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An Anniversary of a Pandemic

This week was an anniversary of a momentous historical event. Of course, it was not a memory prompting much celebration. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 outbreak was a global pandemic.

Then, there were about 120,000 reported cases in 114 countries, but none in 81 countries. About 4,300 people had died from the virus. In 2024, using the notion of “excess deaths” the current figure is about 3,000,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19 worldwide.

It is interesting that our memories of unpleasant events fade – a good feature, perhaps, of humans. But it’s sometimes good to remember.

Within hours of the WHO decision, all our lives changed. Fear was pervasive. The world didn’t yet understand how the virus was spread. Imagining exponential growth of victims was difficult for most of us. “Flattening the curve” became an exhortation.

Some countries issued total lockdowns, with severe restrictions on exiting one’s housing. Countries banned entry of travelers from outside. Those finding themselves in another country in March had great difficulties getting home. Uncertainties abounded as government agencies were being asked to implement unprecedented policies.

In the US, businesses sent workers home. Day-care centers closed. Traffic on city streets was radically reduced. Public transportation on buses and subways declined. The train and airline sectors were hit hard. The hospitality, store-based retail, and travel sectors experienced severe turndowns. The stock price of Zoom went from about $70 a share to about $560 at its peak.

Within a matter of weeks, disruptions occurred for supply chains of a variety of products. Surgical masks were precious possessions. Manufacturers attempted to fill the need for ventilators and other personal protective equipment. Hoarding of products began to occur.

Hospitals were overloaded. ICUs had rapid turnover, given the mortality rate. Temporary morgues were set up in refrigerated trucks outside hospitals. Public health officials suddenly found themselves at the highest levels of government decision-making.

Societies around the world asked a portion of their population to expose themselves to higher risks. This included health care workers, of course, but also workers whose jobs could not be done remotely – police, firefighters, construction workers, janitorial service workers, food service workers, e-commerce warehouse workers, delivery workers.

There were clear messages to follow the science, but by the time the message was translated for delivery by the mass media, they didn’t effectively note that scientific findings always change as they improve over time. When more was learned by scientists about the virus, and guidance changed, it seemed to undercut the credibility of the mandate to “follow the science.”

For those of us who work in universities, the culture of shared governance and consensus-based decision-making was strained by the need for nimble reactions to new events. Sometimes only hours were available to make a needed decision instead of weeks or months.

Faculty, students, and staff performed heroically, adapting to online education as best they could. All universities grew to appreciate what a leveling environment exists on campuses. In contrast, they saw their students return to highly variable home situations. Internet-based online learning was a real challenge for poorer students, international students, and rural students. Some students returned home, but resumed their work in the family business.

Remembering those days is painful. We lost family members and friends. Those who remain emerged as changed people. The social isolation of those days harmed us. Online learning lacked richness, despite diligent efforts to continue our devotion to the whole student.

But we did emerge. We have returned. We now know that we’re better together, and we need each other. We’re not fully back, but we are much better that we were in March of 2020. It’s worth remembering that from time to time.

7 thoughts on “An Anniversary of a Pandemic

  1. Great blog post as always. However the so called scientists and academics still evade the origin question! Are they culpable of withholding information of where the virus originated? Or worse? Shouldn’t Georgetown as a bastion of truth and integrity ask?

    • Scientists are continually asking that question. There are some things they can’t know for certain. You assume they didn’t investigate and might be hiding something. Science does have hypotheses to test out theories and usually adapts if it finds out some facts. Sometimes answers are unknown even if a good faith effort is made. The undermining of trust in science has really damaged our health in the U.S. for example not trusting science has led to reemergence of some almost eradicated diseases also to the reemergence of a potentially deadly disease in children eg measles. Undermining trust in science can and has had deadly results. Thoughts?
      Ps Opinions NOT based on science can have consequences sometimes deadly and avoidable.

    • “unknown even if a good faith effort is made”

      That is precisely my point. No one is making a good faith effort to determine Covid origins, and any such attemptsare denigrated. Science should want to know the facts.

      • You assume scientists are withholding facts . Where evidence? Facts ? And anti vaccine movement questioning science kills. Thoughts ?

  2. Very proud of Georgetown’s balanced approach to the pandemic! IMO. It was a role model for all universities to follow. Very proud balanced as GU balanced safety and bring practical. Well done ! Hoya SAXA !

  3. “Societies around the world asked a portion of their population to expose themselves to higher risks.”

    Provost Groves: You write that “our memories of unpleasant events fade.” I truly hope that you have not forgotten the colleagues that Georgetown – not “societies around the world” – had expose themselves to higher risks of the COVID-19 pandemic through the University’s Redeployment Initiative. Some of these colleagues weren’t asked. As a manager I received an email requiring me to offer names of team members from my unit for redeployment by 3pm that same day. I offered my own. Yes,
    remembering those days is painful and I will not forget my beautiful, unbelievably generous colleagues who never actually left and thus never “returned” because THEY WERE ALWAYS THERE. They still are.

    • Untraque Unum ! If my Latin is correct ! Service for others ! And CURA PERSONALIS ! We are Georgetown and responded to the CALL TO BE ! Very proud .

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