Reflections on our Pandemic Year
This article is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Colorado School of Public Health, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and the Institute for Science & Policy. Find all of our previous COVID-19 webinars and recaps here.
Over the past year, we have faced a once-in-a-generation science and policy challenge. During that span, our knowledge about COVID-19 has improved significantly as we've worked to thwart the spread of the virus. We've witnessed tremendous innovation and collective sacrifice. Entire sectors of our society have been completely reshaped, perhaps forever. And through it all, we each have our own deeply personal stories to share.
In our 30th and final (for now) episode of our COVID-19 webinar series, we welcomed both new and returning guests to share their reflections on how far we’ve come and where we go from here. The lineup included:
- Rachel Herlihy, MD, MPH/MSPH, State Epidemiologist, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment
- Cerise Hunt, PhD, MSW, Director for the Center for Public Health Practice and Assistant Professor in Community and Behavioral Health at Colorado School of Public Health
- Bobby LeFebre, Colorado Poet Laureate
- Traci Priebe, RN, BSN, CCRN, Charge Nurse in the medical ICU at the University of Colorado Hospital
- Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental and Occupational Health and Dean of the Colorado School of Public Health
- George Sparks, President & CEO, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
BOBBY LEFEBRE: I'm always grateful as a poet and as Poet Laureate when art - and poetry in particular - is invited in and centered in conversations and utilized as an entry point to these important conversations. It’s important, I believe, to have artists and dreamers and philosophers and imaginers at the forefront of helping us contextualize the human experience and what we're sort of going through collectively, and to really help design what our future might look like.
So I'm going to share some poems. I did a lot of writing last year. As a poet, you know, there was so much happening, and that's part of what we do is we try to translate what is going on in our collective consciousness so that we may connect through these words. So the following are poems that kind of show the way I was feeling through the pandemic, and as we wrap up this series, I think that this is a good bookend for me as well. This is the first poem I wrote, right when things were really starting to ramp up, you know, we were really starting to panic. This is simply called “COVID-19:”
The sirens are sounding
The screams are loud
The virus has packed its bags;
World traveler without a passport
Borders are man-made
Walls cannot contain life on the move
But that’s another story
Asian businesses were empty before streets
The toilet paper is gone
Panic begets panic
My 3 p.m. meeting is now an email
Tom Hanks is raising his hand
Let’s talk about the poor
30 million uninsured
Ends meet, public transportation to get there
Self-quarantine. Privilege. Paradox.
Blue collars can’t work remotely
Hourly wages side-eye the salaried
Go ahead and cancel school
Child care is a killer too
Industrialized without a heart
Developed without a conscience
Blames our bodies instead of broken systems
Wash your hands, cough into your sleeve
Plutocracy lampooning Universal Healthcare
Call on your God or whatever
Just don’t touch your face if you make the sign of the cross
And then we started talking, right. We started having these conversations about who was considered essential and watched these people go back to work. These are people that I know who were kind of forced with this idea of like, I have to do this, but I don't want to do this. But I have to do this. So one day, I was thinking about the folks that we have deemed essential workers in all of that complexity and I wrote this for them:
And together we watched it happen
Watched the stars come out at night.
They're right before our eyes
A grand reveal.
And the stars, the people, they did what they always do
They got up, they packed their lunch, they clocked in,
they delivered their bodies, they took orders, they didn't complain
They were grateful
They cashed their checks
They paid their bills; they were broke again
They made miracles
They raised children
They dreamed in grocery stores and fields and janitors closets and restaurants and shelters and classrooms, factories and banks and offices, warehouses, buses, trucks, trains
Some in emergency rooms and clinics and morgues and mortuaries
They worked because rents, because food; because bills; because insurance; because integrity; because hearts
Because someone has to make the money for those at the top who don't really make it themselves.
I was home a lot. I had the privilege of doing all of the things that I do from home. And one thing that I took up more than years past was gardening. And I think we're doing any little thing to find joy, and I wrote this column the first time I saw something sprout up in my garden, because sometimes that's what poetry is.
A blade of green has found its way out of the womb of the earth
Sometime between the moon and morning, between rain and sun, the maize announced itself to the world.
I didn't see the exact moment it happened
Perhaps this is how all new beginnings commence
Some action of yesterday midwifing tomorrow
It entered this world unannounced, almost in secret
Unfolding to the music of the crickets choiring
It doesn't look like corn yet, but I formed the rows with my hands
Dropped the seeds where emerald needle stands
This is what it means to believe in promises
to hang your heart on hope
to taste the future before it is here.
You know, I think so much of last year required us to find the extraordinary in the mundane. And that's the beauty of poetry. I think sometimes we're able to connect these very large ideas and concepts with these very simple things that we experience every day. One Saturday, I was bored and over coffee, I wrote a sonnet. This is “Sonnet for Saturday:”
We are four months into a pandemic.
