The last year brought with it no shortage of challenges. Memes depicting the seemingly never-ending medical, mental health, socio-economic, and socio-political issues and the impact of such on society have become a regular occurrence on social media platforms. The good news is that these images and the related sentiment, represent a large-scale effort to find levity in the face of despair and disappointment. It is clear that people are struggling but are also taking the necessary steps to heal, seek assistance and relief, and even glean valuable insight during this trying time.
We are all painfully aware of the over 2.5 million people who have lost their lives due to coronavirus, and the countless others who have faced significant physical ramifications as a result, but given the prescribed social isolation, rising unemployment statistics, and extraordinary levels of stress, we are also in the throes of a mental health crisis. These effects of COVID-19 are concerning, but medical and mental health professionals are hopeful that focused attention will produce meaningful change. In fact, while the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis should not be diminished, the silver lining is that the best minds in science and medicine are working tirelessly to find solutions to the issues caused by coronavirus, and along the way, are addressing long-standing inequities and problems in the American healthcare system1.
To that end, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it would provide all states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia with $122 billion to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools and “equitably expand opportunity for students who need it the most.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services committed $10 billion to support COVID-19 testing in schools; recognizing that many districts across the country may not have access to necessary resources. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) are also investing $2.25 billion to “address COVID-19 health disparities and advance health equity among people who are underserved or at higher risk of exposure, infection, hospitalization, and mortality, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural areas2.” These initiatives and related financial investments are likely to effect change that will be felt long after Americans have emerged out of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Speaking of change, behavioral scientists, mental health professionals, and medical practitioners, have published commentary to address some of the ways in which COVID-19 has altered the way in which we think and act. Coronavirus and the related crisis have impacted the way in which we greet each other, care for our bodies, engage politically, socialize, travel, work, and even how we dress. We have borne witness to instability in the financial markets, price gouging, and surely no one is apt to forget the product stockpiling. With all this change occurring and life at something of a standstill, it’s no wonder people are fearful and anxious2.
Live Science, an online publication geared towards feeding everyone’s inner science geek, threw a spotlight on the insertion of new vocabulary, such as ‘flattening the curve’ and ‘social distance’ and the dangerous rise of rumormongering, but also celebrated the lowering of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, the revolutionizing of vaccine creation and distribution, and the increasingly large numbers of folks adopting pets; all unintended but positive consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and related lockdowns 3.
The bottom line is that this last year has forced many to find and adjust to a “new normal,” and that exercise is fraught with various implications. However, the Pew Research Center reports that approximately 67% of Americans have experienced “at least one negative and one positive change since the pandemic began,” suggesting that many folks are successfully controlling the narrative created by the past year. For instance, while many are experiencing feelings of isolation or the frustration of being locked-down in close quarters, a third (33%) of Americans reported positive impacts to their relationships. There have been jokes about tossing away daily planners and disappointment felt as activities are cancelled, and yet, roughly a quarter of Americans (26%) are enjoying the slower pace of life, new hobbies, and newly found freedom to either get things done or just relax4.
A year ago, few might have imagined that we would be living in a world where masks are a necessary, everyday piece of clothing, more than half the country would receive homeschooling, socialization would occur primarily through technology, online shopping would surpass a trip to the store, and work would be conducted from the comfort of our homes.
The introduction and distribution of the vaccine, along with the upcoming change in season, will likely shift the paradigm again; enabling some folks to send their children back to school, re-enter the brick-and-mortar workforce, and safely socialize again. While everyone has and continues to experience the COVID-19 crisis differently, one thing is clear: change is on the horizon and we must all stay vigilant and stay positive.