Commentary

Our pandemic year. What we’ve learned. What we’ve lost. Where we go next | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

February 28, 2021 6:30 am

JCAA residents Suz Atlas and Mary Groce (a href=”https://epgn.com/2021/02/10/lgbtq-seniors-at-jcaa-get-covid-19-vaccinations/”>Philadelphia Gay News photo)

It has been almost a year.

Lloyd E. Sheaffer (Capital-Star file)

And during that time:

  • 500,000 COVID deaths occurred.
  • 56.4 million school students, 3.7 million school teachers, and 19.7 million college and   university students have had their educations disrupted and altered.
  • U.S. GDP losses from COVID-19 could total $4.8 trillion, a 23% decline.
  • the United States economy ended December with 9.4 million fewer jobs than it had   in January.

Much of this pain and loss could have been averted had our nation had compassionate and competent leadership in 2020. But it wasn’t so. And now we must cope with the fallout.

Certainly the COVID-19 vaccinations that are beginning to become available will offer, if not a cure, a measure of medical relief for the population. They will not, however, offer healing for the non-medical damage that has been done to the citizens of our communities and this country.

For instance, in a majority of cases, the family and friends of those half a million COVID decedents have not had the opportunity to bring closure to the losses they feel.

Pandemic protocols have precluded the customary grieving rituals. When funerals and memorials services can be held in the months ahead, the sorrow and despair over the deaths of loved ones likely will resurface, and the survivors will re-experience anguish and despair; emotions will again be wrought raw leading to further mental distress.

Prior to the pandemic the National Institutes of Health reported that 17.3 million US adults and 2.3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 suffered from clinical depression.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the pandemic engendered a rise in mental health issues. In June, 2020, the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was approximately three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019 (25.5 percent versus 8.1 percent), and prevalence of depressive disorder was approximately four times that reported in the second quarter of 2019 (24.3 percent versus 6.5 percent).  That is an overwhelming number of hurting individuals needing help to thrive—or in some cases even survive.

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It is clear that our current student population is being affected emotionally and mentally. It is also evident that the disruptions to the normal school procedures will affect them academically. It is difficult to know fully how learning is being hampered due to the complex nature of our educational system; however, one group led by educational researcher Megan Kuhfeld predicts that it could take as much as two years after schools return to normal to recover the academic losses provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The financial stress of the of the virulent plague is being felt in both personal and governmental budgets. $4.8 trillion in lost productivity added to the 36 percent increase in the national debt to $27 trillion under the misguided policies of the 45th president and his big business cronies will weigh down the US economy for decades.

The nearly 10 million U.S. citizens who lost their jobs last year will not be able to assist much in whatever recovery might occur. Poverty levels are rising and income inequality is widening; such a situation can easily lead to more festering social divisions within our diverse culture.

I just turned a year older, but I have not become a year wiser, especially when it comes to addressing the massive nightmare we all are living and will continue to undergo for years to come.

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I do not have the breadth of knowledge and experience to tackle the immensity of this complex quandary on a massive level. However, I do think there are some things all of us can do on a personal level to provide a bit of relief for our neighbors.

Some have likened this pandemic to a war. We have learned that winning a war requires sacrifice by all, not just those under fire on the front lines.

We can:

  • sacrifice a bit of personal comfort and preference by following coronavirus health guidelines to protect others;
  • sacrifice the desire to attend large gatherings and crowded public spaces;
  • sacrifice some of our resources to support those organizations that continue to serve   those in need whose difficulties have been exacerbated by the pandemic;
  • sacrifice some time and energy to help stressed- and stretched-out healthcare workers by assisting them with daily tasks that further sap their energy (grocery shop for them or do some mundane household chores, for instance);
  • sacrifice some personal comfort and be available to those whose depression and   anxiety and other mental illness keep them from living fully;
  • sacrifice some dollars and donate to area food banks which are being overpowered by   current demands of growing numbers of hungry people and families;
  • sacrifice some pride and put the needs of others ahead of personal partialities.
  • sacrifice the “we vs. them” attitude, sacrifice destructive partisan politics, sacrifice the  “winners and losers” orientation that has led to disunity and inequality in our nation.

It has been quite a year, and now the truly hard work begins.

Let’s begin to take the small steps that we can to heal the wounds and soften the scars left by the assault of the ongoing pandemic.

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].

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