Columns for The Lufkin News

2020, We Are Giving You the Boot

Posted Jan 09, 2021 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Are you as relieved as I that 2020 is over? Like the uninvited guest that overstayed a visit, 2020 deserves to be booted out and have the door slammed shut behind her. Good riddance!

2020 was a year of heightened fear and pervasive anxiety. Life in the United States in the 21st century, for most Americans, has been underscored with a sense of comfort and invincibility. We know those in poverty live with the daily anxiety of not knowing where the next meal is coming from. Then George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement increased our awareness that many Americans of color – especially young, Black men – live in fear. But 2020 brought a level of fear and anxiety (not to mention death) to a majority of the country to a degree perhaps not seen since WWII. Fear got personal for most of us, in other words. Let’s hope that as the broad population starts to get vaccinated in 2021 and the economy picks up, that fear and anxiety (and the depression that may follow) can start to dissipate.

Last month in this column, I wished for a COVID-19 vaccination for Christmas, not believing that I would receive one that quickly. As it turns out, I got my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 18, one week after its approval by the FDA. Just last night, I received my second and final vaccine dose. Within a week or two, I should achieve maximal immunity. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to get the first dose! Everyone else I talk to who has been vaccinated feels the same way. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I started to be less afraid, less anxious. It may take time for all of us to recover from what I call PCSD[1] – post coronavirus stress disorder – but we will get there.

Being vaccinated does not mean I can let my guard down yet. Even with vaccines with the very high success rate of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (around 95%), 5% or more of people immunized may still get the virus.[2] Mitigation measures like wearing masks and social distancing must continue for most of 2021 until we gradually can return to a pre-COVID routine, assuming enough people get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity in the population.

Now that healthcare workers are being vaccinated, who is next in line? The federal government has left it up to each state to determine criteria for vaccine distribution. In Texas, the first round (Phase 1A) included front-line healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1B is now in process, and that includes people 65 years of age and older as well as people 16 years of age and older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness (such as cancer, heart conditions, COPD, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, transplant patients, chronic kidney disease, pregnancy, and sickle cell disease).[3] More information can be found at dshs.texas.gov, including a Texas COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Locations Map[4] where one can find out where to go get vaccinated.

The overall vaccine rollout is not without glitches and controversy. Arguments have been made that the criteria for vaccine distribution and prioritization have not been established to maximize lives saved.[5] And the desire to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of the year was a gross overestimate (we vaccinated around 2.6 million).[6] That being said, the vaccines are being manufactured, distributed and administered at a pace previously thought impossible; I hope and pray that everyone who is eligible to receive one will take it when their turn comes.

Let me tell you what else needs to get booted out with 2020: our growing and disturbing willingness to tolerate and believe misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories.[7] There is a serious lack of deep reading and critical thinking today.[8] Sound bites become “truth”, even when the facts prove otherwise. Those very facts are disputed – often viciously – if they come from any source other than one’s narrow list of preferred (and often biased) channels, websites, or Twitter feeds. We are losing the ability to have an honest discussion. Disagreement and dialogue can be constructive; hate never is.

As we give 2020 the boot, we mourn what we lost in 2020. Certainly, many lost jobs and income, and far too many restaurants and businesses closed. Most of all, we lost our people. I wrote in March 2020 that in an ironic twist of fate, it very well may be that the remnants of the Greatest Generation are once again on the front lines and would bear the brunt of the coronavirus disease.[9] To date, 6 out of 10 coronavirus deaths are age 75 or older, and more than 80% age 65 or older.[10] I lament the disdain for the elderly evidenced by the cavalier attitude of those who feel their personal rights and lower risk of severe disease mean they don’t have to be careful. Rugged individualism and love of neighbor do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Ever, the optimist, I am glad to close the door on 2020 and see what 2021 brings. I look forward to seeing family members I have not seen in quite some time, to travel, and to the return of live performing arts (especially symphony, opera, and musical theater productions). New Year’s resolutions certainly look different this year. Yes, losing the COVID 15 pounds is probably on most people’s list. But I must resolve to maintain vigilance regarding COVID-19 until such time as herd immunity is achieved and the CDC recommends relaxing social distancing and masking. Likewise, I will continue to encourage those around me to get one of the vaccines when their time comes.

Finally, I hope and pray for 2021 that we all take a collective deep breath as we start the New Year. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear. I’ve said it many times: love your neighbor. More than anything, that’s how we can boot 2020 – and the fear and anxiety that came with it – out the door.

[1] https://www.angelinaradiation.com/blog/finding-a-new-normal-with-coronavirus

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/16/fauci-why-still-need-masks-social-distancing-after-covid-19-vaccine.html

[3] https://www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/immunize/vaccine.aspx

[4] https://txdshs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=91ac7fb5e5fd47e7ada4acfe4a05920a

[5] https://www.persuasion.community/p/why-im-losing-trust-in-the-institutions?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=twitter

[6] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/12/31/952208601/u-s-likely-will-miss-goal-of-vaccinating-20-million-by-the-new-year

[7] https://www.npr.org/2020/12/30/951095644/even-if-its-bonkers-poll-finds-many-believe-qanon-and-other-conspiracy-theories

[8] https://nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-erosion-of-deep-literacy

[9] https://www.angelinaradiation.com/blog/end-of-life-implications-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic

[10] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm

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