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THOMPSON: How the COVID-19 pandemic changed us

June 21, 2021 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Looking at a map of the world last week, I thought about how the coronavirus pandemic has changed us. A mysterious pneumonia-like illness 18 months ago in Wuhan, China spread - person to person(s) - across 217 countries, territories and a few cruise ships.

It is slap-your-face sobering to think that in many ways we’re at as much risk now for pandemics as we were 100 years ago for the so-called Spanish Flu…or hundreds of years ago with Bubonic Plague.

The statistics of infections and deaths change for the current pandemic daily…as do the numbers of those who have had one or two vaccination shots. Suffice it to say, nearly 170 million people worldwide have tested infected…and more than 3.51 million have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Many public health experts say both these numbers are likely much higher because uniform testing wasn’t done throughout much of the world. So, they say those infected could actually number nearly half a billion…with nearly 5 million people dying from pandemic-related illnesses. A truly accurate count is - and will remain - unlikely.

Perhaps the exact count isn’t as important as simply knowing this pandemic has changed us and our world remarkably over the past year and a half. Almost everyone knows someone who had the disease…and most know someone who has died.

North and South America are the worst places for both number of cases and fatalities. More than 33 million Americans caught the disease…keep and nearly 600,000 died. Brazil was likely the most unsafe place thus far…with fewer than 17 million cases…but killing more than 457,000 Brazilians.

But everyone is playing catch up…that’s how pandemics work. So, Asia is closing in on North and South America, mostly due to recent surges in India. And Europe - though comprised of separate countries - is usually counted as an amalgam and looks no better than those of us to the west.

The U.S. went from bad to worse last year…largely because of misinformation and misleading politics. A shut down nationwide last Spring or Summer would have short-circuited the pandemic in the States and saved a couple hundred thousand lives.

But President Trump and Republicans lied…and Americans loyal to whatever it is that Trump Republicans stand for…believed the lies. Some died…along with those who knew their advice was wrong-headed and counter to science all along. Six hundred thousand deaths in the U.S….that’s more than the entire population of Tampa, Kansas City, Baltimore or Atlanta.

Canada did better than some…with just under 1.4 million cases and just over 25,000 deaths. Some nations got it mostly right from the beginning…Taiwan, South Korea and New Zealand…and cities like Hong Kong, where masks and contact tracing were mandated early on.

New Zealand had fewer than 3,000 cases and just 24 deaths. Korea had 151,000 cases and just over 2,000 deaths. Hong Kong - with more than 7.6 million people - had fewer than 12,000 cases and 210 deaths.

More than 2.5 billion vaccine doses have been given worldwide…with nearly 748 million people fully vaccinated…or just under ten percent of the world’s population. The U.S. and United Kingdom have vaccinated a greater percentage of people among larger nations…with 45 percent and 46 percent, respectively, fully vaccinated. About 20 percent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated.

As tragic as losing lives has been…and every death leaves a huge hole in a family…the toll has been even greater. The global economy plummeted last year...and is just beginning to emerge from a crater. Manufacturing, education, the financial sector, and just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives have been interrupted.

The pandemic has been an emotional drain, as well. People are eager but anxious to return to the social days they knew and maybe took for granted. Many dread re-entering society…and complain about feeling awkward, according to recent surveys.

Others proclaiming a “YOLO” philosophy - you only live once - say they are going to change the way they live…no longer tied to inflexible jobs. Maybe it’s too early to make those decisions…and maybe not. We’ll see in the coming months.

Some families and friends are closer now. Some folks have found strength in their forced independence. We’ve all changed…made adjustments.

I hope that we all come out of this a little stronger, a little wiser and with a little more respect for others. I hope, too, that we’ll be smarter the next time a pandemic strikes, and one will!

I hope we’ll listen to science rather than people with an agenda based on ideology and politics. I hope for all these things…knowing that I have been disappointed so many times by my fellow man. You’d think life and death would mean more.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.


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