About 578,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. It’s an unfathomable number. It is impossible to quantify or qualify the losses we have experienced, as individuals and as a nation. And the grief of those who have lost loved ones during this time is not ordinary grief, if any grief can be so defined.
Yet as we begin to see a return to normalcy, it can be helpful to consider some of the curious collateral benefits of this extraordinary struggle.
One positive outcome is that because of mask-wearing, social distancing and obsessive disinfecting, almost no one got the regular flu this year and no one we know even had a common cold. And thank goodness, considering what a mess our medical system found itself in with the challenges of COVID-19.
That mess revealed just how dependent our country has become on other nations for essential medical products and equipment. The Biden administration is trying to make sure we don’t again find ourselves without enough PPE, ventilators, masks and other essential medical products.
Yet that same messy system faced the challenges of COVID-19 squarely. Health care workers and support people in hospitals and clinics risked their lives to save ours. Our pharmaceutical companies, which we rightly criticize at times, developed life-saving vaccines in mere months. Public health workers and volunteers made getting tested and vaccinated quick and easy for most people in La Plata County.
Then there’s Zoom. No government initiative could have prompted the boom in using online communication tools; only the desperate need to connect with those we love – and the equally desperate need to conduct business – could have created such a breakthrough in technology education. Now nearly everybody, from toddlers to 90-somethings, can Zoom. (Provided they’ve got decent broadband, of course – which we learned was far more necessary than we knew here in Southwest Colorado.)
Some those us who lost jobs discovered that our identities are much more nuanced than what we do to earn money. Some people have chosen or been forced into taking huge risks, changing positions and even careers, going back to school, taking time off – even retiring early.
Others who were accustomed to going to a worksite have learned they are actually more efficient at the kitchen table in their jammies than in their workplaces. Working from home may take an extra level of organizational skills to mesh with co-workers’ schedules and needs, but it definitely has advantages.
COVID-19 forced us to “bubble up” with family or co-workers; sometimes all that closeness felt stifling, but many of us also came to a deeper appreciation of those we care for most. We connected again with people with whom we had lost touch. We made friends with neighbors we hardly knew, sharing concerns – and extra toilet paper.
In some cases, parents learned just how much of their children’s development they were missing. Hard as it might have been, most parents we know wouldn’t trade the extra time they got with their kids this year for anything. Even if they are relieved it’s coming to a close.
Finally, we must acknowledge the important role local journalism has played in keeping us informed about our own communities during this time. Reporters and editors did their normal jobs while covering the pandemic as well. Big news operations, particularly The New York Times, developed superb data tracking tools and kept us informed about the virus worldwide.
The pandemic is not yet over, yet we all deserve a round of applause. As we squirm out of our cocoons and take wing – watching spring bloom around us – let’s try to release some of the anxiety and sadness of the past year and hang onto whatever positive outcomes we can identify, for ourselves and our communities.