Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Student Movement, the official student newspaper of Andrews University. It is appears here courtesy of the author.
At this point in my academic career, COVID-19 has impacted three separate school years. As I process the effects that it has had on local, national, and global scales, I am struck by certain areas in which it has had positive impacts. This is in no way to diminish the immense death and suffering that it has caused, but it is to say that there are certain outcomes of COVID-19 that have not been entirely negative. The following is a mix of points—some humorous, others not—and whatever you take away from them, I hope that they will bring you a little bit of hope as we continue to persevere through this pandemic.
1. Environmental Impacts
COVID-19 has resulted in a number of positive outcomes for the environment. As the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) notes, some positive effects have been the improvement of air quality in several cities, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less water pollution, and less tourist traffic, which makes room for the restoration of certain ecological communities. An IQAir report specifically noted that air quality was improved in 84% of cities due to COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. While certain negative impacts are also present and have included an increase in medical waste and disinfectant disposal, the overall benefits are striking to observe. They underscore the power that mass movements have to slowly mitigate our damage to the earth.
2. Masks (Sometimes)
Alright, hear me out on this. I, like many others, love to see people’s smiling faces. I am likewise troubled by phenomena such as mask fishing, and I find it a lot easier to remember a person’s name when I can pair this with their uncovered face. These are all fair points.
However, I have never felt quite so liberated to wake up in the morning, look at my tired, sleep-deprived face, and walk right out the door as I do now, knowing that two-thirds of it are hidden. Also, I know I’m not the only one who has instinctively smiled at something that was not supposed to be funny, or let any sort of untimely facial expression slip, and been grateful that a mask has been there to conceal it. Masks are also great at keeping your face warm while walking around outside in the winter. Yes, there is winter gear specifically designed for this purpose, but there is nothing easier than walking outside after class and being instantly shielded from the Michigan winter by your personal protective equipment. While I cannot wait for the day when masks will disappear, some aspects of wearing them have been surprisingly convenient.
3. Scientific Advancement
The strides that the scientific community has made in the wake of this global crisis are nothing short of amazing. While science has become increasingly politicized in American discourse, I invite you to set all of that aside for a moment and think about something. The typical time that it takes to develop a vaccine is 10-15 years. Creating a COVID-19 vaccine in under one year is a feat that hinged on global collaboration, a flood of recent scientific advancements, and incredible, concentrated efforts on the part of scientists around the world. Because of advances in genomic sequencing techniques, scientists were able to discover the sequence of the COVID-19 virus about 10 days after the first cases were reported in China. What’s more, the pandemic ushered in a new era of disease prevention—Pfizer and Moderna put forth the very first mRNA vaccines that have ever been distributed outside of clinical trials. Suffice it to say, the advancements in the scientific community have been incredible as of late, and they would not be possible without the collaboration encouraged by a global pandemic.
4. Long-Distance Communication
In the summer of 2020, I partook in a Zoom call with over 30 members from my mom’s side of the family. This included relatives that I hadn’t seen since the one time I visited India in 2014, some of whom I wasn’t sure I would see again before they died. Yes, platforms like Zoom existed long before COVID-19, but a lot of my older relatives weren’t tech-savvy enough to use them. That is, until a global pandemic came along and forced us all to communicate over the internet or live in social isolation. Throughout the course of 2020, I found myself talking much more to people who lived far away from me, including relatives that I usually didn’t see more than once a year. Maybe this has had something to do with our tendency to cling to one another in times of uncertainty, but whatever the motivation, the era of Zoom reunions has been really nice.
5. Remote Work and Efficiency
Since March of 2020, some people have left the office and never gone back. They now save money and time due to eliminating their commute, and many have increased flexibility with regard to their work hours. Some worried that the onset of remote work would decrease productivity, but research has shown that productivity has actually remained stable. This trend in remote working has been perfect for people who wish to cut down on their commute times, want more flexibility in their work hours, or maybe even desire the freedom to move across the country. Unfortunately, remote work has not been available in every field, and many lower-income employees have not been able to take advantage of its benefits. Additionally, remote work does come with its own set of unique challenges—employees must learn to set boundaries to avoid working at odd hours of the night—but when done correctly, it can have immense benefits on an employee’s health and lifestyle.
The recent increase in telemedicine has ushered in exciting opportunities for underserved patients. While this method of care comes with its own challenges, such as not being able to examine patients in person, it has immense potential to increase healthcare access for those who face geographic and financial challenges. Virtual healthcare visits are valuable for people who live in areas with low concentrations of physicians, and they have an average cost of $40–$50 per visit compared to the average cost of $136–176 for in-person care. Without the onset of a global pandemic, physicians would not have been forced to adapt to the world of virtual medicine in the same widespread manner as they did in 2020.
7. Stronger Communities
This one is crucial. While we have recently experienced immense polarization as a country, there have been invaluable instances of unity throughout the past two years—particularly within local communities.
When I first found out that Andrews was stopping in-person classes in 2020, I was sitting in the PMC chapel with a group of classmates. I still remember the way that we froze when the provost made the announcement, our hopes of an extended spring break morphing into a nightmare of long-term isolation. Several minutes after the announcement, one of my professors sent me a text: “Let me know how I can help you.”
The first response that students had was to flock together. I remember walking to the campus center after the town hall, people hobbling out of the Gazebo with bags of groceries; wide-eyed students huddled together in shock. Two days later, Andrews hosted a final vespers before everyone went home. There was a lot of crying, hugging, and other close-range activity that now provokes nervous laughter, but it was a powerful instance of unity in the face of uncertainty. Over one year after that initial shock, the unifying effects of the pandemic still remain. They manifest themselves in the various forms of change, fear, and hardship that we have all had to face—the collective mask-wearing, the awkwardness of class on Zoom, the way that professors and students alike have to wipe that annoying fog off their glasses. In spite of our collective frustration, we have all experienced difficulties that have inextricably drawn us closer.
In the midst of all of the challenges that we have faced over the past two years, I want to end this year with the reminder that there are still things to look forward to, celebrate, and be grateful for—regardless of the unpredictability of our circumstances.
Alyssa Henriquez is editor-in-chief of The Student Movement. She is from Ashton, Maryland, and will be graduating from Andrews University with a BS in biochemistry and a BA in English literature in the spring of 2022.
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