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What can we learn?

It has been said there is a good reason your rear-view mirror is so small, and your windshield is so large. Don’t look back, don’t dwell on the past is the advice of any mental health recommendation. Dwelling on the past is not at all the same as learning from the past mistakes. Hindsight is not always playing the ‘if only I had’ message I your head. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it has reinforced the notion of learning from our past mistakes. 2020 will be felt for years to come. Businesses, healthcare, governments, and individuals alike would be remiss in NOT looking back to evaluate this recent experience with an eye towards the future. The eye of the hurricane may be past, but the repercussions, good or bad, are just beginning.

HEATH CONCERNS

Without a doubt healthcare professionals stepped up amid this sustained worldwide public health crisis. The attitude of caring, concern, professionalism and the ability to adapt to the unexpected has long stood as a shining example of how things should be done. The willingness to put themselves on the front line regardless of danger to themselves or their families should never be discounted, but it is hardly surprising. So many healthcare professionals have risen above and beyond the occasion and reinforced the idea that necessity is the mother of invention. Frustration occurred when healthcare professionals felt undervalued or unappreciated. Access to PPE’s and other crucial personal support is inexcusable and hopefully over. In addition to the personal sacrifices made by our first responders and front-line personnel, indications are that early reporting was inaccurate or uninformed at best or misleading, inflated, or false at worst. For example, the fatality rate was different in different areas of the country. In New York City, the rate was approximately .5% whereas in Idaho it was .13% showing that the fatality rate of the virus is not only a function of the virus itself but who gets it and the quality of healthcare available. We have learned that it is not equally dangerous for everyone. This was evident early on, but our public health messaging failed to pass this along. There is a thousand-fold difference in mortality rate for 70+ population and young children. The fact is that COVID-19 is less dangerous for young children than getting our seasonal flu bug by a factor of 2 to 3 and significantly more dangerous for those 70+.

This is frightening. Those opposing lockdowns have been called heartless and there are arguments that monies would be better spent in saving lives in the short term. Looking at the effect of mandatory lockdowns on health is illuminating. The U.N. has estimated that an additional 130 million people will face starvation due to the economic damage of the lockdowns. Food production worldwide is down as well as distribution of needed foodstuffs. Parents unwilling to bring children in for needed vaccines are estimated at 80 million kids at risk for diphtheria, whooping cough and polio. Cancer treatments and diabetic monitoring have also taken a hit because people are more afraid of COVID-19.

In the wake of 360,000 American deaths attributed to COVID-19, many of us in healthcare as well as the mainstream public are experiencing COVID-19 fatigue. Many are tired of taking precautions. 27% of Americans say they are less likely to engage in certain safety measures because they have accepted the virus is not going away anytime soon or are relying on the availability of a vaccine. 25% report they are willing to take their chances versus curtailing their individual freedoms. What can be learned from this?

RACISM AND HUMANITY

The death of George Floyd served to illustrate the continuation of differences in cultural perceptions and experiences in the United States. Misinformation and a rush to judgement illustrate the racial disparities in American Society and hopefully result in a new awareness. Alec D. Gillimore, Ph.D. from University of Michigan sums this up as in the “shadow of global pandemic and looming economic uncertainty…in a time of great divisiveness in our country, when people often cannot seem to agree on even the basics of humanity.” Isn’t it appropriate that we learn from this past year? In the wake of this pandemic, people from all races, nations and walks of life came together with a common purpose for health and safety. Surely there is room at the same table for us all to address these long-standing issues.

REEVALUATING WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT

Kindness, mindfulness and gratitude have taken on new importance for all of us. Positivity, focusing on the good, appreciating the little things, being grateful for what you have instead of always reaching for the next best thing either personally or professionally have all taken on new relevance. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics in Israel offers this. “We simply don’t need all that we thought we needed. We can survive and actually thrive with much more simplicity and this experience should drive us to reexamine certain aspects of our lifestyle that have become overly defined by consumerism and materialism. While we…miss large interactions and entertainment, our ability to exist without these elements of modern life prove we don’t need them in the degrees that we might have once thought.”

We have established new ways to maintain vital human contact that does not rely on physical proximity. We’ve spent more time with family members which often caused an additional level of stress but also served to reinvigorate family values and traditions like cooking and having dinner together. Learning to address the needs of the elderly and other vulnerable populations has brought out new depths of compassion, ingenuity and problem solving. We have learned to look at problems from multiple viewpoints, across nations and cultures to identify solutions and provide positive outcomes. The world can use this experience to move forward. Much of what is achievable is through cooperation not conflict. Let us all embrace the chance to learn from this pandemic and look upon it as an opportunity for global growth.