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Six things history should remember about COVID-19

A month ago to the day that I am writing this, I texted my friends reflecting on the idea that one day this experience, living through a global pandemic, will be part of history.

At the time I said, “It’s bizarre to live through but even more bizarre to think of it as a memory one day.” Even though we are still far from COVID-19 existing in the rearview, states are beginning to consider when and how to reopen. So as we think about what life will look like once stay at home orders are eased or lifted, I also want to consider what United States history books should record from this time.

  1. Leadership (or lack thereof): From before outbreaks of COVID-19 began in the US, our country was ill-prepared for a health crisis. People have made a big deal out of looking back at things like Bill Gates’s Ted Talk about a global outbreak from 2015, or television shows that discussed the idea of a global pandemic. But people who discussed a new pandemic were not clairvoyant, they were speaking from the evidence of cycles in virology. Despite this, the president’s response to the pandemic has not reflected foresight or preparedness. His actions and inactions since the start of the outbreak have been appalling, such as his now infamous query about whether injecting people with disinfectants may help fight COVID-19.
  2. The environment: There have been many memes centered on sarcastic jokes of pretend improvements in the environment followed by the statement: we are the virus. Despite the facetious memes, there are actually credible sources such as NASA indicating significant reductions in air pollution while people have been under stay at home orders. In addition, some animals are exploring urban areas while people spend more time inside. These changes show how powerful our impact on our environment truly is.
  3. Education: The role of technology within the classroom has increased immensely over the last two decades, but any thoughts that sometime soon classes might run smoothly entirely online was quickly dispelled by the experience of online learning for today’s students. When people aren’t pulling Zoom pranks on their teachers, many are lamenting their lack of focus and drive to do… well, anything. More importantly, distance learning exposed issues of class and access to the internet that made learning more of a challenge for some than others.
  4. Social Distancing: In addition to standard calls and texts, people have found new and creative ways to stay connected to their friends, family and work during this time. Social media and technology have often been seen as weakening our relationships, but now they are instrumental for so many people. Drive-by birthday parties and weddings are one of the more adaptive ways I have seen people keep their lives moving forward with loved ones despite social distancing. 
  5. Media: Coronavirus has had a profound effect on the media or rather several profound effects. Media encompasses many businesses that have slowed down or shut down altogether because of coronavirus but the news media seems to have been invigorated in an unfathomable way. Journalists seem intent on reporting about every development related to COVID-19 from every angle at every opportunity. Keeping the public informed is important, but I question at what point the inundation of information is first counterproductive, especially in terms of conflicting or underdeveloped stories, and second exploitative of people’s fears and concerns, keeping them glued to news outlets even if it potentially causes psychological distress. It is a hard line to walk because lack of information can also create problems (And believe me, I get the irony of the medium in which I chose to express this.)
  6. Racism: There has been a disquieting uptick in instances of racism since the coronavirus became a global pandemic. In the United States, racism has been aimed at Asian people, with people blaming them for the virus. Some, following the president’s lead, began to call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” exacerbating the problem. In China, racism has been aimed at Black people because of associations between a second wave of the virus and foreigners visiting China. There has also been a surge in widely publicized instances of anti-black racism on the internet, with use of the TikTok app in particular as a platform for hate speech.

One thing is certain: Experiencing this global pandemic and the events that have happened because of it will leave some indelible marks on our society, even if they are just the knowledge of what we are capable of for better or worse.