Looking back at one year of a wretched pandemic

 What a year. 

365 days ago, the World Health Organization declared SARS-CoV-2 – aka COVID-19 – to be a pandemic with 121,564 cases worldwide, 4,373 deaths and “alarming levels of spread and severity.” On that day, the NBA suspended its season when Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced they were also sick with the virus and then-President Trump announced a ban on travel into the US.

I was in Colombia at the time, working with Venezuelan refugees and every night, our group of volunteers would talk about this virus and wonder if we should take it seriously. When we had left Utah a few days before, there were as many confirmed cases in the country of Colombia as there were in Utah: one. The numbers started rising exponentially. We literally left the country with the borders closing behind us. The morning my daughter and I landed back in the United States, Utah was rocked with an earthquake. You just can’t make this stuff up. A sci-fi movie would be unbelievable with a plot like this. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had already canceled in-person April General Conference, had begun “temporarily” closing temples and bringing home missionaries from some international missions. Then, on March 12, they suspended church meetings worldwide. I was shocked, to be honest.

I look back now with some chagrin at my naiveté, although I was most certainly not alone in thinking this would be a short-term thing. I wrote about “Lessons learned” in a pandemic at the beginning of April. Um, yeah. Were we learning some things a few weeks in? Sure. But like any traumatizing event, the early days are characterized by shock and numbness. We thought we knew what we were in for. We had no idea.

Looking back over the past year, we’ve learned a lot both collectively and individually. 

We’ve learned this virus is truly like no other virus. It can be asymptomatic, to cold-like symptoms to deadly. It attacks different people in different ways – really different. There are more than 100 reported long-haul symptoms. Scientists are still learning – and so is the virus. It has mutated (as viruses do) multiple times. Right now in Brazil, there’s a new deadly surge, with a new variant. (In many ways, it feels to me like we are a bit premature in our victory dance. This is one reason why.)

We’ve learned that women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the virus’s impact on families, schooling and careers. We’ve learned that companies really CAN pivot to remote work and they can do it quickly. It amuses me that my husband’s employer had assured their employees that remote work simply wasn’t feasible. Until it was. And it’s worked well, for the most part.

We’ve also learned more about the emotional toll that comes (understandably) when the world turns upside down, all at once. We’ve learned more about burnout and coping mechanisms (including not-so-healthy ones) and the importance of self-care, for all ages.

We’ve added new tools to our everyday work experiences. I wish I’d invested in Zoom before everything shut down, you know? We’ve added new words to our vocabulary, or at least imbued them with new urgency. “Unprecedented” was used so many times, it literally became the 2020 word of the year. The dad doing a remote interview when his little daughter enters the room behind him has become the new norm. Recently, meteorologist Leslie Lopez was doing a remote broadcast when her toddler toddled into the frame. The Internet reaction was to ooh and ah over him. That would not have happened a couple of years ago. I think normalizing the blending of “work” and “family” is a good thing.

364 days ago, I wrote an article about journaling our way through a pandemic. While I thought we were going to stay home to “flatten the curve” for a few weeks, the value of journaling still holds. You know your great-grandkids are going to ask you about the Great Pandemic of 2020. Can you take some time today – or this week – to capture some thoughts about the last year? As we emerge blinking from the cave of the last year, we would do well to pause and reflect. I know I will.