We may have been too worried about
the economic impacts of COVID-19
and not enough about the human impacts.
The first time the word “coronavirus” appeared in an editorial on this page was more than a year ago — March 13, 2020 — when we noted how the global pandemic was affecting the heartbeat of our lives.
We lamented that sports leagues had suspended their seasons, that all classes at the University of Illinois would be conducted online, that vacations and other trips would have to be postponed and that tax-filing would be delayed.
There was only a passing mention of health effects, a notation that a Harvard professor of epidemiology had reported just 1,135 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States although likely “thousands of people” were infected with the virus.
The most noteworthy observation a year later? “It seems clear that the virus has the capacity to infect a relatively high share of the U.S. population at a rapid rate, spreading misery and overwhelming the medical system.”
Indeed, we now believe that as many as 30 million Americans — close to 10 percent of the population — have contracted COVID-19. Nearly 533,000 people have died from the virus, about 21,000 in Illinois and more than 130 in Champaign County. Millions have been sickened or had to care for someone who was.
In some areas the virus has stretched the limits of our health care system and the heroic workers who have put in long, hazardous shifts caring for the most sick patients. It has given us, anew, a great appreciation for nurses and doctors, dentists and hygienists, EMTs and public health professionals and all those who risk their lives to keep us safe and healthy.
This isn’t what many of us saw 53 weeks ago when we looked into the future.
We couldn’t see the impacts on children who would be deprived of in-person learning and daily contact with their peers in the classroom and on the playground. We didn’t know how high school students would be affected by the loss of proms and plays and bands and sports and graduation ceremonies.
We didn’t know how the elderly isolated in nursing homes would be damaged, and we didn’t know the pain of not being in a hospital when a loved one passed away. We couldn’t foresee how the normal grieving process after a death would be ditched in favor of a quick, cautious and emotionless burial.
We didn’t envision how much we would miss concerts and crowded theaters and musicians performing live shows in tiny bars. We couldn’t predict that we’d miss Christmas and Easter and all the ordinary celebrations in church.
We couldn’t see how so many people would lose their jobs, have their hours cut or see their businesses close. We didn’t know — and we still don’t — the impact these 53 weeks have had on the mental health of so many people.
The economy, nationally and locally, has held up remarkably well during these trying times. And it will do even better in the coming months as businesses reopen and trillions of dollars in federal aid is unleashed.
But it will be a long time before we know the emotional, spiritual and mental toll of this pandemic. We do believe, though, that the weeks ahead will be better than the 53 weeks behind us. There are many people to thank. Let’s remember to do that this spring and summer as we enjoy youth sports, picnics, swimming pools, attending church, dining out, going shopping and participating in all the other mundane parts of life.
And let’s keep wearing our masks, keeping our distance and washing our hands.