It started as just some “scary virus,” but then it became much more. Here’s how one Michigander dealt with the realization that COVID-19 was a serious issue. 

BAY CITY, Mich.—Bree Melton remembers her mother talking about some “scary virus” that was popping up around the globe at the end of 2019. 

But Melton, a 24-year-old marketing specialist who at the time was in the process of finishing her Master’s Degree at Central Michigan University, was too busy with schoolwork to keep tabs on what was being reported on the news. She did what most of us do when we learn of new issues sparking up around the world and brushed it off. 

“It didn’t really become real for me until March of 2020,” Melton told The ‘Gander. “I went home for spring break, and about mid-week, my university canceled in-person classes for an additional two weeks.”

At first, Melton said, she was thrilled. What student wouldn’t want an extended spring break? But then in-person classes were canceled for the rest of the semester. As soon as that happened, Melton said she realized how serious things actually were. 

Melton, who spent a lot of her time living between Bay City and Mt. Pleasant, taught classes as a graduate assistant at CMU. She was told before classes began that the courses she would teach would be broadcast online for students who didn’t want to attend in person, but that she would still teach from the classroom for those who did want the in-person experience. 

“It was a very surreal experience speaking to what ended up being a mostly online class, and it did complicate my workload significantly as an educator, but I can’t complain too much because my university ultimately had the lowest COVID transmission rates in the state for quite some time,” she said. 

At her post-graduate job, Melton said her employer has been phenomenal about ensuring preventative measures. Her offices are regularly sanitized and staff members who feel even slightly sick are encouraged to work from. 

“I feel as secure as you possibly can in a pandemic work setting,” she said. 

But outside of work, life was “really strange,” Melton said. Things have improved thanks to the emergence of three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, but they’re far from normal. 

“I do still feel pretty isolated, but I have an amazing support system of family and friends, and we make an effort to keep in touch during this crazy time,” Melton said. 

And it really has been a crazy time for Melton. She said a lot of people she knows tested positive for the virus at some point during the pandemic. One of them nearly died, she said. He was placed on a ventilator before eventually recovering. 

Today, Michigan has been a sort of hotspot for COVID-19 vases. More than 1.3 million cases have been confirmed across the state, while more than 24,000 people have died from the virus. 

And in recent months, new variants of the virus have wreaked havoc. The latest, the Omicron variant, has yet to officially reach Michigan, but cases have started to be reported in the US. 

But there also have been positives Melton thinks have stemmed from the pandemic. For example, she said she’s thrilled that the country as a whole has begun to revisit worker rights. She said she’s seen higher wages and more work-from-home opportunities advertised. 

“A lot of people that I know have been making positive career changes because of it, and I think it’s going to be really beneficial for them in the long run,” she said.