“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Author’s note: This column was first published over a year ago on December 7, 2020. Many of the sentiments remain relevant and we have therefore decided to republish it.
We have begun the last month of a year that, for most of the Earth’s inhabitants, cannot end soon enough. The level of stress, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, and frustration that have universally and intimately impacted the lives of billions this year will leave an indelible mark on each of us, the effects of which we will not likely fully appreciate for a very long time, if ever.
The stressors of COVID-19 are ubiquitous. In the last twelve months, our lives have changed in ways that could not have been anticipated or imagined. Almost imperceptibly, we have expanded our daily vocabulary with new terms such as essential workers, social distancing, masking, and quarantine. And, sadly, so many of our loved ones, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances have left us too soon, often all alone, with none of their loved ones present.
Therefore, this week will Consider This … how can we cope with the stressors of COVID-19?
The novel coronavirus
The novel coronavirus also called SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, for short, is a disease that emerged in China one year ago. Its symptoms include cough, fever and chills, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, muscle and body aches, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, congestion and runny nose. COVID-19 can be mild but, in severe cases, it has caused death.
The most effective preventive measures against the virus are hand washing, frequent isolation, or quarantine, coughing into the bend of the elbow, wearing a face covering or mask, and practicing social distancing.
In his recently published book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, Fareed Zakaria noted, “In fact, the novel coronavirus is about 1/10,000th the size of the period that ends this sentence.” It is very difficult to fathom that an infinitesimally minuscule virus so small could be so definitively destructive.
At the time of this writing, there have been 66,833,007 confirmed cases worldwide and 1,533,741 deaths. The United States has experienced 14,981,840 confirmed cases, the highest number for any single country in the world, and 287,825 deaths. Amongst world’s highly populated countries, Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, has experienced the lowest number of confirmed cases and deaths, 693 and seven, respectively. The Bahamas, a nation of nearly 400,000 souls, has recorded 7,579 confirmed cases and 163 deaths.
Prospects for an effective vaccine are very encouraging. The first doses are expected to be available later this month. It is anticipated that mass distributions and vaccinations will be universally dispensed over the next six months.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected our lives in The Bahamas. In the early days of the pandemic, Bahamians experienced the lockdown of critical elements of the domestic economy, including our tourism sector, our international and domestic borders, schools, local businesses, and organizations that offered non-essential services.
The governor general activated a national state of emergency, and the rigorous protocols that were imposed by the competent authority have significantly affected the lives of virtually every Bahamian citizen and resident.
Many of the legal restrictions that the government imposed were similar to those adopted by governments around the world.
The lives of virtually every Bahamian have been inexorably altered by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands of Bahamians still live in a state of suspended animation, having lost their jobs, with scant personal savings to cushion them, and modest recourse for assistance, other than what has been available from the government safety net. The National Insurance Board has been a lifesaving agent, having disbursed nearly $200 million in financial assistance to the unemployed.
Daily, Bahamians encounter anguish and anxiety and the pain of not knowing where the next meal or urgently needed funds for the necessities of life will come from. Others fear and fret about their health, and the health of loved ones, concerned about who will take care of their family if they become ill with COVID-19.
Thousands of Bahamians have experienced stress from having contracted COVID-19. They are concerned about monitoring themselves or being monitored by others. It is difficult to comprehend the sadness, anger, and frustration because friends or loved ones fear contracting the disease from others, even if such persons are cleared to be around others.
Some experience guilt about not properly performing everyday work or parenting duties while infected with COVID-19 or, worse, they worry about being reinfected, or sick again, even though they have already had COVID-19.
Our children are constantly concerned and experience anxieties or other strong emotions if they, or someone they know, have had COVID-19, even if they are now better and able to be around others again.
Bahamians have rapidly adopted the nuances of virtual reality from homeschooling to conducting business to social meetings on ZOOM or other virtual media. But, while we have become connected online, we have disconnected from the face-to-face interaction we have always been accustomed to. Few would agree that this new medium has been a wholly satisfying means of social intercourse.
Since March, we have not been able to celebrate any of our public holidays this entire year, a loss that has taken an enormous toll on us, our culture, and our national psyche.
The Yuletide season is one that thousands eagerly anticipate, not only because of the family festivities that this holiday provides, but also for our internationally acclaimed festival: Junkanoo. That, too, is canceled this year. This will undoubtedly create a sense of loss, not only for local and visiting spectators, but also for thousands of artisans who construct and display their creative costumes and perform dazzling dance routines at this downtown festival.
One of the most profoundly impactful stressors of the pandemic is that so many who die from this virus do so alone, without their loved ones by their bedsides, as they transition from this world to the next. The lonely deaths of our loved ones are made even more painful by their funerals. Because burials have been limited to graveside services, with no more than ten persons, the virus has also deprived us of expressing one of the most profound observances of our culture: how we bid a final farewell to our loved ones and friends. Not only are we unable to show the kind of respect for our loved ones by giving them a traditional burial, we are also unable to experience the kind of support from our friends and relatives that is so important when a loved one passes on.
These are but a few of the stressors of COVID-19 — sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, frustration, and loss — that many Bahamians have experienced from this pandemic.
Is there a silver lining?
Is it possible that, despite the many stressors that this pandemic has visited upon us, there is a silver lining?
Although we are limited this Christmas in engaging in the assortment of usual holiday activities by our strained economic situation, as well as our observation of COVID-19 protocols, could it be that we will take this opportunity to actually reflect on and honor the real meaning of Christmas: the birth of the one who came to destroy death?
This Christmas, we should be encouraged that, despite the enormous damage, pain, and suffering that this pandemic has caused for all of us, we are all in this together, working hand in hand to emerge from this crisis even stronger and much more resilient. We must have faith that help and hope are on the way.
As we begin this Yuletide season, let us remember those who are not with us this year. Let us count our many blessings, the most important and essential of which is the precious life we still enjoy. Let us also take time to more fully appreciate our families, friends, and acquaintances. Let us also be aware that, in a very short time, as all things do, this, too, shall pass.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org