We are living in a world we would not have imagined just 12 months ago, a world utterly transformed by the pandemic.
As we scramble for appointments to get life-saving vaccines, with the hope that we will be able to return to a life that looks something like it did “before,” take a few moments to reflect on our year with the virus.
The statistics that define the coronavirus pandemic have grown so huge that we cannot absorb them. Here in Frederick County, at least 278 people have been killed by the disease. Losing almost 300 people in a single year in any kind of disaster was unimaginable — before.
Almost 8,000 people have died in Maryland, and close to 550,000 have been lost in our country and 2 million more around the world. These are the kinds of numbers that just make the mind numb.
More than 22 million Americans were thrown out of work by the economic dislocation, and almost half remain without jobs even now. Millions more are working part-time or in low-paying jobs, behind on their rent and bills, facing years of economic pain.
Being a parent — always a challenging job — has become more difficult than ever as schools and day care centers closed.
If you are able to work from home, you can consider yourself lucky but also challenged in new ways. If you cannot work from home, your life has been in danger almost every day, interacting with other people.
Almost everyone lives with some level of fear of contracting COVID-19 or having a loved one succumb. It is a well-founded fear, since almost 30 million Americans have tested positive.
In some ways, the disaster brought out the best of humanity. We have a new appreciation for the work of doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Of the scientists around the world who collaborated to develop effective vaccines in record time. Of the everyday heroes, stocking grocery shelves and driving delivery vans, risking their lives for us.
We also have become painfully aware of our need for contact with our family, friends and other loved ones. The isolation that was necessary to protect us and others has caused new levels of loneliness. And spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week in close proximity to our families brought new levels of stress to the happiest home.
Survivors of this pandemic will never again take for granted the hug of a friend or the kiss of a grandchild.
The pandemic has brought out the worst in some people as well. In the beginning, many disputed even the existence of a pandemic, or the counting of the dead, putting their faith instead in insane conspiracy theories.
Even today, millions resist the life-saving advice of doctors to wear masks and keep socially distant. The politicization of wearing a mask is a national disgrace. It has cost thousands of lives, in the name of asserting some “freedom” to defy government edict.
The pandemic brought profound changes to our lives, and we do not yet know how many will be lasting.
We anxiously watch our children, on the lookout for long-term negative effects. The difficulty of learning over the internet is going to put some children behind their peers for a long time. The absence of social interaction may hurt their development.
The move to work from home will have a huge impact on cities, transportation systems, commercial real estate and the many service businesses that have depended on office workers for customers.
Coffee shops and lunch counters have closed, eliminating the jobs of many cooks and wait staff. Shops patronized by workers on their lunch hour are gone, and with them, the jobs of clerks.
Women workers have been especially hurt by the recession, with many making the hard choice to stay home with their children when schools and day care centers were closed.
The economic losses suffered by Black and Hispanic workers are likely to do long-term harm as well. Already far behind whites in family wealth, many might never recover.
The federal government has done a pretty good job of softening the blows, with enhanced unemployment benefits, foreclosure moratoriums, delayed student loans and direct payments. The new relief package approved this week holds the promise of even more help, especially for struggling families with children.
We can only hope it will be enough to carry people through. But the scars — emotional and economic — will take a long time to fade.