Let 2021 be the year we end the pandemic

I listen to the wind howling outside on this night that’s stranded between the departing season of winter and the coming of spring. I await the arrival of longer days filled with sunshine, days that welcome new growth, new life.

During the year that has passed into the recesses of my mind, new life and new growth concepts seem foreign to me. As citizens of the world, we have been placed into submission by a virus that is cruel and unforgiving. Its victims are often the most vulnerable among us, those weakened by age or infirmity. But in its boldness, this virus has also claimed the lives of those who have barely begun their life journeys, lives that didn’t have the opportunity to grow and blossom.

The weight of the burden in fighting this virus has been placed upon the shoulders of the health care community members: our doctors and nurses who work on the frontlines in EDs or ICUs. They have endured long shift hours, often without needed protective equipment.  It has been a lonely, stress-filled, and exhausting job. They have all learned the hard lesson that their best may not always be good enough. Some COVID patients survive and recover; others do not. We, the public, have placed upon our frontline workers the title “heroes.” They are certainly deserving of this title, often sacrificing their health and welfare in caring for the COVID patient.  But is there an implied meaning to this title?  Have we placed this responsibility of saving lives solely upon them so that the rest of us are “off the hook”?  Hopefully, this is not the case.

Throughout this pandemic, there has been major discord in accepting this virus as a major threat to life. Mask wearing, social distancing, and proper hygiene have been made into political weapons. As a result, COVID had the opportunity to rapidly spread among our population. As a nation, we have suffered the most COVID-related deaths among all other countries of the world, more than 500,000 deaths and still counting. That’s like having the city of Sacramento, CA being obliterated from the face of the earth. To look at it another way, more Americans die of COVID than Americans who died in World Wars I and II and the Vietnam War combined. Mind-blowing. Certainly, a far cry from having a case of the flu as we were led to believe early on in this nightmare.

We now have three vaccines available for combating the coronavirus: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson. So finally, we see light glimmering at the end of this dark tunnel we have all been in for the past year. However, we are not out of the woods yet. The original strain of COVID has mutated into several variants, all of which have shown up in the U.S. Will the current vaccines offer protection against these variants? The jury is still out on this issue.

It is now our time to play the role of  “hero” by recognizing the part we play in spreading this disease.   If we wish to return to a more normalized version of living, we must not shirk our responsibility of adhering to medical experts’ protective measures. To do so, we risk yet another resurgence of the virus. Now is not the time to go complacent in our actions and habits. Our citizens are still dying from this virus at an unacceptable rate. Our country has not reached “herd immunity” levels and will not for several months.

We must honor our frontline health care workers’ efforts who have sacrificed the past year of their lives in combating this disease by continuing to remain vigilant in this war against COVID. This war can not be won without the efforts of all. If we are willing to do this, maybe just maybe, we may see some semblance of normality by the coming summer. To see smiling faces again, to hug friends and family, to kiss grandchildren, to be hopeful for the future… all things we had previously taken for granted.

I came across the following quote a short while ago, and it seems quite appropriate for the times we are living in, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”  Let 2021 be the year when we have found the answer to ending this pandemic and regaining our freedom.

Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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