“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” – Oscar Wilde
As COVID-19’s winter surge continues to wane, as the supply of vaccinations begins to grow, and as the warmer months of spring and summer approach, state and federal leaders are under increased pressure to return to “normal” — whatever that might look like — in all facets of life: schools, businesses, restaurants, entertainment, and more.
But we’ve seen this movie before. A peak of cases, followed by a steady drop, only to experience another big wave and with it, more strain, more death, more grief and sorrow.
That makes the decisions this week in Texas and Mississippi to lift all mask-wearing restrictions and completely reopen businesses all the more worrisome. Both choices seem to flaunt the science, risk lives, and worse — add to the tremendous load already shouldered by nurses, doctors, environmental services workers, and so many more who have given all of themselves to help those in need and are now being asked to continue to give all of themselves for those who seek a renewed, and perhaps premature, sense of “normal.”
Here are the facts: More than 500,000 Americans have died from COVID-19; the jury is out on how effective vaccines will be against new and emerging variants, and at least for now, vaccine supply and distribution remains uneven.
If nothing else, reopening without the invaluable safeguard of broad masking policies will place even greater stress on the nation’s worn and fragile health care workforce. According to a recent survey from Mental Health America, 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed. In a survey released in September by Medscape, two-thirds of doctors experienced intense burnout during the pandemic, and a quarter of respondents said their experiences with COVID-19 had led them to exit the medical field.
The coming weeks are a critical period to determine whether the nation has truly turned a corner on the virus and COVID-19 disease or whether this is simply another momentary lull on the roller coaster that has defined this pandemic. All eyes will be on what is a scientific experiment in real time in Texas and Mississippi. And if this experiment goes wrong, nurses, doctors, hospitals, and many others will again be put in the tragic position of seeing even more deaths that could have been avoided — at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel seems so close, if we can just persevere.
Perhaps this is a testament to how all of us feel about our caregivers — that they can and always will be ready for anything, no matter what comes their way. But in truth, they are human — like all of us —and they, too, need all of us to support them in this fight. And that means it’s our turn to be selfless, as they have been all along, and doing everything each of us can do to lighten their load first before we try to satisfy our own desires for “normalcy.”