Lessons Learned from the Global Pandemic

‘Hopefully we won’t repeat the same mistakes in the future should we once again face a major public health emergency’

Daniel Meyer is a lifelong resident of Western New York. He is the former editor of the Hamburg Sun newspaper and is currently the deputy press secretary for numerous departments that comprise the government of Erie County.

We recently entered the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a worldwide public health crisis that impacted everyone’s day-to-day routines and claimed the lives of countless innocent souls.

I recall in late February 2020 learning about increasing concerns about the “novel coronavirus” and a potential public health emergency. Before we all knew it there was an incredible focus on pandemic preparedness plans but still much uncertainty about what was about to unfold.

So much occurred over the past two years that it is difficult to compartmentalize everything. While the rapid development of vaccines and some forms of therapeutics went surprisingly well, other things have gone horrifically wrong and given us all fodder for long-term lessons from the pandemic so we hopefully won’t repeat the same mistakes in the future should we once again face a major public health emergency.

I personally experienced heartfelt anguish following the deaths of family members and friends from complications caused by COVID-19. The gut-wrenching agony of what happened to those victims has dulled somewhat for me as days became weeks and then months and we are fast approaching the one-year or two-year anniversaries of their deaths.

I often compile lists to help me better comprehend most everything I’ve experienced in life. The pandemic completely upended our daily lives, so I believe what would benefit us all would be to take inventory and learn from the experience. Here are four lessons I’ve learned over the past two years.

• Vaccines are powerful tools: Preventing disease and avoiding contraction of any illness should be the goal of every human being. The attention that the COVID-19 vaccine received will hopefully motivate everyone to keep up with all their vaccines. Diseases such as measles, chicken pox, shingles and other viruses are preventable.

We also learned that a vaccine is not a magic bullet, but having faith and trust in science we should have a medical industry that can build on the strengths we learned from the recent vaccine development strategies that led to the development of multiple vaccines for COVID-19.

• Mental health matters: Now more than ever, highlighting the importance of being aware of any possible cognitive disorders or signs of depression is an issue that must be continuously addressed. Behavioral neurologists and psychologists have presented plenty of research that mental health disorders were already on the rise before the pandemic and have since surged as countless people struggle with some symptom related to either anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. By mere virtue of necessity, as a society we can no longer ignore or outright dismiss the key component mental stability has in our overall health and well-being.

• Human connection and community collaboration is crucial: Not having some type of support from other people makes for difficult times for most. When you are an active member of your community you have a better sense for the importance of human connection. Even if there are periods of time where face-to-face interactions are not possible and your only choice is to use some form of technology to communicate with others, avoiding long stretches of isolation helps overcome loneliness, which can actually lead to negative impacts on the immune system and become a precursor to some health ailments. Staying connected and finding peace and joy through shared experiences is something we cannot take for granted when given the opportunity to connect with other human beings.

• We all have the capacity to be resilient: No matter how much suffering and tremendous difficulty some of us faced over the past two years, we have learned that it is possible to be resilient during a crisis. Practicing self-care in various ways by adjusting to entirely different work schedules, changing socialization routines and seeking new strategies to cope with stress made me become an absolute believer in the concept of resilience. As difficult as things were at times for all of us during the pandemic, sometimes it is easy to forget how our ancestors persevered through natural catastrophes, world wars and similar public health challenges that included plagues and famines.

I also believe that inherently we each have the fortitude and means to deal with and overcome any crisis or major hardship because resilience is part of our psyche that we can develop and strengthen by learning from the COVID-19 global pandemic and all that it presented to us in completely changing our everyday lives. By learning to cope with a flurry of emotions that can include anger, fear, frustration and loneliness, we hopefully developed coping mechanisms that taught us all about the power of perseverance during a two-year stretch that forever changed history while testing our resiliency with a drive to never stop believing that better days always exist in our future.