ELIZABETH GULINO

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PHOTO: STEFFI LOOS/GETTY IMAGES.

Before the 2020–2021 flu season began, experts were warning of an influenza-and-COVID-19 “twindemic” — a viral mash-up that could wreak havoc on the United States healthcare system. The main concern was that we’d see an increase in hospitalizations from the seasonal flu, putting even more of a strain on already overtaxed hospitals. But it appears that those worries may have been unfounded. The flu has all but disappeared this year.

Between October 1, 2020 and January 30, 2021, only 155 people in the United States were hospitalized because of the flu; during that same time frame last year…


MIREL ZAMAN

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Heather Bartos, MD, OB/GYN, received no salary for most of last year. She was still working all week: delivering babies in nearby hospitals, performing routine exams, logging into telehealth appointments. But because she has her own private practice, soon after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, she had to make a choice between reducing her employees’ work hours or going without pay herself; she chose the latter.

“When people think ‘doctor,’ they think ‘someone who makes a ton of money,’ ” says Dr. Bartos, who’s based in Frisco, TX. “But no. I’ve taken a…


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MOLLY LONGMAN

In late January, Isabela Medina sat on the floor at the back of a grocery store for about five hours. She was waiting there in the hopes of receiving a “leftover” COVID-19 vaccine — a dose from an open vial that would expire and be thrown out at the end of the day if it wasn’t injected into an arm. The 25-year-old was in luck: A health care worker announced there were eight leftover doses. They shouted out into the grocery aisles in a booming voice: Anyone here over 65 want a vaccine? Then, they turned to Medina…


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OLIVIA HARRISON

Laura* had been a fully employed member of the workforce since 1985, and at her most recent job as an office administrator since 1999. In August of 2020, however, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and with no other job lined up — or even a plan to find one — she made the decision to quit.

“For 21 years, I had been commuting 90 minutes each way to my job,” Laura tells Refinery29 “This was eating away at what little personal time I had.” She had long contemplated making a change — perhaps moving or reducing…


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NATALIE GONTCHAROVA

The “baby boom” predicted at the beginning of the pandemic is now widely acknowledged to have been a baby bust. Though there was an assumption that people would take the opportunity to procreate while stuck at home, instead states have reported large declines in birth rates for December 2020, nine months after lockdowns began in March.

This shouldn’t come as such a surprise. As long ago as June 2020, the Brookings Institution predicted that there would be up to half a million fewer babies born in 2021 than in 2019 (3.3 vs. 3.8 million) due to the economic…


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LINNE HALPERN

2020 was the year I was supposed to ramp up my commitment to dating, push myself outside my comfort zone, and finally pencil in the time and energy required to meet someone. Instead, I found myself newly unemployed and moving home to live with my parents. I landed in my childhood bedroom, surrounded by bookshelves displaying 9th grade reading material and picture frames parading friendships I no longer kept up with.

Meanwhile, quarantine seemed to be driving everyone around me to get serious about their relationships. I watched as friends went from “casually dating” to moving in with…


OLIVIA HARRISON

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY SAVANA OGBURN.

Because of a congenital heart defect, I have an annual checkup with a cardiologist. This yearly visit to the hospital — involving numerous tests, conversations about future surgeries, and a waiting room filled with babies who have only just embarked on the same lifelong journey of doctors’ appointments and arrhythmias that I’ve been on for almost 30 years — is always an existential trip. But perhaps one of the most daunting parts of the day is when the triage nurse asks for my emergency contact info. I give the name, phone number, and address without hesitation, but when…


SYDNEY CLARKE

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY MYESHA EVON GARDNER.

I started dealing with acne in middle school, and by the time 8th grade rolled around, I made it my mission to see a dermatologist and enter high school zit-free. In reality, my breakouts didn’t subside until my sophomore year, and I’ve maintained clearer skin since then with prescriptions and topical treatments. After college, I thought I could wash my hands of my nighttime retinol routine — but then the pandemic hit, and my skin went back to its old habits. …


NATALIE GONTCHAROVA

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PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES.

Yesterday I was minding my business and eating a banana for an afternoon snack, when my husband walked in, immediately gave me a horrified look, and exclaimed, “Why are you eating your banana upside-down?”

I looked at my banana. It looked very much like it was in the correct position to be eaten. I asked what he meant, wondering if this was some sort of elaborate marital troll. “You’re supposed to peel it from this side,” he said, indicating the stem, motioning that it should have been what was opened first. Meanwhile, I had peeled it from the…


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WHIZY KIM

When Clara*, 32, realized her debt was getting out of control, she chose to do something that is both a valid recourse for people in her position and also a totally stigmatized one: She filed for bankruptcy. “I’d been feeling the effects of not being able to pay all of my monthly obligations — that happened for almost two years,” she recalls. “I had about 13 credit cards and a personal loan, and at the time my income was very low.” All together, the debt amounted to about $20,000. …

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