COLUMN: The U.S. has an opportunity to not repeat the mistakes made in 2020

From my column in February to now, let’s look at what went wrong and turned a few cases into a nationwide threat.

Keara Shannon is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about human rights and race relations for The Maneater.

In February, I wrote an opinion column titled “News flash: The coronavirus outbreak doesn’t excuse racist behavior.” In this column, I detailed the offensive and distasteful jokes targeted toward Asians that I’d seen on social media. The overarching topic still stands. As I re-read that story nearly a year later, I decided that it needed an update considering the current state our country is in.

There was one specific part of the column that stood out to me the most: “The coronavirus is a small road bump compared to other diseases and illnesses found around the world, yet people don’t talk about those as much. Unfortunately, so many people have passed away from this illness, but there’s no need to worry. You’ll be okay. Take a deep breath.”

As we all know, this definitely is not the case anymore. America needs to worry. By the end of February, 64 cases of the virus were reported across the country. Now, the CDC reports over 19 million cases and over 341,000 deaths as of Dec. 31. More than 230,000 new cases have been reported since the time of writing. How did this happen? What went wrong?

My answer: a mixture of greed and stubbornness. America opened its cities too early and people are understandably tired of isolation and want to go back to normal. Now is not the time for this. At this rate, “normal” won’t happen for a very long while.

We have the most cases of any country in the world. Across the country, people are going to beaches, amusement parks and vacationing in places where social distancing or wearing masks is not enforced. People are still gathering with their families for the holidays and other occasions. With all this, it’s no wonder why the U.S. is in such bad shape.

2020 felt like a fever dream. Holidays didn’t feel like holidays for many not only because of the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, but many family members were lost. Schools weren’t the same and students weren’t able to have the learning experience they needed to succeed. 2020 was — to put it lightly — a disaster.

2021 is a mystery. With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being distributed around the country, there is hope that this destruction will end sooner than expected. However, there definitely aren’t enough doses for all 300 million Americans and people are skeptical of a vaccine, which takes years to create and perfect, being distributed in under a year. If people want to be back to “normal,” American citizens need to do their part.

Let’s not make the same mistakes we made in 2020. We need to follow protocols, wear our masks and practice social distancing and avoid gathering with family and friends for the time being. This worked for countries such as New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea last year.

With only 17 confirmed cases, New Zealand’s 1.7 million people went into lockdown for over a month. Since the time of writing, New Zealand reports about 2,162 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. They even plan to open up their borders with Australia, another country handling the pandemic very well.

Yes, New Zealand’s population is tremendously smaller than the U.S., but shutting down the country quickly and early was effective. Since there are more people in the U.S., it would be more likely for the virus to spread to more people. That is exactly what happened, and quickly. Jan. 21 was when the first case was confirmed here. By March 3, the country passed 100 cases and by March 19, the country had over 10,000 cases.

The number of cases in the country is still rising at an alarming rate. One million new cases were reported within the first five days of December and the U.S. averaged 2,250 deaths per day during the month. The U.S. did not take any notes from New Zealand or other countries that also combated the spread of the virus.

Taiwan and South Korea never went into lockdown, but instead relied on testing and contact tracing, with wearing masks already more common. However, South Korea is experiencing its second phase of the pandemic and their cases are the highest they’ve ever been. If a country that was looked upon as the forefront for handling the pandemic is struggling, how will it be for America?

Additionally, the first case of a COVID-19 variant seen in the U.K. was found in Colorado. Scientists in the U.K. believe this variant is even more contagious than the other strains and could lead to another, more dangerous wave. This virus is unpredictable and we need to start taking it seriously.

Americans need to start being considerate of those around them. Attending large social gatherings and not wearing a mask when around other people are not a good idea right now, yet many people even debate this. You don’t know who the people you’re around were in contact with and being around them is not worth the risk.

Yes, life as we know it changed and we want our old lives back, but that certainly won’t happen unless we start caring. We all share a common goal of not wanting a repeat of 2020. One year was hard enough to get through, but imagine having to endure several more years of this. I know I don’t want that to happen.

America should have taken this pandemic seriously when the first case arrived. Now is the time to do that. Other countries are handling their outbreaks well, but the U.S. is very much behind the pack as more lives are lost each day. The future is uncertain, but we have the ability to stop it from becoming any grimmer. We just have to cooperate.

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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