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A year later, lessons learned from the pandemic


The coronavirus pandemic reached Long Island a year ago next week, at first bringing a handful of cases before it dug in and exploded, wreaking havoc. We failed to see it coming until it was too late. We failed to imagine its destructive power.

Nassau County’s first reported case was a 42-year-old Uniondale man who worked at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and was treated at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, now NYU Langone.
His case was reported last March 3. Three days later, Uniondale Schools Superintendent Dr. William Lloyd said in a statement, “The district has been in close contact with Nassau County and New York state health officials, and we have been told that at the current time, there is no reason to take any additional precautionary or preventive measures than those we already have in place.”

By mid-March, schools had shut down. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran gave the order to close them for two weeks. Students didn’t return to their school buildings until September, learning, as best as they could, virtually, using new and unfamiliar online platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom.
Businesses shuttered, some never to return. Hospitals — and the brave women and men who staff them — were quickly overwhelmed by the coronavirus case-load. So were funeral homes. Death, it seemed, was everywhere.

And so here we are, a year later, battered and bruised, many of us filled with anxiety because of a job loss, economic issues or simply the uncertainty that the coronavirus has brought to all of our lives.
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” the saying goes. After a full year of coping with a relentless disease, watching too many family members and friends fall prey to it, we are tired, ready for this nightmare to be over. We need to feel normal again.

We are wiser, however.

Our children are learning, albeit at a slower pace than they did. We are more forgiving of students if they miss a homework assignment or fail an exam. We don’t require them, to the degree that we did, to take the seemingly unending battery of state tests they were subjected to for years. Even the SAT is no longer sacrosanct, with a growing number of colleges becoming SAT-optional.

Maybe that’s how it should have been all along. Perhaps our expectations were unrealistic. Long before the pandemic, young people complained, like no generation before, of the anxiety they were feeling. Maybe we should have listened more closely, understood better.

If we come out of the pandemic with more realistic expectations of our children — and the desire to let them be kids at least part of the time — then some good will have come from this hell that we have collectively experienced. Maybe — just maybe — we will have learned that children’s feelings matter more in the end than their grades.

At the same time, the pandemic exposed, like never before, the wide disparities in educational opportunities for children from different communities, based largely on race and socioeconomic forces beyond their control. We should commit, like never before, to closing these gaps so all children are given equal opportunity to learn.

When you’ve had so much taken from you, you start to reassess all that you are. How much does owning the biggest house on the block or the shiniest car really matter? When you’re on a ventilator fighting for your life, not at all.

We also learned that we’re highly adaptable creatures. Countless businesses have carried on virtually, leaving their owners wondering why they hadn’t tried going remote earlier. It saves time and effort. It also saves gasoline and, thus, money. And, as we have learned, it might be a way of saving the planet — less travel by car means less greenhouse gases sent into our atmosphere, which could help slow the climate crisis, the biggest of the crises facing humanity.

We shouldn’t look back and beat ourselves up. We didn’t know better. We do now, though. The question is, when we are past the pandemic, who will we become? Will we revert to our old ways or adopt our newfound practices?

We are likely to achieve herd immunity within the next year through a combination of inoculation and infection. Now is a good time to start planning for that day, and to decide how we will live in the years after these difficult days.