I match my mask with my clothes to stay fresh.
It's July 18. There're still fireworks.
The boom echoes like a stark cry for help.
I haven't dapped anyone up since March
Uncertainty is a song on repeat
Our hearts are hopeful and broken and glum
Everything is on fire; we are flames
Forget not that you are mostly water
A river carving itself into the earth
Forget not that you are a miracle
A perfect harmony of bone and flesh
Perhaps we're en route to utopia
Perhaps we'll just get lost along the way.
Folks relied on these things and it was wonderful to hear that people were finding some sort of comfort in the things that we and my friends and artists were sharing. One thing we all did, I think, was, we were looking to the news, and one time I read this beautiful headline. And, you know, like any poet, you take those things and you make something out of it. So this headline: “When the San Francisco Bay Area locked down, urban noise levels plummeted. In response, the white crowned sparrow changed its tune.” So I read that headline and it just sort of - there were so many things in that - and I wrote this:
I can only imagine how beautiful our songs will be.
There, in that imaginary place where all is calm.
Where we do not have to shout to be seen.
How beautiful it will be to mold our mouths into instruments of joy;
rage and weariness, a distant memory.
When the noise dies the borders and the badges the systems and the structures will be buried too.
Then, listen to us sing.
Listen to us sing.
Listen to us sing!
I had an encounter at a grocery store with an acquaintance I hadn't seen in a very long time, in the early pandemic when people wouldn't even want to walk next to you in the aisle and everything was strange and awkward. It's still that way to some degree. But I wrote this after seeing them. I think the default answer when people ask us how we are, we say good, even if we're not good. And that's the concept of this:
Today is an ending.
The credits are rolling, the audience is leaving, but no one seems to know where they're headed.
The sun came up today but couldn't tell you why
When you ask the acquaintance you run into at the grocery store how they are doing
their voice will raise three octaves and say, “good.”
Your voice will raise three octaves and repeat the lie.
There may be good days, but we collectively are not good.
The earth is shedding her skin
Democracy’s ribs are showing
Hope and fear play tug of war inside of us
Uncertainty is a vulture circling overhead
But if today is an ending, tomorrow is a beginning.
Tomorrow is a promise in the distance, beckoning us to find our way home.
Last year for me was really tough. I travel a lot for work, for arts, for culture. And so I understood that it was probably going to be a minute before I traveled. So I woke up one morning - these darn Facebook memories and Instagram memories, they show you where you were a year ago. I was looking at these amazing photos of me outside the country and I just had that longing in the question as to when I'd be able to hop on a plane and go somewhere new again. So I wrote one really long sentence about that:
I can't wait to wake up in the arms of a city I don't know and stumble into a cafe and eat whatever they offer for breakfast and smile at a pretty girl who speaks a language I don't understand and introduce my eyes to sights unfamiliar and take photos of things I want to remember forever and talk with someone about what it means to exist there and listen to music billowing from a building that looks nothing like home and write love poems to the landscape and figure out how to give more than I take and sip on what is that whatever it is they drink there and put my feet in the water or my hands in the soil and connect with art makers and hop in a car or board a train or mount myself on some animal and just be and go wherever the wind commands because we are all just dust anyway and the world is big and there's so much to see.
Another day I remember was in late spring, but we still had snow. These are the days where the streets were actually very quiet. I live on a pretty busy thoroughfare, but I just remember how sometimes it was so quiet, and nobody was out, and for a moment, I felt a sense of peace. I felt this kind of overwhelming feeling that the stress was gone for a brief moment and I wanted to capture that, that feeling, and I wrote this poem. It's called “Nothing Left:”
And when there is nothing left to do but live, let us retire the noise, and build a home inside the stillness.
Grab a wrench and unfasten the parts of you that have become mechanical; rest your weary limbs in the bed of anomaly.
Outside, the machine is powering down. You can hear the birds when the gears aren’t grinding.
When there is nothing left to do but live, make a vacation of your body; each part explored, a stamp on your passport.
Begin with your heart, maybe? Crawl inside and sightsee, ask difficult questions about who it is, and why.
Outside, the machine is powering down. You can hear yourself when the gears aren’t grinding.
When there is nothing left to do but live, simply show up; that has always been enough.
And together in this sudden strangeness, radical imagination will run wild; tomorrow being built today.
