In their own words: how COVID-19 impacted five locals

How COVID-19 impacted area residents

As more Onondaga County residents get vaccinated against COVID-19, five shared how the pandemic has affected their lives.
Published: June 2, 2021
A woman receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from a volunteer nurse.
Nearly 30% of Onondaga County residents between the ages of 16 and 34 received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 29.

Nearly 40% of Onondaga County residents between the ages of 35 and 64 received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 29, followed by nearly 30% of county residents between the ages of 16 and 34.

As local vaccination sites continue to administer doses, The NewsHouse spoke to residents outside the New York State Fairgrounds’ vaccination site about the ways the pandemic has affected their lives.

Here’s what they shared:

Paul Esden, 28

Paul Esden stands outside a vaccination center.

(I) had to, quarantine is probably the wrong word but just live out of my house for a long time. My job gave me a furlough, so basically I had to stay at home for like three months as soon as it hit, which was around, for us anyway, was March-April. Suddenly, I had no time to do anything because of all my jobs, and all of a sudden, all I had was time, but at home, so it was kind of startling. And then socially, I couldn’t do anything because of everything going on, I was a little scared and nervous about everything, so it was just a bombshell …

I always stayed close to the vest, I didn’t do anything too crazy, like big crowds. Anytime an opportunity like that presented itself — “Hey, Paul, do you want to come …” — I’m like, “Eh, maybe not,” “Eh, you know, no, I’m good.” I’ve really stayed away from that, which is kind of crazy now, for over a year …

I don’t want to get too dramatic, but I think (the pandemic) saved my relationship. I live with my fiance, we’ve been together for years … My fiance and us were living together in the house, and it was great, but I was always working, so it was like nothing. And then all of a sudden, when I was given the gift — which is kind of a weird way to say it, because so many people have died, obviously, from this disease — but just in my own life, suddenly getting all of this time on our hands, we rededicated ourselves to each other, and that saved our relationship apparently because I had the blinders on with my job and everything like that. So she even said that it saved our relationship, and now we’re trying to have a baby … It helped us reach another level …

I pinch myself all the time, when you’re putting on a mask to go outside, and the way life was before. I don’t know if masks will ever go away, but I hope that there’s kind of a sense of normalcy, a light at the end of the tunnel sort of thing, and that’s what hopefully this vaccine is doing for a lot of people.

Jill Robbins, 18

I obviously did a lot more (before the pandemic) than I do now, I was probably less depressed, definitely. I graduated high school, and it’s not because of COVID happening, but I definitely think it helped because I was out of school, and I hated going to school and that was the whole problem, so when I was finally online and everything, it just helped out, but it’s still terrible that it happened … I’m fine now, but in the beginning it was definitely freaky and depressing, but now I’ve got two jobs, I’m doing good …

I didn’t really like school obviously, so I didn’t mind not seeing anyone, but it was just weird having to do everything online instead of being in class and stuff, so that was a little weird, but other than that it was fine. It was just weird. Weird is the only word that I can describe it …

You have to just enjoy life while you can. This is all we get. I feel like, before the pandemic, no one enjoyed it as much.

Madison Garcia, 28

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Oh, (my life before the pandemic) was amazing. I would say the pandemic slowed us down as far as travel and everything like that, but it is what it is. I was actually on maternity leave and got COVID. I had a, at the time I think she was only 2 months old, and a 2-year-old, so that was pretty difficult. We didn’t go outside, unfortunately it was brought into our home without us knowing … We missed Christmas, but it just hasn’t been anything great lately. We haven’t traveled. My son’s turning 3, we haven’t really seen our family as much as we used to.

(Having COVID-19) was horrible. I would say I was out for about two weeks just not being able to do much. I was constantly overwhelmed. I couldn’t even change my sheets on my bed without being out of breath, necessarily. Couldn’t really do laundry. I had to take care of a newborn and a toddler by myself, so that was pretty difficult to do that all just by myself …

We no longer go out to stores, and I no longer bring my son out anywhere, to be honest. We only really go to school — he just started going to school, to a daycare — but I don’t really bring him to the stores. I stopped going to the mall. I do all my shopping online, even sometimes groceries online just because it’s easier than taking out him and of course his sister. With everything going on, it’s just not safe.

(The pandemic taught me:) Save money, and time is valued with your family.

Yogesh Vempati, 31

(My life before the pandemic) was pretty normal. It was just work, friends and home … A little bit of traveling, every year, monthly, I used to go to India, and that kind of was affected badly by the pandemic …

My travels to India to visit my family, we’ve not been able to do it in the last two years. And here, I was laid off last year, in March, from my job, and it was a bad time because that’s when every other company froze hiring, so I was kind of without a job for like seven months. That was a tough period. But then it just so happened that the same company called me back in October …

Apart from that, in terms of going out, I’ve been fine because most of last year I was staying with sort of a family friend, I was staying with a family, so I wasn’t really alone by myself, so that really helped. And I can tell, for people who are staying by themselves, it would’ve been a really tough time. I was kind of fortunate, I guess …

I wasn’t as much in touch with (the family friend) before the pandemic because my life here was just normal, and I only used to visit them on my way to India, so this gave me a chance to spend more time with them … In terms of myself, I guess I developed some skills. I play the keyboard, and I was on the verge of sort of playing it on-and-off, not being very in love with it, so my friend pushed me into teaching, or taking classes …

Some of us are fortunate, some of us are unfortunate. I see what India is going through now, and some other countries as well, but I hear a lot from India, and things have gotten really bad again, with the second wave. So I just hope people take this as seriously as they should. My point is, you don’t have to really get paranoid and worried about it, but you have to know the seriousness of it and take all the precautions that you’re told to take, and you should be good.

Izabella Pobutkiewicz, 16

Izabella Pobutkiewicz at a vaccination center.

I was always out with friends (before the pandemic), doing things, and I played sports and, I don’t know, I just did more. I don’t really do much anymore. I was more of a scholar, too, which is kind of sad but truthful.

I actually wanted to go out and do things, and I cared about grades and stuff, but without learning as much, and (you) can’t do as much, I’m kind of just a homebody now, which I never was before. I liked going out and having fun, but instead, most of the time when I have plans, I usually end up canceling …

(Online school has been) horrible. I haven’t learned much, and most of my things aren’t handed in on time and stuff because they’re very lenient …

It’s just mainly my social life and school, that’s about it that’s really changed. Because I’ve gotten closer with my family, which is a good and bad thing, but I miss going out and doing things. But at the same time, I’m not as social as I used to be. That’s the biggest thing that’s changed for me.

(The pandemic taught me:) To be careful, mainly, and to not share certain things, like don’t share chapsticks with people, because I used to just like, “Let me borrow that really quick,” but I’ve learned to be careful with certain things.

Avatar for Emma Folts

is a digital producer to The NewsHouse.