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By Steven Goode, Hartford Courant

With sickness, death, and financial hardship, the coronavirus pandemic cast a long shadow on New Year’s Day in Hartford. But as the calendar turns, signs of promise and progress are emerging.

The stroke of midnight Thursday marked the end of 2020, a year in which the coronavirus pandemic brought sickness, death, emotional trauma, and financial hardship to Connecticut.
Friday, in and around Hartford, many welcomed the new year with the hope that 2021 would be a better year — with a vaccine, a new president, and perhaps a better appreciation for racial disparities. At the same time, with the virus still raging across the state, the pain of 2020 was far from gone.

Arthur Murphy is hoping for more unity in 2021; Hector Dominguez hopes when the pandemic begins to ebb he can visit family in New London again; Elderia Prince — admittedly an introvert — would like to see more people and travel. Lisette Aguirra’s hope for the new year sums up what many no doubt woke up Friday thinking, that “everything gets better for all of us and that we can be in peace.”

Hope for unity: When Arthur Murphy pulled into the parking lot at Riverside Park on New Year’s Day, he noticed a hawk circling above the trees and kept an eye on it. Soon enough, Murphy saw the hawk land in some shallow water and begin taking a bath, which he photographed. “I tell everybody to let nature take care of their problems,” said Murphy, 47, of East Hartford. “That’s what life is about.” Murphy said he believes 2020 brought much-needed attention to racial issues and that he hopes people can become more united in 2021. Murphy was at the park with his girlfriend, Donna Heath.

2021 is just a number: Heath, 49, said that she and Murphy travel around the state looking for nature, especially birds, to learn about, watch and photograph. “I’m hopeful that people keeping doing what they’re doing, trying to keep each other safe and wearing a mask,” she said.  Asked if she thought the turn of the page in a calendar put 2020 in the rearview mirror, Heath said she didn’t believe that. “I don’t think changing a number on a calendar is going to change anything,” she said. “It’s just a number to me.”

Hoping to visit family: Hector Dominguez, 66, was riding his bicycle on what he said was a perfect windless day with very little traffic on the streets of Hartford. Dominguez, who lives in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and tries to ride 3 miles a day to stay healthy, doesn’t feel that much changed from Thursday night to Friday morning. “We still have the coronavirus,” he said. But Dominguez is hopeful that with a new president and a vaccine that things could change for the better soon.
“I’m looking forward to being able to visit my family in New London,” he said.

Missing her friends: Lisette Aguirra, 16, was about to catch a city bus in the shadows of the Gold Building on Main Street to take her to her job at Burger King on Prospect Avenue.
Aguirra said she won’t miss 2020; she thought that the effects of the coronavirus would have been over by now. Her hope for the new year is “that everything gets better for all of us and that we can be in peace.” She’s also looking forward to something simple that people would have taken for granted 10 months ago. “I miss hanging out with friends,” she said as she left to catch her bus.

Hoping to travel: Elderia Prince didn’t do anything exciting on New Year’s Eve. She was busy working a third shift job in Windsor. Friday morning, she took her rescue dog, a red-nosed pitbull named Saegan, out for a walk on Prospect Street in Hartford. Prince, 54, said she too was excited about the prospect of a new president coming into office and that she treats all new years as a reason for hope. “Every new year you can experience is a good one,” she said. Prince, who considers herself an introvert, also expressed a desire to have more human contact and be able to travel in the new year.

A vaccine brings hope: Virginia native Jamie Forestiere, 30, moved to Hartford recently and lives near downtown. Forestiere said he didn’t believe much has changed “because everything is still here.” “But I have hopes for 2021 because the vaccine is here,” he said. Forestiere also hopes that the nation can reunite again as it did during the early stages of the pandemic, when — he said — people rallied around questions like whether Carol Baskin of “Tiger King” fame had killed her first husband. Forestiere also looked forward to being with his extended family again in Virginia, where holidays are celebrated at his grandparents’ home. “My family canceled Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.