Gone but Not Forgotten: The Year 2020
The year will be remembered for a record number of COVID cases, high joblessness, and a booming stock market.
The year 2020 began with reports from Wuhan, China, of a confirmed case of a hitherto unknown disease, which the scientists later named COVID-19. The novel-Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was the cause of the disease. A 35-year old Washington state man who returned from Wuhan was the first confirmed case in the U.S. On December 31, the number of confirmed cases in the country crossed the 20 million mark. The U.S. has 4.25% of the world population, yet we have 23.8% of the COVID-19 case.
The chart displays the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States since March 4, 2020, when there were just 100 cases. In March and April, most of the country went into a lockdown. On Memorial Day in May, when the total number of cases was 1.47 million, we notice that the pandemic curve was beginning to flatten. Many states relaxed restrictions, and people crowded the bars and beaches without facemasks and ignored social distancing guidelines. In another three months, the total would reach 5 million, and by the end of November, the number of cases hit 13 million. Thanksgiving gatherings, cooler weather, and general fatigue from nine months of restrictions contributed to an onslaught of new confirmed coronavirus cases, as evidenced by the steep curve.
Close to 350,000 people died of COVID-19 related complications in 2020; 95 percent of the deaths were among those 50 years or older. The Washington Post reports that the rate of death due to the disease is disproportionately higher among Blacks (by 37%), Asians (by 53%), Native Americans(by 26%), and Hispanics (by 16%), compared to the white population.
How other countries handled the pandemic?
From April through July, most of the world’s countries were under a strict lockdown. Wuhan, China, a metropolis of 11 million, and the rest of China successfully emerged from lockdown, having tamed the spread of the virus. According to ABC News, China has reported a total of 87,027 COVID-19 cases and 4,634 deaths nationwide, with Wuhan accounting for almost 60% of all patients and over 80% of total deaths.
New Zealand also emerged with comparatively low confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. The country proved that it is possible to save both lives and livelihoods. The Guardian quotes an American, one of the lucky tourists who stayed in the country where she got stranded because of the lockdown, that “New Zealand is a very capitalist country, they just decided to put lives first.” New Zealanders’ rule-abiding nature and concern for all people’s collective good is the one character trait that sets them apart from what President Hoover once described as the “rugged individualism” of the people in the United States.
Talal Ansari of the Wall Street Journal identified several factors as reasons for the surge in COVID-19 case numbers and deaths in the U.S. They include underfunded public health departments, some people’s distrust of health guidelines, fatigue over pandemic restrictions, and holiday travel.
The worst-case scenario now is in Los Angeles County, California, which surpassed 10,000 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday and set a single-day record of deaths with 262 fatalities. Huffington Post reports that at least five hospitals across the county have declared internal disasters after running dangerously low on oxygen. The hospitals have formed a committee to choose who receives the care and who doesn’t. A doctor who treats COVID patients in the Los Angeles area is quoted as saying that the surge in cases has led to“a backup of dead bodies in hospitals across the county.”
Unemployment and joblessness
Many businesses were forced to shut down during the early months of the pandemic. The economic downturn swelled the ranks of unemployed Americans by more than 14 million, from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. The highest number of jobless claims, 143,000, was reported during the week of July 23. After the weekly jobless numbers went down to as low as 711,000, it went back up to 892,000 on December 12.
Police brutality and systemic racism
2020 also saw collective demonstrations against the killing of unarmed Blacks by police. The Black Lives Matter Movement initiated social justice protests against systemic racism. Soon, they became spontaneous demonstrations bringing together all segments of the society in the United States that spread to other parts of the world.
Not everything is grim about the fight against the pandemic and the economy.
While the mortality rate of those contracting the virus has improved, thanks to earlier detection and advancements in treatment and therapeutics, the sheer number of cases ultimately resulted in a steadily increasing number of deaths. Travel during the holiday season will inevitably increase those numbers in the coming weeks. As president-elect, Biden said, “things are going to get worse before they get better.” We have to remain vigilant. Wear facemasks and maintain social distancing.
There are other promising signs about the economy and the fight against the pandemic.
- Vaccines: Two vaccines, both based on the mRNA technology, from Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna, were authorized for emergency use by the FDA in December. The vaccine rollout has been slower than some health officials had hoped. There have been repeated promises from Secretary Azar of Health and Human Services and General Perna, the CEO of Operation Warp Speed, that 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of December. The goal fell short by 17 million. Vaccines developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford University and Johnson and Johnson could receive emergency use authorizations in the next few months.
- Businesses are optimistic about 2021. As more people get vaccinated, it would be possible for many shuttered restaurants, theaters, cinemas, and sports events to open and function again. The unemployment lines would get shorter.
- Stock Market: During the election campaign, President Trump declared that “If Biden is elected, ‘the stock market will crash.’’ No such thing has happened. All the major stock indices closed at a record high, as seen in the following charts. NASDAQ gained 18%, and both the DOW and S & P gained over 15% in value since November.
Why is preserving memories of the lost year important?
In this music video from the National Public Radio, a group of Black singers in Alabama reminds us why preserving our memories of this historic year is vital — even if we’d rather leave 2020 behind. They’re singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the Scottish ballad synonymous with ringing in the new year. It begins with this line: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot / And never brought to mind?”
This New Year greetings to usher in 2021 was a template found on Adobe Spark. I remixed it and sent it out to friends and family because of the meaningful message: Is it really a Happy New Year if 2020 doesn’t count? 2021, please be better. With a new president and new optimism, it is safe to assume that this year will be a lot better than the one we just said goodbye to.