One year later: Voices from south metro area

Locals, former residents reflect on trials endured, lessons learned, hopes

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A year after Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order took effect and drastically changed virtually all aspects of daily life, Coloradans are still grappling with public health orders and — hopefully — nearing the end of the pandemic in sight.

As the state’s health care structure works to vaccinate more Coloradans in the coming months, some may begin to look back at what, one year ago, would have seemed an unthinkable change to society and personal life.

Colorado Community Media spoke with local residents — some of whom CCM also talked to roughly a year ago — to hear what the last year has been like for them.

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Barry Kittay, former longtime
Highlands Ranch resident

Barry Kittay wishes he could just write off the past year.

After contracting COVID-19 in March 2020, Kittay spent 20 days in the hospital, including 11 on a ventilator. He lost 55 pounds and had to spend months in rehabilitation, relearning how to walk, drive a car and even shower.

“The best way I can put it is it’s kind of a lost year,” he said. “It took a long time to get healthy again … I would call it a lost year, a wasted year.”

Kittay was a longtime Highlands Ranch resident before he moved during the pandemic to a mountain town.

He was deeply rattled by his bout with the disease and how close he came to death. After leaving the hospital, Kittay said he was generally more nervous than before his illness.

Sharp loud noises still make him jump and occasionally, the fear he experienced shortly after he recovered returns.

“I still go to bed and wonder if I will wake up in the morning once in a while,” he said.

Physically, he hasn’t had many long-term symptoms from the illness, he said.

While he was relieved to learn he still had antibodies for the disease as recently as February, Kittay still decided to get his first of two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine recently.

After spending so much time in the hospital, “I just don’t want to have to ever do that again,” he said.

Kittay lost several friends over the past year, including three who died from COVID-19.

“That’s been pretty tough,” he said.

In the coming months, he’s hoping to be able to attend a Motley Crue concert that was rescheduled last year. He’s also thinking about whether or not he will feel comfortable attending a Broncos game next season.

“I just would like life to be back to normal,” he said. “And it’s not.”

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Doug Stephens, Littleton Police
Department chief

“I hope the community truly understands the heroism demonstrated by our officers and professional staff over the last year as they faced an unknown and deadly threat on a daily basis. The men and women of our department have once again proven they can overcome any adversity.

“COVID has presented all of us with unprecedented challenges on a scale no one ever truly anticipated. Our personnel make a living by being flexible and demonstrating their ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, however, the pandemic tested these traits on an epic scale. With little known about the virus in the beginning of the pandemic, world health experts cautioned people to isolate at home for their own safety. Our personnel did not have that option and bravely continued to show up every day and night to serve their community while facing a potentially fatal threat. By stepping up and doing their duty they placed themselves in harm’s way against an unseen enemy in COVID.

“As we come out of the pandemic, I am incredibly proud of the men and women of the Littleton Police Department for their dedication to their community despite great personal risk, that is the soul of a police officer.”

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Brian White, owner of Forever Flowers in east Centennial

Brian White’s mom-and-pop flowers shop closed for a month last year in March and April, not taking any orders at all.

“When we reopened, we kind of had to modify our business model. We used to have people coming in all the time, and we just said we’re going to do nothing but preordered, prepaid pickups and deliveries,” said White, a 64-year-old south Aurora resident.

He runs the shop — a bright spot in the type of strip-mall shopping center that’s common to Aurora and east Centennial — with his wife and son and another woman and her daughter. He took it over from the previous owner about 10 years ago, he said.

“This little shop has been here for 30 … years or so. It’s gone through a string of owners but stayed a flower shop,” White said.

It continues to endure in the pandemic economy: The shop didn’t take on any kind of pandemic assistance funding, White said. He paid his regular payroll while the shop was closed for a month. The business sits near Smoky Hill and Buckley roads in Centennial.

Personally, the biggest change for White in the pandemic has been not going anywhere in the evenings.

“We do takeout orders from restaurants, but I haven’t sat down at a restaurant for more than a year,” White said. “Movies and concerts and all that stuff — some of that summer stuff we normally do just didn’t get done last year. Probably the same for (most) everybody.”

One year after the stay-at-home order took effect, White feels “in relative terms” lucky to live in Colorado, particularly this part of the state.

“Because I think we don’t have a whole lot of anti-maskers around,” White said, pointing to people refusing to wear masks as one of the reasons his shop stayed closed for a period last spring.

All told, adapting to a new business model has worked well for White’s shop.

“In a lot of ways, it’s kind of been good for business because so many folks are frustrated that they can’t physically go to somebody’s birthday or wedding or funeral,” White said.

“They can’t send their own human beings,” but they can send flowers, White said.

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Harrison Kolar, Highlands Ranch

After the end of his senior year at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch was marred by the virus, Harrison Kolar started anew as a freshman at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs last fall.

With the majority of his classes online and COVID precautions still prohibiting many typical events, Kolar has had an unusual start to his college life.

“With such a key portion of our education missing, it’s definitely more of a struggle to be able to learn the material fully,” he said.

Connecting with students and professors has proven difficult through the new, online world of college. One thing that made this particularly challenging at the start of school was not having a roommate due to the campus COVID-19 precautions.

“Having a roommate definitely has its benefits, you automatically have a friend there on campus, they’re an automatic support structure,” he said. “The first couple of weeks were definitely the loneliest because I knew nobody.”

Over time, he’s grown to see the benefits of having his own space, however.

During his first year, he’s gotten involved in student government, winning the secretary seat in the fall and the vice president seat in the spring.

One of the hardest things about starting college during the pandemic has been the feeling of separation from others, he said.

“There’s a lesser sense of community at the college,” Kolar said. “I have friends who have been here for years and they’re graduating and they say how campus just used to be full of students and people were walking around smiling at each other … making new friends. But now, campus is much more empty.”

Throughout it all, though, Kolar has learned about himself and the world around him, he said.

“COVID has taught me a lot of personal accountability and it’s given me much more of a sense of … we’re in this together,” he said.

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Simar Chadha, graduated from Cherry Creek High School last May

Simar Chadha spent his senior year at Cherry Creek High School during a worsening pandemic. A year later, he’s been attending his first year at Northeastern University in Boston.

Not being able to meet and talk with people in a traditional way stood out to him as the biggest change in the past year.

“Not necessarily for better or worse — it’s just definitely different,” said Chadha, 18, from Greenwood Village. He added: “I’ve had to adapt how I connect and make new connections.”

That’s on top of learning by “looking at a screen rather than talking with a person,” he said.

Finding social outlets proved key to Chadha pulling through. For him, that included talking with others online.

“Being able to find alternatives like playing games together with my friends helped me feel some sense of normalcy,” said Chadha, recalling when the stay-at-home order was lifted going to play sports with friends. “Basically just socializing in any way we could helped me find some purpose.”

Many people felt they were robbed of certain experiences, but Chadha tries to look at the pandemic as an opportunity to try new things.

“I think a big thing I learned, as well as many others, is that you can’t really take for granted what you have, and you can’t expect that some guarantees will be upheld,” Chadha said. He added: “Always having that tough skin and mental agility to adapt to what’s thrown at you … is imperative.”

It’s important to be ready to adapt, “even in small aspects of your life where things don’t go as expected,” Chadha said.

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