Reflections On 12 Months Of COVID-19 — The Losses, The Struggles And The Lessons
A year ago this Saturday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, just a few hours after then-President Trump declared it a national emergency. As coronavirus cases spread and shutdowns got under way, few of us had any idea what to expect in the weeks and months ahead — nor would we have guessed the crisis would extend well beyond the year 2020.
“I think what we had was this feeling of the unknown,” Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, told St. Louis on the Air. “We saw what was happening overseas; we saw what was happening in Europe. And as we began looking at the models on how this would impact the United States and in particular St. Louis, we were very concerned about what was going to happen.
“But it’s that great deal of uncertainty that makes it really hard to sort of grasp the situation. … I’m in the military, and this is what we call the fog of war.”
Twelve months later, here we are — some of us, at any rate. In the St. Louis region alone, more than 4,700 people have died of COVID-19. The virus has claimed over 8,700 lives so far in Missouri, and upward of 530,000 nationwide.
Beyond that, the economic fallout continues to take a sobering toll, even as some “long haulers” still feel sick months after supposedly recovering. New cases continue to be diagnosed, albeit at a much lower rate than at November’s peak.
On Friday’s talk show, we took stock of all that loss. We also heard from essential workers who soldiered on and shared reflections from other community members on what they hope to remember about a year that some may prefer to forget.
One person sharing thoughts was Catina Wilson, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788, which represents Metro Transit operators.
Wilson noted that three of her union’s members lost their lives to COVID-19.
“When we lost the members, Metro put counselors on site and tried to do some things to help us to work through it,” Wilson said. “Yet it just doesn’t change it — it got extremely scary for our members, so of course we’ve lost a lot of members to the industry right now. [It’s] just a scary time for essential workers.”
St. Louis Public Radio health reporter Sarah Fentem noted that instead of the pandemic being an equalizer between the rich and the poor, the crisis has exposed and deepened such inequities.
“When you look at people who don’t have the luxury to work a white-collar job from home,” Fentem said, “you’re looking at people who are necessarily going to be more at risk of getting sick — and don’t necessarily have the protections that can get them healthy again, like health insurance or sick leave, benefits of that kind. I remember there was a lot of that language, like, ‘Oh it’s going to lay bare everything, and we’re going to be all the same,’ and no, absolutely not.”
Wilson said that ongoing gap hits home for the bus drivers and other workers she represents.
“They always kind of feel like they get the short end of the stick when we have our higher-level management at home, working from home,” she said.
Wilson gave Metro credit for providing transit operators with vaccines, and also for responding to requests for additional personal protective equipment and other resources. But concerns remain, especially as service and ridership pick back up.
Fentem agreed that it’s a critical time.
“And I think that’s sort of the paradox of public health is [that] when it works, people say, ‘Look, nothing’s happening, and we don’t need to do the things anymore,’” she said. “And I think one of the reasons we’re seeing such good results right now is [because] people are being vaccinated [and] they’re still wearing masks.”
Rounding out Friday’s reflections was Dr. Jessi Gold, a Washington University psychiatrist. Many of her clients are health care workers, and Gold offered suggestions for holding onto hope as the struggle continues.
“I try to tell people to do their best to live day by day,” Gold said. “I think the recovery communities, chronic disease communities, have done their best doing that for a really long time. I think we can still do that. We can find gratitude in little things that happen.”
The conversation included pre-taped comments from area residents, including Roy and Emily Hubbard. Roy is the lead pastor of New City Fellowship in south St. Louis.
“It would have been good if the pandemic was the only thing we had to deal with,” he said. “We had Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. And we had presidential elections and political discourse. The challenge was learning, I think relearning, how to love people well through that.
“And so how to serve people even when they’re mad at you, even when they are like, ‘You should be opening the church. We don’t really care about this virus.’ When people are just upset about political discourse or just grieving injustice in our land. And so all those things were compounded, and it was just like, ‘Alright, how do I love people well in this time?’”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.