The coronavirus is the closest thing to a worldwide shared experience since World War II. Very few areas of the world aren’t being affected in some way by the virus and by COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. The Rockford Register Star is reaching out to Rock River Valley natives throughout the world to discover how their lives have changed.


Melissa Beck Ruby, an Auburn High School graduate from the Class of 1994, lives in Seattle and works remotely as director of enterprise industry analyst relations for Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia. Nvidia designs graphics processing units for the gaming and professional markets and systems on chip units for the mobile computing and automotive markets.


How did you end up in Seattle and in that profession? Industry analysts became popular and respected influencers around the dot com boom in 2000, so for 20 plus years I have developed relationships with high tech experts that ultimately benefit the companies I worked for like Microsoft, VMware and Expedia.


How long have you lived there? I moved here in November 2001, which was hard given the country’s emotional recovery from 9/11 and implications for the tech industry to move forward. It was in slow motion to understand what is appropriate for news and priorities. Much like today for COVID-19.


When did you first hear about the coronavirus? In the beginning of January as I tend to lean on BBC news for information versus U.S. sources.


When did it begin affecting your life? When I returned in late November from an international trade show, I was the sickest I have even been in my life. I could not move, breathe or eat for two weeks during the December holidays, which in retrospect makes myself and family wonder if I had a COVID-19 strain.


When I recovered, I traveled to Silicon Valley in February when ground zero of the U.S. outbreak at the Kirkland nursing facility was at its peak. Yet, I felt no threat. However, when I returned home and the reality of living two towns over from the facility, infected TSA agents at SeaTac and San Jose Airports, plus hearing about infections of families and students in chat groups in late February and early March, prompted me to keep my young children home before our governor announced school closures.


What is life like for you now? My parents still live in Rockford and I wish I could be with them every day, yet I know they are high risk. My mother, a Rockford Medical System retiree, and my father, who worked for more than 50 years at Ingersoll Milling Machine, didn’t take precautions right away.


For now, we designate one person to leave the house and do essential shopping. We have worn gloves and masks since March as there is an incredible amount of local shaming. I wish I could take my young kids to an indoor jump place or a mall in our rainy and cold spring weather, but that can’t happen.


What did you miss doing on a daily basis that you never thought you'd miss? The freedom to make a quick grocery or drug store stop. If you do not have a mask or gloves, you are ostracized.


There have been protests both for and against reopening the economy. What are your thoughts on the recent unrest? A recession is upon us and I don’t blame people wanting to get back to work since the government has been plagued with stimulus and business monetary support challenges, but while some may protest and exercise their rights to protest perceived draconian state measures, I think it insults the front-line health care workers who witness death from an unforgiving pandemic. Their horror justifies why we need to be safe even with consequences. I’m disappointed to see selfishness but joyful to see recoveries, giving and progress.


Have there been any positives? Teachers should be paid millions of dollars for what they give children for education. This new role I have in addition to mom, wife, executive is challenging to say the least. However, I am fortunate to be intimate with the critical experiences of their development at 6 and 8 years old without distraction of travel or strict deadlines and expectations from work.


It took a pandemic to slow the world down to experience a simple life of being present. I love that I am watching the Disney Channel without my phone, answering emails or worrying if I should be cleaning the kitchen because everyone else is in the same boat and joining in a choir of ‘it’s okay to be with family and not be distracted.’


Have you lost anyone close to COVID-19? No, but I personally know survivors of COVID-19 and unfortunately know others where loved ones were lost. I am thankful for my friends who have persevered but hurt for those who could not be present with their loved ones when they passed.


How do you think life might change when this is over? There are generations who will not know what an airport experience is like without TSA or meeting someone at the gate. Something similar from a 9/11 experience will transpire from COVID-19. Social distancing now a normal for society? Haircuts given with masked stylists? Greeting others without hugs or handshakes but elbow rubs? Judgement for those who still buy tons of toilet paper. Missed experiences with food and perhaps culture because a restaurant permanently closed?


Moreover, what I fear is the next pandemic because COVID-19 was just a brush of what’s possible for global panic. This will happen again, in my lifetime or my children. Will we be prepared as an economy and emotionally?


Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent