We can’t just ‘forget and move on’ from COVID-19

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor

It’s been almost 26 months since our “extra week of spring break” turned into a pandemic that shut down the globe. If you took a walk around campus or the Waco community today, though, you would never know that just a short time ago, we were declaring a state of national emergency, struggling to obtain ventilators and personal protective equipment and ordering refrigerated trucks to store bodies. It’s far too easy to want to forget, but we can’t let ourselves.

Certainly, we’ve made significant progress in controlling COVID-19. Over 577 million vaccines have been administered in the United States, with 66.3% of the population being fully vaccinated and 77.7% of the population having received at least one dose. Thanks to vaccines, masks, social distancing and the diligent efforts of health care workers, we’ve appeared to overcome the worst of the pandemic — even from the utter carnage of the delta variant and the astounding contagion of the omicron variant.

Indeed, society has wasted no time in getting “back to normal.” Masks are a rarity, in-person events are returning with full force and COVID-19 is out of the news and off people’s radars. One look at a classroom, the local H-E-B or a stadium could convince you that it’s 2019: the calm before the storm.

However, just because the storm may have mostly passed doesn’t mean we can ignore the damage it left in its path. Over 81 million cases have been recorded in the United States, resulting in over 994,000 deaths. Beyond its obvious effects on physical health, the pandemic created detrimental economic and mental health crises. While some were faced with job loss and isolation, essential workers dealt with overwhelming hours and burnout. No one was left untouched, so why are we all trying to move on so fast?

Undoubtedly, some people emerged less scathed than others. If they managed to avoid contracting the disease themselves — or if they only had a mild case — then they didn’t know the suffering firsthand. If they didn’t watch any of their close family or friends die or be severely affected, then they likely didn’t know the suffering secondhand either. I will admit that I fit into both of these categories; to my knowledge, I have not had COVID-19, and I don’t know anyone who had a fatal or serious battle against it. My connection came a different way: My dad is a pulmonary and critical care doctor at two of the largest hospitals in Dallas.

After almost 26 months of hearing horror stories and seeing the toll of caring for COVID-19, it’s pretty much impossible for me to just “forget and move on.” What I’ve come to realize, though, is that maybe that’s a good thing. How can we honor the people who died if we pretend the cause of their death never existed? How can we thank front-line workers if we pretend there was nothing to be on the front lines of? How can we learn from this experience if we pretend it never happened in the first place?

The fact of the matter is that some good came out of the pandemic: It exposed faults in our society that need major attention and restructuring. The health care industry and the government in general were woefully unprepared for such a catastrophe, and opportunities for access to treatment were not equal. Quite simply, I hope we all walk out of this pandemic with humility and grace, with compassion and understanding, with a deeper love for those around us and a more profound appreciation for life itself.

COVID-19 happened, and no amount of denial can erase its devastation. Please don’t forget. Please don’t move on. There is so much for us to take away from the past two years, and the first step in that learning process is intentional remembrance.