It is sometimes hard to believe that it has been more than three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began and forever altered the world we live in. Three years on, we may forget the uncertainty associated with the early days of the pandemic—is it really that bad? Is my coffee shop going to close forever? Will my parents make it out of the hospital? Can I give my friend a hug? I can’t think of any other experience that was both so universally shared and so uniquely individual. Yet, here we are, three years later, with thoughts shifted sometimes to the profoundly mundane—when was the last time you received an email with a “stay safe” sign-off?
The social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and both the successes and failures at all levels of society will surely be studied for decades to come and the long-term ramifications of the pandemic likely won’t be clear for years. The negative impacts are well-known at this point—families and communities have been devastated, the economy is in an uncertain state and long-existing societal fractures have been brought to the front and deepened. Taking a deep look at the pandemic is, generally speaking, a wholly depressing affair.
There are, however, some portions of life that have arguably changed for the better over the last three years and it is worth highlighting those. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but simply a few items that I personally think deserve mention.
Personal relationships – the profound losses that many have suffered, cannot be understated. However, these last three years have led many of us to look back and take a deep breath and realize what it is we truly value in life. We have learned to value our family, our friends, our communities more than we ever had before the pandemic. It is difficult to overstate how much virtual happy hours or drive-by birthday parties can make you crave the real thing. Now, every time I see family or friends in-person, I realize how much I truly value that experience.
Togetherness – while COVID kept many of us physically separated for a prolonged period of time, it has in some ways, paradoxically led to a greater sense of global community. Web conferencing software existed before the pandemic, but the technology came into its own during COVID. It is now routine to meet with colleagues around the world on a moment’s notice or give presentations in countries a world apart without having to leave your own home. Certainly nothing can replace the in-person experience of traveling to a new and (hopefully) exotic location, but I believe the technologies created from our long separation have made building new relationships easier than ever before.
Science – the speed at which research and technology have adapted to deal with the pandemic has been nothing short of miraculous. Nascent technologies were harnessed to create highly effective vaccines that have saved millions of lives globally. We learned, within months, of therapeutics that saved lives and those that did not. The lessons learned from the pandemic on how to quickly and effectively perform clinical trials for deadly diseases will hopefully be applied for years to come.
It is easy to look back on these last three years and see the negative—I am no exception. However, by choosing to look at things that have changed for the better, we can all look for ways to build on those changes and continue to try to make the world a better place for us and those going through this journey of life alongside us.
By Samuel L. Aitken, PharmD, MPH, BCIDP