Opinion: Pandemic Memories Will Stay With Our Children

Joseph Prezioso, AFP via Getty Images

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at a mass vaccination center in Hartford, Conn., on May 13.

A lot of Americans may feel this week like someone who’s run a long race, sees the finish line and begins to counts each step and breath to the end, only to hear as we get close, “Oh, sorry. You’ve got another mile or two to go.”

The costs of the pandemic have been staggering. More than 600,000 people in the United States alone have died from COVID-19. Thousands more may live with long term damage, to their health, their livelihood and emotional well-being.

There is no “on the other hand” in such losses.

And it is not over. The delta variant is now dominant in this country, and spreading fast. About half the country is fully vaccinated. Sixty percent have had at least one shot, still well below what’s considered necessary for the widest protection. More than 97% of those being hospitalized now are people who have not been vaccinated.

And now many Americans are putting on masks again, even if they’ve had the jab. Students under age 12 still wait for a vaccine to be deemed safe for them. Schools, which have learned the limitations of remote education, are preparing to re-open in person, but often with masks and social distancing still required.

I often wonder how children growing up now may be imprinted by these times, as their parents or grandparents were stamped by coming of age in wartime, in an economic crisis or periods of social unrest.

Will today’s children grow up to pull on face masks during cold and flu season? Will they wash their hands over and over? Replace handshakes with elbow-bumps? Most seriously, will they always live in fear that any cough or sneeze might be a sign of a new virus, and another crisis?

They may never make a movie about vaccines, as many have been made about the U.S. space program that landed on the moon, 52 years ago this week. But the stellar development of vaccines against COVID-19, almost at a rocket’s pace, has reminded us — as much as any moon mission could — of the power of human ingenuity and enterprise.

Children coming of age during this pandemic have seen, and often suffered, deep losses. They have also been able to see people all around them — all around us — reveal courage, kindness and resourcefulness. Those are memories to carry, too, in times ahead.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.