EMS Captain. AJ Bryan consults a woman with COVID-19 after answering a call at his home in Yonkers, New York on December 29, 2020. (Photo by John Moore / Getty Image)

Just a year ago, America did not know.

Life still felt normal in February 2020. Anxiety was creating a respiratory disease that had just been named COVID-19. There was panic buying, and a sense of quarrel. Nevertheless it was resented by a large dose of American optimism. Coronovirus still felt like a foreign problem, even as American officials recorded the country’s first known death from the virus.

Exactly one year later, the US COVID-19 caused 500,000 deaths.

A relentless march of death and tragedy has distorted time and memory. After once unimaginable scenes in a country with such wealth and power, it became easy to forget the shocking images. As the year unfolded, Associated Press photographers produced an illustrated record of grief, emotion and resilience. It marks the year that changed America.

Looking back, we can see it happening in stages.

Initially, the crisis felt far away.

Last February, Americans still greeted each other with a handshake and praised working in crowded public transportation. The children were still in school in actual classrooms. Hollywood icon Tom Hanks walked the red carpet at the Oscars, not knowing a month later that he and his wife would contract the Coved-19. Baseball spring training attracted the general crowd, with no face mask.

But an ominous cruise ship with COVID-infected passengers sailed off the coast of California. Within weeks, the Grand Princess – and early efforts by state and federal governments to prevent it from coming in – became a symbol of America’s misconception that it could keep the disease out.

Words like shutdown and social disturbances were not part of our national vocabulary in those early days. Some of us wore masks as we stood in long lines for groceries and cleaned the toilet paper shelves.

LAUSD heating and air conditioning supervisor Blake Pulford receives his Modern COVID-19 vaccination in Los Angeles. (Al Seeb / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images).

Heartbreak and despair came quickly.

The nightmares we saw in China and Italy reached America and the nation attracted attention. Nursing homes near Seattle became the sites of the first deadly American outbreak. We saw the elderly and the lonely vulnerable victim: the elderly with a COVID-19, stretched out on a hospital bed, his family blowing a kiss through a window.

The World Health Organization declared the crisis an epidemic in March, and everything from college campuses to corporate headquarters was cleared. The NCAA announced that the rite of spring for so many Americans – its college basketball tournament – would be played before the largely empty arenas, and then abruptly canceled it.

Marcus Young, who works with the hospitals’ environmental services team, cleans a room for Joan Children Ferguson, who is recovering from COVID-19 on December 17, 2020 at Roseland Community Hospital in Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Ima

The country’s leading expert on infectious disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci became a household name at daily news conferences. When he estimated in March that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the virus, he was enraged by gross total disbelief. President Donald Trump called hydroxychloroquine a “game changer”, but medical experts disagreed.

As soon as the hotspots exploded across the country, there was a stir of American hustle and bustle. Usually jam-packed Los Angeles empties into the ghastly sections of the open road. The light stopped in Times Square, but its famous energy and crowd vanished. April felt like Armageddon in New York City; The ambulance was constantly afraid of deserted roads, body bags were forklifted in refrigerated trucks that were parked outside hospitals where they served as a makeshift morgue and a symbol of death.

Aerial footage captured by the AP showed another unimaginable scene: a mass grave in New York City for the unclaimed dead bodies of COVID-19 victims. Workers in hazmat suits were seen, neatly dropping wooden coffins on top of each other in deep trenches dug into the potter’s farm off the coast of the Bronx.

We noted the bravery of the health workers and tried to show our gratitude; New Yorkers clapped and chewed and banged each night at 7 a.m. to honor those doctors and nurses.

We mourned the nonstop trauma he had absorbed at the front.

Stunned and exhausted, he fought to save the sick and vowed not to let the victims die alone. Inside the hospital rooms, where countless patients had no family to rest, the ghoulish work of solitude fell into the cramped and emotionally drained doctors, nurses and hospital chambers. Some held tears as they rested and prayed non-stop. One pastor in Georgia said, “There’s a lot of death right now, it’s a heap on you, it feels heavy.”

The US Capitol (background) and the Washington Monument are seen as the COVID-19 Memorial, during a vigil on January 19, 2021 at the Washington Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to honor the lives of losers at Koshid-19 Was highlighted. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON

The reality is that America had become the global epicenter of the deadliest pandemic in modern history that crashed into focus.

Life went online: everything from work and school to doctor appointments, birthday parties, weddings – and funerals.

It became clear that no one was safe. But some were at greater risk. The disproportionate disparities in contracting viruses played in the US as data suggest that Black and Latino people were fully affected by the virus and were dying disproportionately.

Holding COVID-19 became one of many concerns as the epidemic closed society, forcing businesses to close and unemployment to skyrocket. Paychecks have shrunk or disappeared for millions, and painful depictions of hunger have surfaced across the country, as Americans lived in food banks, many for the first time in their lives.

Science mixed with politics, deepened a national divide and added to the tension of a nation. People protested against racial injustice, most of them wearing masks on the streets.

In the midst of life’s ups and downs, we sought normalcy. In some places restaurants hung their “open” signs and refused to obey stay-at-home orders, which welcome customers willing to dine inside. Others came up with creative al fresco options. In the parking lot of a California restaurant, a couple brought their own table and even fine china to enjoy Italian tableouts.

Then there were some glimpses of hope.

Vaccines arrived in the middle, increasing losses in mid-December, kicking off the biggest vaccination effort in US history. It felt like the first good news in a ruined year. As doctors and nurses received the first shots, some cheered. Others weep, the constant trauma and sorrow merge with hope in an indescribable doom.

As vaccine supplies picked up – slowly – many of the nation’s amusement parks and stadiums reopened as vaccinated mega sites, months after they were vacated.

Holidays, therefore, are often a time of hope, and bring more misery. Empty chairs on the family table were a painful memory of lost loved ones. Millions of Americans ignored official pleas to avoid travel and celebrations, making the holidays a catalyst for new infections. Thanks on the rise of new cases and then after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, each day appears to set new records for transition.

As the country and the world said goodbye, and a good recovery by 2020, it became clear that 2021, at least the initial months, would look quite similar.

Politics changed with Trump taking over President Joe Biden. After four years of chaos and controversy, the new president brought a calm spirit to national politics. Still, the vaccine continues to be delayed, and it is unclear whether the US is winning its battle against the virus.

The death toll of COVID-19 is not stopping at 500,000, and the virus has mutated countless times, some variants are easy to spread and difficult to protect.

We wonder, what will be our new normal form? Will we again roam the amusement park or pack into a movie theater or hold a huge business conference or crowd Times Square for a ball drop to mark the end of another year?

The deadliest year in American history has taught us that only time will tell.