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Opinion: Here’s what I hope we find when the pandemic ends

Everyone is tired. Being tired, though, does not give us license to be cruel

People receive COVID-19 vaccines at a pop-up vaccination event.
Estefania Matos, left, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from health care worker Danielle Davis as health care worker Nadia Swanson gives Danny Revete a COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination event at Reams in Magna on Monday, May 3, 2021.
Annie Barker, Deseret News

Almost two years ago, the world began to shut down. Federal, state and local governments asked us to pivot on a dime and adjust our work, our schooling, our shopping, our recreating and our social lives. At first, there was a high level of compliance. Remember when we thought two weeks would help us flatten the curve? OK, so that was, um, optimistic.

It was stressful in those early days, but because it felt so short term, so acute, we could get through it. I had a kindergartner in 2020 and to be honest, we did a lot of reading and playing and not a lot of “schooling” because I “knew” it would be short term. We could write in our journals about how we were living in an historic moment. We could do COVID-baking, because a few extra carbs wouldn’t hurt us, right? We got to count our blessings that we lived in an age of technological innovations that let many of us work from home.

As it turns out, COVID-19 was a virus that resulted in a pandemic unlike any seen by living scientists. Generally, we know how viruses act — they mutate, they find hosts, they mutate again and, eventually, they weaken or they die off. This COVID-19 virus turns out to be remarkably good at mutating and finding new hosts — or reinfecting previous hosts.

Just when we think we’ve got the “rules of the game” figured out, the virus mutates and surges again. And then the rules change and the goal posts move. Dealing with a chronic health crisis like this pandemic is very different than dealing with an acute one. I found an article on how difficult it has been to deal with this chronic pandemic and ideas on how to get through its final days. It was written in September 2020.

Everyone is tired. Health care workers are tired. Parents are tired. Grandparents are tired. Employers are tired. Employees are tired. Politicians are tired. People are tired of politicians. Teachers are tired. We’re all just tired of this pandemic.

Maybe that’s why we didn’t learn the lessons of the 1918 pandemic — by the time it ended, everyone was so tired of it, and perhaps so traumatized by it, that everyone who survived it just wanted to move on with their lives and never talk about it again. Then, it just kind of faded into history.

Being tired, though, does not give us license to be cruel. Do you remember when health care workers were heroes? Now, they’re vilified. Some 1 in 5 health care workers have quit since February 2020. Remember the memes about paying teachers a million dollars when everyone had to homeschool? Now those same teachers are tired, their workload has been increased and they, too, are being vilified. And COVID-19 is wreaking havoc with the omicron surge. There aren’t enough substitutes to teach when teachers are sick. This week, in one school district, there was a 27% positivity rate for students and staff.

Can you imagine how it feels to be a parent of an immunocompromised child and then see or hear people say that some “collateral damage” is to be expected? Or for someone with decades of life experience to hear that it’s OK to let old people die because they were going to anyway? That sounds an awful lot like they should hurry up and “decrease the surplus population.”

Can we please be a little kinder? Can we offer more grace? Can we love our neighbor a little more? Can we be stone catchers, rather than stone throwers? Can we sit with those who are struggling to find light in this seemingly dark world?

I don’t know when this pandemic will end. I don’t think anyone else does either, although semi-hopeful predictions abound. I do hope, though, that when it finally does end, we find relationships strengthened, our hope in humanity renewed and our resilience as a people strengthened. I’m afraid we might find the opposite.