It seems fitting that 2020 is a Leap Year. Leap Years are special and just a little bit strange. With February longer than usual, that means the year has an extra day making Leap Years 366 days long which seems a fitting end to the most frightening and bizarre year in the memory of most of those alive today. While we would like this year over sooner rather than later, we have to wait an extra day to say goodbye to 2020.
At the beginning of the year, 2020 seemed like it would just be a particularly rough election year with an extra day in February. Most of the public had no idea how different 2020 would be until after 29 February even though it turned out that the dangerous SARS-CoV-2 virus had already been spreading since late last year.
Once the public was made aware of the dangers, a schism developed between those who trusted science and took the risks seriously and those who either didn’t believe science or chose to ignore the dangers from the virus putting themselves and others around them at great risk. That set the tone for much of the rest of the year. Once the virus really took hold, the economy fell apart. The situation also ignited an extraordinary race within the medical and scientific communities – a race to create a vaccine to protect the world’s population against this vicious virus. 2020 seemed like a dystopian science fiction adventure that would be fascinating reading if we weren’t living through it.
As of 11 December 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the first western vaccine out of the box just a few days after vaccinations had already begun in the U.K. Supplies were and continue to be extremely limited, but vaccinations were beginning in the U.S. It will be many months, perhaps even late summer or fall 2021, before everyone in the U.S. who wants to be vaccinated will have the opportunity to receive their inoculation. Make no mistake, for the good of the public, everyone who possibly can receive a vaccination should do so when they have that chance.
While supplies remain limited, doses are carefully rationed and given on a priority basis, although those priorities are hotly debated. Along with frontline medical personnel, members of Congress are receiving their vaccinations before anyone else because of continuity of government protocols. The irony is that many of the GOP members of Congress were instrumental in making this crisis far worse than it needed to be by supporting the administration’s policy to infect as many people as possible.
Those who are most vulnerable to severe illness from SARS-CoV-2 have to wait. As a high risk person myself, I can’t help but recall my mother’s voice in my head saying “nobody promised fair.” The events of 2020 do not seem fair. Far too many people have been hurt both physically and financially. Far too many families have endured crushing losses.
As if the pandemic weren’t enough to endure, environmental disasters also flourished throughout 2020. Hurricanes and floods hit much of the country over the summer and fall. In the western U.S., massive wildfires erupted on a scale not seen before. In California after a freak lightning storm ignited fires throughout the state, the state’s Fire Marshall cautioned all Californians to be ready to evacuate. It took several months to contain all of those fires, and over the course of the containment effort, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes and congregate in evacuation centers which greatly complicated pandemic physical distancing protocols. For weeks, the skies were grey with smoke, and for a few days while the fires raged, the skies turned an eerie orange with a red sun. At least most people seemed less averse to wearing masks as ash rained down.
Despite all of these challenges, 2020 also inspired many people to go far beyond anything they thought possible. The old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” rang true this year. With it not being safe to gather together in person, people who have taken this seriously have become creative in their use of technology to find new ways of working, keeping in touch with friends and family, and even safely helping those they care about. Teachers have ramped up and quickly adapted to continue working with their students in new ways remotely. Performers have used technology to continue to create and express themselves to their audiences remotely. Science has continued to advance even beyond the vaccine development efforts.
Even with vast numbers of people avoiding the public square whenever they could because of the pandemic, the American public has also become far more engaged in their government. Voter turnout for the most contentious election in modern times was off the charts. Many states helped by allowing much greater use of mail-in ballots to help mitigate the risks from the pandemic. Despite claims of voter fraud which is essentially nonexistent, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency reported that the 2020 election was the most secure the country has ever seen. The results of the 2020 election were decisive, and change is coming.
What stories will be told of this unforgettable year? What futures will be imagined by those lucky enough to survive mostly unscathed? Only time will tell.
Although most of us will have to continue to isolate until well into the new year before we can be vaccinated, the dawning of 2021 brings with it hope. It took longer to get here than we wanted, but goodbye 2020. Hello 2021. May 2021 be better to us all.
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