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Lessons from Covid: What we learned and how life changed

From emergency rooms to nursing homes, from state houses to our houses, the pandemic continues to reshape our world, and a new poll from Harris suggests why so many are letting their guards down.

Lessons from Covid: What we learned and how life changed
[Photo: Go Nakamura/Getty Images; Katie/rawpixel]
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This article is part of Fast Company‘s Lessons of COVID package, exploring some of the ways America has changed since the pandemic hit and what we have learned from it. Click here to read the entire series.
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Eight months after offices locked down, schools shut their doors, and hospitals started bracing for an onslaught of COVID-19 patients, we are well into a second major surge. December 9 delivered the highest number of single-day deaths from the virus since the onset of the pandemic, more than 3000. Yet, the following day, we received a glimmer of hope when an FDA panel gave the green light to Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, which will go into use within a matter of days.

While the days of the pandemic may now be numbered, we face some grim weeks ahead, as death tolls continue to climb toward what the University of Washington predicts will total more than half a million by April.

What have we learned from this scourge? Even after nearly 300,000 American deaths, some (led by our lame duck Denier in Chief) continue to downplay the risk. A poll conducted for Fast Company by Harris found that those who had firsthand experience with the virus were more likely to take it seriously.

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Some other key findings:

  • We’re getting tired of taking extra precautions. Twenty-seven percent of Americans say they are less likely to engage in certain safety measures.
  • When asked why, they gave opposing answers: 43% said it was because they had accepted the pandemic isn’t ending soon and 27% said they were less wary because a vaccine will be available soon.
  • Nearly a quarter responded they would rather take their chances contracting COVID-19 than inhibit their accustomed freedom.
  • Though 53% of American plan to be vaccinated, a quarter are still wary of it, and 19% never plan on getting the vaccine.

Our health depends on the health of those around us, so these are sobering statistics. And while a vaccine may help eradicate the virus, the toll that COVID-19 has taken – on hospitals, on mental health, on politics, on the economy – may require decades of recovery.

In an effort to shine a light on what we may have learned thus far from the pandemic, we commissioned half a dozen articles.

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First, in an exclusive interview with staff writer Ruth Reader, emergency physician and Brown University associate professor Megan Ranney describes the challenges and heroics she’s witnessed on the frontlines of the battle against the disease.

Another Fast Company staff writer, Aimee Rawlins, reconstructs the race against the COVID clock last spring as three companies (Newlab, 10XBeta, and Boyce Technologies) joined forces to build a new prototype and gain FDA approval for a new ventilator to help overwhelmed NYC hospitals.

Senior Editor Kathleen Davis compares the performance of two Democratic governors, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Andrew Cuomo of New York, examining reactions that reveal the extent to which sexism continues to burden women in leadership positions.

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Contributing Editor Jay Woodruff writes about the challenges of navigating long-term care in the midst of a pandemic, when safety protocols condemn many elderly and sick to solitary confinement.

Finally, in a pair of pieces that round up some of the best reporting to date, Julia Herbst considers the future of work after all these months when so many of us have been working from home, while Pavithra Mohan examines the role and status of essential workers.

In his book about the 1918 Spanish Flu, The Great Influenza (2004), John M. Barry speculates that World War II may never have erupted had it not been for that virus: A case of the flu influenced President Woodrow Wilson’s position on the Paris peace treaty, which ultimately created economic hardship in Germany and contributed to nationalistic sentiment and the rise of Hitler, changing the course of history forever.

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Nobody can predict exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the future, but we can report on what we’re observing right now.