Yesterday, March 11, 2021, was the one-year anniversary of the day the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Canada declared a day of mourning and remembrance for the more than 22,000 people who died of COVID in that last year.
I remember March 11, 2020 — still three days before we got our first case in NL, and I was taking my usual, “It’s probably not a big deal, might not even affect us” approach. But the news that it had been declared a pandemic did make me pause and think, “Could this get bad here?” That was the week we were hearing the horrific reports out of Italy, and I recall wondering, “Could that happen here?”
It did; also, it didn’t.
Yesterday afternoon, a local radio station asked on Twitter, “How are you feeling a full year later?”
As is the way with my social media interactions, I tapped out a quick four-tweet reply on Twitter … then thought it over/refined it some more and posted it on Facebook … and then figured I’d put what I wrote here on my blog so I could easily find it when I want to look back at the milestones of this year.
Here’s what I was thinking yesterday, one year after the declaration of a global pandemic:
- Grateful our province has gotten through 365 days with only 6 COVID deaths in a population of 500,000+
- Grateful to have been able to enjoy nearly-normal life with very minimal restrictions from June 2020 – Feb. 2021.
- Grateful for no outbreaks in long-term care.
- Grateful my elderly and immunocompromised loved ones have been at much, much lower risk than they would have been in other places during this year.
It’s interesting that Newfoundland didn’t set out, when all this began, to pursue a “zero COVID” strategy. Our public health measures in March 2020 were aimed at “flattening the curve” to prevent the healthcare system from becoming overloaded, which we’d all been told was the goal.
But once we found out, after the funeral-home cluster of cases and several weeks into that original lockdown, that it was possible for case counts to go down to zero and stay there, there didn’t seem to be a willingness on the part of the people to risk more outbreaks and the severe illness and death that would go along with them. Continued (though regularly easing) restrictions and, most importantly, travel bans, kept us effectively at zero COVID (except for isolated travel cases that did not cause any spread), from May 2020 until February 2021.
The takeaway, one year later, from our experience in NL and from many other places that have achieved near COVID-zero, is that it definitely IS possible — but there’s a high cost to achieve that.
Was the cost worth it? I look at the numbers, at the gratitude I’m feeling for all the things I listed above, and for me the answer is a resounding yes.
But I don’t want to downplay that cost. This year in Newfoundland and Labrador has been incredibly hard for a lot of people, and I understand why some people question whether it’s been worth it.
For me, not getting to hop on a plane and travel somewhere, having to wear a mask to the store, not going to see live theatre — these things are inconvenient but not genuine hardships.
A rotational worker who has to spend weeks isolating away from family, over and over; a small business owner who saw their lifelong dream shop or restaurant close because they couldn’t survive the financial losses of lockdown; anyone who had to say goodbye to a dying loved one by phone or Facetime instead of being able to get to the hospital to sit with them; grandparents who didn’t get to hold the new grandbaby for months; a sick person whose waiting list for an “elective” procedure has dragged on months longer than expected … these people have all truly paid the cost of our battle against COVID. Not to mention the healthcare workers and other frontline first responders, and all that has been asked of them in the last year.
This time has demanded great sacrifices from all, but sacrifices in any hard time — wars, natural disasters, pandemics — are never distributed equally. As someone who’s had to make relatively few sacrifices for the safety we’re enjoyed, I recognize the cost of what we’ve achieved in the last 365 days. I respect those who’ve paid that price, and even though I disagree with them, I understand where people are coming from when they say pursuing a zero-COVID strategy came with too high a price.
One year in, yes, I’m feeling incredibly tired of it all, hoping for vaccines to put an end to it soon. I’m eager to travel and go to concerts and plays and live “normally” again — I’m also eager for all those people who’ve paid a much higher price this year than I have, to get back at least some of their normal — for rotational workers to come and go without needing to isolate, for the healthcare system to clear that backlog of delayed surgeries and procedures, for local businesses to recoup some of their losses.
Yes, I’m aware that mistakes have been made, that our leadership has been far from perfect, and that we have big, non-COVID problems as a province that still have to be faced. And, of course, a provincial election that still apparently hasn’t ended.
But mostly, I’m grateful. Because, even with all the above being true, I would rather have spent this year here on this island than anywhere else in North America.
Hold fast, and all that.