Two years ago, I spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, watching the ball drop along with 1 million other souls. All of us reflecting on the past year and looking towards a new one filled with hope and anticipation. It’s always been a bitter sweet moment. Mourning the loss of loved ones no longer here to share it with me, while hugging and appreciating those who are. Deciding what succeeded and what needed improvement in order to make the coming year a better one. It’s always marked the opportunity for new beginnings.
Since the pandemic, for most New Year’s Eve has been quiet, pensive and spent alone or with a select few. The sudden and dramatic isolation has been overwhelming. Up is down, down is up and the world is nothing like it was.
Initially, we fervently believed it was temporary. Last year hope bloomed with vaccines on the horizon. But a year later this holiday brought a surge unlike any we have seen before. Over 1,000,000 new COVID positive patients in a day! The medical system is overwhelmed and in many places, broken. We all desperately want to pretend it’s not happening. As if acting like it’s over will make it so. Eating out, taking off our masks, traveling, congregating in large groups. But we’re now seeing the consequences to those actions. It’s devastating.
For two years we have struggled. For a brief few months after the vaccine was disseminated we believed the end was in sight. That what we used to have, what we used to do, what we used to take for granted would finally return. Everything would get back to “normal.”
We all want this to end. Or at the very least, change from a pandemic to an endemic, like the flu. We may never return to the “normal” we knew, but we can still find one filled with socializing and interactions. And that can only happen if we all do whatever it takes to prevent COVID from infecting us so we can’t be used as a vessel to infect others. Or as an incubator to allow variations to form. That’s the only key.
Stop. Letting. It. Infect. Us.
And after two horrifying years and the catastrophic loss of almost one million of our loved ones, friends, co-workers… that means standing firm, arm in arm against COVID’s onslaught. Creating a unified front where no access points exist. One where we all take the appropriate precautions to stop its progression.
It feels like we were standing at the front of a war zone, battered and bruised, watching the enemy encampment across the river bide its time until it attacks. Knowing it will attack once it finds another weak spot. Knowing it won’t stop changing tactics as works its way into our lives to wreak damage.
We can’t do this alone. Sadly it’s become clear it’s all or none. Even 60% of us following the guidelines, getting vaccinated, boosters, and wearing masks is not enough. It will take far more. Because the the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious, over 90% of our population is needed to have immunity to prevent it from finding susceptible souls to destroy.
That was the case with mumps, measles and rubella. In the 1970’s we achieved that mark. By 2000 it was declared “eliminated” in the U.S. until 2010 when it got a foothold for the first time in 30 years. It too, requires a booster.
This holiday brought a new version of COVID-19 Omicron. And with it a million new positive tests a day! That bears repeating, a million new positive COVID-19 tests a day! And surging, overwhelming medical stampedes to offices and hospitals. Numbers no one can handle. That means patients forced to be treated from the waiting rooms of ER’s for acute chest and abdominal pain and accidents, and then waiting days for a bed- became no longer the exception, but the rule. Practitioners offices cutting back hours of operation or shutting down for periods of time due to staff illness. We are no longer at the breaking point. We are broken. And we haven’t even peaked yet.
I’m often asked why New Year’s is so important to me. “It’s just another day.” Yes, it’s an arbitrary turn of the calendar page and an arbitrary moment in time. But this is the only moment the entire world, regardless of religion, universally agrees a new year begins and an old one ends. The physical change isn’t relevant, it’s the symbolic shedding of the past and the earnest belief that whatever happened last year, or the year before, isn’t as important as what can happen in this one.
We all need a reset button, a fresh slate. Not to ignore past indiscretions, excuse bad behavior or ignore truths, but a chance to redeem, repair or correct them. That is what New Year’s Day means to me- a brief, exhilarating moment in time when we can cherish the past year’s achievements, honor those we lost, truthfully reckon with our indiscretions and intolerance, all while looking forward with the determination to do better. The new year brings something we desperately need now-hope. And the belief that anything is possible if we work together.