Last week marks one year since I penned my fateful post Life in the Midst of a Pandemic, as the first case of COVID-19 came to my home state of Minnesota, and life as we had known it was gone. The pandemic had officially arrived and the world had come to a roaring, startling stop as country after country, state after state, and store after store shut down and such simple commodities as toilet paper, hand wipes and bleach became rare commodities worthy of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. From home office-ing in your yoga pants to home schooling at the dining room table to do-it-yourself haircuts, Netflix binges, new found hobbies and Zoom call and Zoom call and Zoom call, slowly we molded into the bland, isolation and routine of a lonely, colorless pandemic life.
While I’ve picked up my pen many times throughout the past year, trying to capture everything that I’ve felt over this rollercoaster of a crazy ride, the moment I tried to put ink to paper I stopped, paralyzed by an overwhelming weight of inertia and ennui. My thoughts unclear, my feelings murky, and at times simply lost. How do I want to remember this past year and look back? So much has been lost and there has been so much pain.
Then you throw in the violent death of George Floyd roughly two miles from my home, riots, protests, and one of the most divisive elections in U.S. history, and my once talkative soul has been left utterly speechless. Too much to process, too much to try to understand and too much pain. It certainly has been one hell of a year! But without wanting to dwell and get too depressing, there is also a silver lining of hope.
For me personally, I look at this past year as a total reset. It has given me a lot of time to think, and also do some of those things I’ve always wanted to do like take that darn Spanish class, fix up the house, and quite frankly spend more time just being instead of always doing. Getting used to the uncomfortable, the isolation, and dread of routine. Spending more time together as a family of four while missing deeply our extended family and friends. It has also been a time for reflection and to be grateful for everything I’ve been able to do so far and all I’ve been able to see of this amazing planet.
One year in, my husband is still working at home in our basement and my kids are still somedays at home doing online, distant learning with the occasional quarantine. The virus still lurks behind our every day lives, creeping in the shadows reminding us that unfortunately it has not gone away and is still very much alive. Knowing that it could still hit our family again, and also well aware the millions of other people haven’t been as fortunate as us.
One year in, who would have thought we would have already developed vaccines and administered over 121 million doses in the United States and 436 million worldwide (Our World Data) In the US, vaccines eligibility is being set by each state and quite frankly it has been a bit of a free for all. Some people are driving hours to other states to grab the chance to get a vaccine that if not used will be wasted while in many countries around the world, not a single person has received a vaccine. There is a stark gap between vaccine administration by country and by continent, by rich and by poor, and even by race within countries (Check out the data and maps on the New York Times Coronavirus tracker).While Americans proudly publish their vaccine selfies on Facebook (no judgment here as I probably will do it too I will be so moved) I think of the millions of frontline health care workers around the world risking their life every single day and have yet to receive the shot that could save their lives. It is heartbreaking.
What we must remember is we are all in this together. We are one world and life will not improve until it improves for all. By not having vaccines available for all, there is a great risk of prolonging the pandemic meaning more people will get sick and die, economies will struggle and it will take years for much of the world as we used to know it will come back.
For those of you like me who love to travel and are aspired to build a career around it, it is hard to know when international travel will be possible. Pre-pandemic, global tourism was one of the most important sectors of the world economy making up 10 percent of the global GDP and providing over 320 million jobs. Once the pandemic struck, borders shutdown and a year later many have not opened up their doors leaving many tourism-dependent economies in disarray and livelihoods lost. The World Travel Organization stated that 2020 was the worst year in tourism’s history, resulting in a $1.3 billion loss which has been devastating especially for already poor countries who need tourism to survive.
However, many questions arise about when it is safe to travel and also when it is ethical. So much about the virus is still unknown and it is possible that vaccinated travelers could bring and spread the virus within the very places they visit who don’t have vaccines available or the healthcare infrastructure for most of the population.
For me, sustainable, ethical tourism is more important than ever before. We finally have the opportunity to rebuild the tourism industry and help support local communities, cultures and the environment in the places we visit by using our tourist dollars wisely. If there is a silver lining in the pandemic, perhaps this is it. I sure know that the day I get to travel internationally again, a luxury that billions of people in this world do not have and never will, that I will view the trip and myself differently. Until then, I will keep dreaming.