to help SCV first responders, frontline health care workers and the elderly. Thousands of masks were knit, hundreds of groceries were purchased and hundreds of meals were donated.
“I want to help,” said AJ Apone, a Newhall resident, who jumped immediately into action last March in order to supplement the personal protective equipment shortage for hospital staff by 3D-printing masks in his garage.
He added that once he figured out the HEPA filter, he was able to create thousands of medical-grade masks strictly for first responders, funding the project through donations.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support from friends in the community, whether it be friends that have access to the machines … or do outreach to the hospitals and nurses like that,” he said on March 31. “It’s pretty remarkable how much it’s really gained traction in the last four or five days.”
Apone would be one the first narratives of this kind within the Santa Clarita Valley during those first initial months but he certainly wasn’t the last. SCV residents continued to support local businesses, both small or large, as restrictions continued to keep most shuttered.
“What I really found is that my neighbors are just incredible people,” said Janine Mai, a 62-year-old Castaic resident undergoing chemotherapy in the spring of last year. Mai said she had made a single post on Facebook asking for suggestions with home-delivery groceries because her usual deliverer was booked up. Her neighbors “overwhelmed” her with offers to do the grocery shopping for her, volunteering to do the leg work in order to keep her fed and healthy. “Because I got so many people who answered me in terms of how to sort of work the delivery system, I was able today to schedule another home delivery.”
Slowing the spread
Then months later, when a winter surge threatened to overwhelm hospitals, residents once again took up arms, working together to once again slow the spread of the virus and support front-line health care workers.
In the year since the stay-at-home order went into effect, SCV residents went through a flurry of emotions, as more was learned about the virus and its effects and each found ways to navigate the ever-changing public health guidelines and restrictions.
“We have been through so much as a hospital, as a community and as a world, but I do feel that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Bud Lawrence, medical director of Henry Mayo’s Emergency Department, on Thursday. “We now have the vaccine in play which I believe is making significant differences in transmission of the virus.”
“I do believe the light is at the end of the tunnel, and we have made such great progress so far and done many great things so far, but there’s still work to be done,” said Lawrence. “But we are certainly heading in the right direction.”