I did get a chance to travel once internationally last year for a project I was working on in Oaxaca. And if you know anything about Oaxaca during the Dia de los Muertos, it's the most beautiful ceremonial Indigenous celebration of death. And it was very amazing to be in that space during this time. Although their festivities were completely canceled for the most part due to the virus, there was still this quiet air of spirit that existed there. It's probably my favorite city in the world. I've traveled a lot of places and in very few places feel like Oaxaca does to me. I wrote this goodbye to 2020 there. I was on this beautiful balcony of a colonial structure drinking mezcal and just sort of watching the world go by, and really wanting to release myself of the heaviness that you know we've all carried. I wrote this poem:
It is here I leave you
In this campo santo
En esta tierra sagrada
In the midnight of the maguey
It is here I leave you
Where the calacas dance
And the guitarra cries
And a mockery is made of mortal things
It is here I leave you
Standing atop the cobblestone
En mis manos, una vela encendida
Brazos llenos de flores
It is here I leave you
Mezcal on my breath
Agua bendita goteando de mis ojos
Sonrisa en mi cara
It is here I leave you
Dressed in all black
Cempasuchil derramando de mi boca
Oraciones convocando mañana
It is here I leave you
Cantando esta despedida
Ya no te buscaré donde ya no estas
Quieto es la rabia dentro de mi
It is here I leave you
Bajo el cielo infinito
Todo tiene su momento
Todo tiene su fin
It is here I leave you
Where the altars are dressed
And the papel picado sways
Las estrellas--nuestros testigos
It is here I leave you
Hands converted to shovels
Cavando esta tumba
Soon grass will grow over the scar left in the earth
It is here I leave you
These words an epitaph
Copal rising like a spirit
El viento a pallbearer carrying you away
It is here I leave you
Zapotec moon shining
Bridges set afire
Ceremony spilling from the street
It is here I leave you
to join the parade of other expired things;
Hasta nunca jamas.
This last poem I'm going to share with you all, I recently read for the Biennial of the Americas. They commissioned me to write a poem about mourning, social memory, monuments, and how we memorialize the folks we've lost and create a better idea of where we want to be in the future in regards to this thing we've all been through. This also marked the last poem that I would write about the pandemic. As an artist, as a cultural worker, as a creative, sometimes we can get stuck in these things, especially when they're salient, right. And so for me, I also wanted this to serve as sort of a bookend of sorts. This is my last poem, and its title is “Here, Where We Are The Flowers:”
One day the globe is spinning we are smiling, or not mundane or magic normalcy walks on two feet autopilot guides our way— things are the way know them to be
New lovers braid their fingers together for the first time as the sun sets
The zocalo is full
The Mercado is loud and abundant
The city is a body living and breathing; we go about our day.
The cumpleañera blows out her birthday candles
We hug our grandmothers with reckless abandon
Every seat at the dinner table is full of friends and family
We are laughing
Mouths flung open
Words unapologetically traveling upon the wind
The next day the globe stops
Together, we furrow our brow
Stumble off kilter
Our hearts become ticking timebombs
Panic begets panic
All of us running in place
The unknown tethers itself to our collective consciousness; our psyche, a lone wolf howling at the moon
Replace wings with worry
Trade the social for the solitary
Make an enemy of touch
Distance becomes our god
Six-feet apart running away from six-feet-under
We forget how to look each other in the eye
Survival becomes a dreary song we play on repeat
Hands chapped from reading one too many headlines
Then slowly, together, we attempt to construct a new language knowing words like our leaders are failing us
We begin to speak in statistics but here the numbers are lives; the percentages are people
Meanwhile, the curve is rising
The crescendo, a destination uncharted
The corporeal try and coax their jettisoned souls back into their bodies
And there are so many bodies
Blood, bones, flesh
Birthmarks, wrinkles, tattoos
Dimples, eyes, hearts
Existence is upended
A hemisphere uprooted
The earth confused by all the graves— here, where land is acknowledged but never returned
Grief morphs into trauma
Curses shouted toward the heavens
Candles lit where life should be
How did we become bygone? We’ve all lost something
Found ourselves digging for unknown things in places we have never been
Jutting emotions—a compass pointing in directions we have never traversed
But he who has a why to live can bear almost any how
Let us return the circle
This holy hoop of hope that is unending
Let us lick each other’s wounds
Offer one another the medicine of mutual aid
Let our mourning morph into ritual
Let our grief be a tender mercy
Let these tears be libation
Let us become the altar
Something capable of transforming
Let us be both the memory and the imagination
The stewards of bridging yesterday to tomorrow
Let us remember so that we never forget
And here, atop this monument this memorial embodied we will learn to harness and activate our anger
Channel and transform our anxiety
Here, we will exist unafraid to sit in our sadness
To allow for it fester until it transmutes into healing
Let our bruises become a balm
Let our gaping wounds be mouths that translate the pain;
It is ok to not be ok
Let us bathe in the brokenness
Evolve in the emptiness
Faith keeping us forward facing
And in this place we see, but have yet to arrive upon let us create new meaning social reconstruction in our hands
At this human memorial
At this monument in the flesh
Where we are the flowers
Where we are the prayers
Let us say and remember all of their names
Let us shout our own into the void so loudly that the unborn waiting somewhere in the cosmos will smile celestially and proud
And we will walk together across time and space
With understanding and empathy
Arms linked together
Healing and heard
And life will bend into tomorrow with promise
RACHEL HERLIHY: Good morning, and thank you so much for this opportunity to be here. I want to first say thank you to Bobby. That was really touching for me, personally, and I think his words probably spoke to all of us differently. As we get further into my remarks, I want to talk about a place where I felt particularly touched by his words. So Bobby, I'm so grateful for your words at this time. What you shared with us today are the words and feelings that we've all been trying to express, not nearly as eloquently as you are able to. I'm so grateful for you.
