It’s now been a full year of living under the physical, health-related and emotional restrictions imposed upon all of us by the coronavirus pandemic. The first shelter-in-place edict from the county’s public health officer was issued on March 16, 2020. We have felt at times like we aren’t really living so much as we are just merely surviving. Walking around with half-covered faces, not seeing smiles, and separated from co-workers, neighbors, grandparents and schoolmates is a real downer. That we have kept it together this well, for this long, is a miracle. Salute yourself.

At this newspaper, our main job is to follow and chronicle our shared “public life.” That has not been easy when so much of that public life has been shut down, moved to a computer screen or canceled until further notice. We’ve gone so long that Sebastopol has had two police chiefs come and go. The city of Healdsburg has a new city manager. Cloverdale, Windsor, Sebastopol and Healdsburg all have new faces on their city councils. These are all faces we have never seen except at a Zoom meeting or behind a mask.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

The west county just had a very important election about raising money to keep schools open and emergency safety personnel employed. Both measures (Measure A and B) failed. Who knows if the results might have been different if in-person public forums could have been held and if election volunteers had been able to go door-to-door with their messages? The town of Windsor will hold a special election May 4 to elect a new council member. Will the winner among the field of five candidates be the person with the biggest social media account or the best Zoom skills?

 This week, the county Board of Supervisors is holding a series of “virtual” town hall meetings on a major proposal to update the county’s Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance. When the last updates were heard in 2018, more than 500 people overflowed the supervisor’s hearing room and hours of live public testimony was shared. Can we really expect best decisions and satisfactory policy to be made on remote computer screens and long-distance democracy?

Let’s hope this pandemic won’t last so long that all our public squares, community commons and government offices are permanently altered or replaced by internet-based replicates. (It may already be too late.)

Students have been doing distance learning from their homes. Some have teachers they have never met in person. Very few of us have been able to meet and make new friends. How can you call that “living?”

Mostly, our town greens, plazas and public squares have been vacant. Our local shops and businesses are struggling to stay open through this long and continuing economic recession. But we now have new hopes that the vaccinations will allow us to eventually reopen our full economy and return to our public squares and breathe deeply and celebrate.

This past year of 2020 was a year of “group burnout,” and we’re not talking about the wildfires of last August. Increased workplace demands, at-home work and study lockdowns, lack of feeling connected, rewarded or needed are real mental health challenges we all now face.

Too many of us are denying our own burnout. We’ve all gone a year now repeating the same lie whenever someone asks us how we’re doing. We’re not fine. We should stop saying we are and we should answer each other with true feelings. Absent counseling or mental health programs, we can offer peer-to-peer support and conversation. We could all benefit from less computer screen time and remote meetings. (Don’t be a Zoombie.) Get outdoors and maybe find a new hobby. Exercise and get your heart pumping a little. Get some quality sleep. Find a new friend.

— Rollie Atkinson

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