It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven months since the coronavirus disease was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (World Health Organization [WHO], 2020). Working in New York, when I first heard rumblings about COVID-19, I couldn’t foresee the impact that it would have on our nation and healthcare systems. During the early stages of the pandemic, steps were put into place to slow the spread of the disease such as travel health notices and quarantine measures (Schuchat, 2020). Despite these efforts, the disease accelerated with approximately 5000 deaths by March 12 (Jones, 2020, p. 1684). According to Schuchat (2020), mass gatherings, air travel, and crowded settings such as skilled nursing homes, hospitals, and other institutions were responsible for the virus's acceleration (p. 553). COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic required much versatility from everyone as we were forced to adapt to our current reality. This led to various governing local, state, and federal bodies creating policies to try to curb the spread of the virus (Schuchat, 2020). Many schools were dismissed and switched to online learning. For those who weren’t furloughed or laid off, their work became remote.
For those of us nurses and allied health professionals still working, it was a perilous time fraught with constant changing policies; scarcity of supply; and patient overload. Hospitals were overcapacity; workers were falling ill, and everyone had to do the best they could with the resources and information they had at the time. Patients and even some staff members that were well-enough one day were discharged, only to come back in worse condition. Staffing shortages that existed were compounded and structural and social inequality in our healthcare system was exposed. “Across the country, deaths due to COVID-19 are disproportionately high among African Americans compared with the population overall” (Dorn et al., 2020 p.1243). Minority populations tend to be disproportionately affected by other health complications that can make the COVID-19 virus particularly lethal (Li et al., 2020). It is not surprising then that “although Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, they [accounted] for 21% of deaths from Covid-19” (Warren et al., 2020, p. 121(1). Residents of long-term-care facilities experienced a higher number of deaths from the coronavirus, “[accounting] for 8% of all coronavirus cases but more than 40% of all COVID-19 deaths” (Chidambaram et al., 2020, p. 1). It was a trial but the generous donations from the community kept us going. We were hailed as heroes and cheered, although at night it was hard to sleep as I thought about the circumstances. It was a difficult time but Summer came along and cases seemed to wane. It seemed promising that maybe this was behind us. That was a hope - not a guarantee. Businesses, schools, and stores began to reopen, occasionally shutting down due to pandemic scares. Nothing was for certain and policies flickered on and off.
However, it’s December and things seem bleak, and I, like many people, feel weary of our newfound reality which consists of COVID tests, Zoom events, and the endless news coverage. Cases have risen again and that brings with it its anxieties. Promises of a vaccine loom in the distance and I can’t help but hope for the world to return to normal, or something close to it.
The coronavirus disease will forever remain in the minds of those who lost loved ones and family and those who have recovered, yet face possible long-term complications (Jiang & McCoy, 2020). COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to be realized. Of notable consideration are three pandemics of the 20th century, those being Spanish, Asian, and Hong Kong flu (Kilbourne, 2006, p. 9). However, unlike these past pandemics, technology and scientific advancements can lead to the development of efficacious vaccines in record time. Although the death toll continues to climb and the future remains uncertain, it is cause for optimism. In this optimism though, lest it not be forgotten those whose lives were put on the frontlines to combat this pandemic as well as those who paid its price.
Chidambaram, P., Neuman, T., & Garfield, R. (2020, October 27). Racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Dorn, A. V., Cooney, R. E., & Sabin, M. L. (2020). COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in the US. The Lancet, 395(10232), 1243–1244.
Jiang, D. H., & McCoy, R. G. (2020). Planning for the Post-COVID syndrome: How payers can mitigate long-term complications of the pandemic. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(10), 3036–3039.
Jones, D. (2020). History in a crisis - Lessons for Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine, 382(18), 1681–1683.
Kilbourne, E. D. (2006). Influenza pandemics of the 20th Century. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12(1), 9-14.
Li, Y., Cen, X., Cai, X., & Temkin-Greener, H. (2020). Racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths across U.S. nursing homes. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 00(00), (1-8).
Schuchat, A. (2020). Public health response to the initiation and spread of pandemic COVID-19 in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(18), 551–556.
Warren, F. (2020). Trustworthiness before trust - Covid-19 vaccine trials and the black community. The New England Journal of Medicine, 383(22), p. 121(1)-121(3).
World Health Organization. (2020). Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it. Retrieved December 3, 2020.