New York, NY – There will be much to celebrate this July 4, the day America celebrates its “independence” from COVID-19. The country will be on track to achieve “herd immunity” to the virus thanks to a vaccination effort that has been successful enough to permit picnics, parades, fireworks and other celebrations to go on with crowds and without the face masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing that have marked our lives for so long.
The festivities will mark an important milestone of our progress on the long road back to pre-pandemic life. The virus has been turned back, but it has not been eradicated. Thousands of new infections continue to be counted every day, and people continue to die from the disease and its complications. As of this writing, CDC statistics show the virus has killed almost 600,000 people in the U. S., and because most of the world outside the U.S. remains unvaccinated, and will for some time, the threat of a viral mutation the vaccines don’t protect against remains a threat.
Nonetheless, the progress here against the virus has been a public achievement of major proportions, and it is important to celebrate it. At the same time, it will be just as important to remember the losses we have suffered due to COVID and pay special attention to what the pandemic has shown us about our society. Possibly unlike anything else we have experienced as a nation, COVID has shown us our strengths but also laid bare our weaknesses.
On the plus side, the pandemic brought out the resiliency, resourcefulness, kindness and determination in the American spirit that allowed us to endure the disease and make it through. But the virus also laid bare the inequities and enmities in our society, heightened them as possibly nothing before and helped divide us as a nation in ways unseen since the Civil War. It is the bittersweet legacy of our progress against the pandemic and the question it poses for our future: We are meeting the prodigious public health threat it presented, but will we meet the societal challenges the virus has thrown into such stark relief?