Yesterday was one year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It’s a bit hard to put any words on e-paper today. Many of my public health and epidemiology friends are feeling the same way. It’s been one year of dramatic shifting of the world.
Yes, the physical world shifted, and many people realized we are linked more to the rest of the world than we thought. More than 2.5 million people have died of COVID-19 in 12 months. Just 12 months. In the United States, more than 520,000 have died. At least 117 million have been sickened in the world, many of whom have long-COVID.
The pandemic also has cost jobs, disrupted industries and put everyone on hold for what we hoped would only be a few weeks (and, frankly, could have been only a few weeks). It’s unfortunate that business and health were made into dichotomous choices, when really they bolster and protect the other.
Then, the pandemic has hidden or unseen costs. This is where many of you are: Costs of relationships and communities; deep and dividing views on masks and rights that have surprised a lot of us. Then mix in politics, nationalism and racism of 2020 and you’ve got one big mess. I’ve written on that more. The world feels loud right now, doesn’t it? For many of you, this cost will take some time to sift through.
So, today if you are feeling angst or sadness about what has happened over the past 12 months for any reason, know that there are a lot of people there with you. For those of you who have been through unimaginable loss of a family member or friend from COVID, we mourn with you. For others who are feeling angst over the other losses, reach out to someone today. It’s OK to simply sit with a trusted friend in the midst of the questions and angst.
Where am I one year later? I’m a mixture of sadness and hope. A bit battered and definitely stronger. I listen longer and speak up courageously more. We all will have to make choices when things get back to “normal” to choose who we will be. No one will be the same, and I think we will experience frustration if we try to fit 2021-forward into what we knew pre-pandemic.
“We will experience frustration if we try to fit 2021-forward into what we knew pre-pandemic.”
For me, I want a new normal. I remember my mom telling me after I had my babies that there will be a new normal when our family expanded. And that new normalcy not only was OK, it was good. She was right. It was new, but it was good with new life and love.
This new normal will be costly if it hasn’t been already. Speaking up and living into justice for all, love for neighbor and putting action to convictions always comes at a cost. For me, those costs have been hard in 2020 — but they also have come with a reward. Not a monetary award or plaque you can hang on your wall. A reward that frees us to live into being a “good human,” like my 9-year old says. A reward that pushes toward what we are for rather than what we are against. A reward that benefits all people rather than a privileged few.
Letting go of the “what used to be” is the only way forward to what can be. This will take hard conversations, decisions and costs. But, my goodness, it is worth it.
Today, one year after the world was turned upside down, be encouraged. I don’t want to be the same as I was pre-pandemic, and I bet many of you don’t either. Maybe this can help you have the courage to choose to lean into the new normal.
Emily Smith serves as assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Public Health at the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor University. She is an adjunct assistant professor of global health in the Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University. She lives in Waco, Texas, where her husband serves a Baptist congregation as a minister. She is the author of a popular blog titled Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist.
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