When Austin cancelled its South-By-Southwest festival on March 6 last year, many Houstonians started to worry. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was still going strong, and people were fearful it was next on the chopping block. Coronavirus case rates were creeping up across the United States, a run on toilet paper was in its early days, and people were questioning whether or not we might need to wear masks.
Finally, the reckoning came on March 11: RodeoHouston was shut down and Harris County declared a state of emergency. Sen. Ted Cruz was quarantining after an exposure, and the Houston Health Department had recently set up a call center to answer questions. At that point, only 14 people had either tested positive or were presumed positive for Covid-19 in the Houston area. No one locally had died.
A year later and Congress has just passed a third stimulus package. As of March 10, 175.293 people in Houston have tested positive for Covid-19, though the actual number is much higher, according to local studies. There have been 2,034 deaths. Every aspect of our lives has been upended, and while there's some hope on the horizon, we at Houstonia are reflecting on our year living with this pandemic.
Catherine Wendlandt, digital editor
When rumors and began percolating last year about the mysterious virus spreading across the world, I was annoyed. People had much bigger problems to worry about than this latest hysteria, like how by January 29, 2020, there had been 2,650 pneumonia and influenza deaths in Texas. So, I wrote a story explaining the virus, and why people should be more concerned about getting the flu.
Well, by March I knew that story hadn't aged well ... like at all ... and we at Houstonia began posting daily coronavirus updates for our city. We interviewed doctors about the situation in Italy and in Spain, which last spring were facing the brunt of the pandemic, and the situation in Houston, which had the worst outbreak in the state. There were lots of unknowns about the virus, but we tried to keep up with all the new developments—remember when news broke that Covid-19 could take away your sense of smell?
We wrote about DIY masks and kept up with the never-ending struggles between the county and Gov. Abbott about mask mandates. As the year wore on, schools returned and people weren't sure what to do. Holidays came, and we had to figure out how to celebrate in the midst of a pandemic. Everyone was exhausted by it all, so we shared stories and images of hope. We thanked the doctors and nurses on the front lines. And when vaccines finally made their way to Houston last December, we wrote about that too.
So where are we now? Well, while there was some hope that RodeoHouston might get back in the saddle for the 2021 event, those hopes were dashed by February. (Although, the Junior Show and several other events are still being held as private events). But, there hasn't been nearly as many cases of the flu (you can thank face masks for that). There are now three vaccines on the scene, and folks are warily looking at a potential finish line. But there are still many unknowns and we're likely to be in this for a while longer, so keep washing those hands, y'all.
Gwendolyn Knapp, managing editor
In early March, our Travel and Outdoors section went from publishing travel guides on Kenya, Thomasville, Georgia and Tampa to an abrupt halt on all things wanderlusting. We almost had a stop on outdoors stories, too, as folks poured into our local parks (seemingly the only place we could hangout in the early days of Stay Home/WFH) and we questioned whether it was even safe to get out on the packed trails at Memorial Park. Park closures across the state and city followed soon after, and we stayed glued to park opening/closure news throughout the spring and summer.
A year later, where are we at? Well, travel writers can’t be held down for long—we’ve had one contributor even escape to Pakistan recently. But closer to home, we Houstonians are still all about our parks and greenspaces, though we’ve seemed to spread out and adapt to changes in etiquette (masking up and social distancing). We’re gearing up for a spring and summer full of outdoor recreation with Houston parks planning to open ballfields, playgrounds, picnic pavilion rentals, outdoor exercise stations, and more facilities by the end of March, and other facilities remaining closed—like swimming pools, whomp whomp. But we’ll take it, and we’ll see you outside on our favorite trails or maybe even running the streets of H-Town—not the safest, but we’ve all formed a few new exercise habits during the Covid era, right?
Timothy Malcolm, dining editor
Over the first two weeks of March 2020, I had two beer garden food crawls, enjoyed three restaurant review dinners, participated in the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Gold Buckle Foodie Awards, and sampled multiple dishes at the new Underground Hall in Downtown Houston. Then everything stopped. Harris County restaurants and bars were ordered to pause dine-in service on March 17 as Covid-19 rates began surging through the region.
So, we and everyone else in the hospitality industry pivoted. We began recommending takeout meals, first monthly, then weekly. We highlighted the work of local food producers thriving at the farmers market and chefs trying something new, whether a fun takeout menu or a total reinvention of their career. And, of course, we kept everyone abreast of who was offering to-go and delivery options, and who was reopening dining rooms when restaurants were finally allowed to do so.
Now, things remain uncertain or, uh ... cautious. Gov. Greg Abbott has permitted restaurants and bars to reopen to full capacity, though many establishments are playing it safe and keeping restrictions in place. Meanwhile, you can always get takeout and delivery. Cocktails at home? We’re probably better at that! We’re also pretty good at helping each other, and maybe that’s the most important thing we’ve learned over the last year: Houstonians are always looking out for one another.
Emma Schkloven, arts editor
Arts & Culture had just picked up RodeoHouston press passes to cover the Bayou City's own Lizzo in all her gloriousness when everything came to a screeching stop. We also had a full slate of previews and reviews scheduled for everything, from the Alley's 1984 to Houston Ballet's Forged in Houston, and we even had an interview with Broadway leading lady/TUTS Gala headliner Audra MacDonald in the wings before the curtain came down on all things arts (and yes, we're still devastated you never got to read that interview).
But the arts have a way of surviving and, dare we say it, thriving, even in the most difficult of times, and within a couple of months galleries and companies were heading online, outside, and literally into the streets to bring their share their works with the Houston community. And the variety of offerings we've been gifted—from virtual art exhibitions to Zoom-produced plays—during this time of social distancing speaks to the devotion and dedication arts organizations in this city have for their audiences and their craft.
Meanwhile museums and galleries have mostly reopened their doors (with strict safety protocols) and a few organizations, like Houston Symphony have even hosted audiences at a select capacity. And we've still had a few big moments along the way with the opening of the MFAH's Kinder Building and the newly restored Rothko Chapel. Sure, there's nothing like the experience of coming together and cheering after that show-stopping number, but it's moments like this that make it easy to see why the astronomically artistic Renaissance Era followed in the wake of the Black Death and, similarly, why the Roaring '20s came after the Spanish flu. Who knows, we may see the same here in Space City.