I am just so grateful at this point that it is April of 2021. 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for me personally, for public health in general, and obviously all of Colorado. You know the tremendous loss of life that we experienced in this last year, and Bobby mentioned statistics. I feel like I'm sort of personally the stats keeper and reporter and at different moments in time, I feel those stats and don't feel those stats, think about them and don't think about them because of the weight of them and the impact of them and recognizing that as I tally the cases and hospitalizations and deaths, that's really human suffering.
I think that at moments in time, I've forgotten and remembered that and felt tremendous weight when remembering and feel guilty when not remembering the suffering that's sort of behind some of those stats. But we've also had lots of economic and financial losses as Bobby mentioned, absence of celebrations, connection, travel, leisure in our lives and the impact that has had on us. And so like everyone, I'm really so eager for a longer term return to normal growth and prosperity and healing and unity and acknowledgments together of what we have been through and also what we have accomplished together. I’m hoping that sense of unity and healing and acknowledgement of what we've been through can really bring us closer together, bring all Coloradans closer together and we are all Coloradans.
But, you know, in the near future, I recognize that we still have a lot of work to do. We've come a long way. We've learned so much about this virus. We've learned how it's transmitted, who was most impacted, what stops it. We've learned the important role of masks and who knew that masks would become so political? But we've learned the science behind masks, and that's really been an important accomplishment. We've built an incredible public health workforce. We've used technology in new ways and testing tools in the laboratory, epidemiological tools for contact tracing, things like exposure notifications.
Most importantly, we now have these safe and effective vaccines, more effective than we ever imagined they would be. They're really an incredible testament to scientific progress that has come with this pandemic. We have this mRNA vaccine technology that was sort of sitting on the shelf waiting for a use case and it really found a pretty incredible one.
So here in Colorado, just some stats because that's what I do: 80% of people over the age of 70 have received at least one dose of a vaccine. More than a million Coloradans are fully immunized now. Nearly 2 million have received at least one dose. And at this point we're vaccinating about 300,000 people per week in the state, so that's obviously an incredible accomplishment, and so much hope comes with that.
But also what comes with that and makes me feel hopeful is the fact that we get to keep all of that progress that we've made. The knowledge we've gained, the workforce, the training, the rapid advancements in technology that we've gained are really all things that we get to take with us. So public health has really taken giant steps forward. I am now personally just starting to look up and realize that, and I'm feeling really relieved right now to know that.
I think epidemiology is going to look different post COVID-19. It feels really nice to know that people not only know how to pronounce epidemiology now, but actually know what it is and understand what it is and I think that says a lot. But of course, lots of work still to do. A colleague of mine has compared our current position as the eastern stretch of I-70 after Floyd hill where the sign says “Truckers, don't be fooled, you're not down yet. Steep grade and sharp turns still ahead.” And I think that's really where we are right now. We're really racing against these new more transmissible or more severe variants, including some of those variants that we know could be a setback for a vaccine. They're more likely to escape our immune response and cause decreased vaccine effectiveness.
And unfortunately, like a number of other states, Colorado now looks like it could be entering this fourth wave. So again, we have a ways to go. Cases are increasing, percent positivity is increasing, hospitalizations are on the rise right now. And we're seeing clear protection for vaccinated populations, but we're not anywhere close to herd immunity yet. That's playing out in the numbers that we're seeing. So, at least for the short term, while I'm feeling very hopeful about the longer term, at least in the short term, we really need vigilance in this final stretch. We've come so far. And for just a little bit longer, we need people to continue to wear masks, continue to stay home if you're sick or if you've been exposed, keep up the social distancing, wash your hands, get your vaccine as soon as you can. Find trusted information about the vaccine if you have questions. Tell other people why you chose to be vaccinated and tell them about your belief in science and the importance of vaccines and getting out of this.
I'm a proud vaccine card carrier. I had my second dose and am feeling confident in that. If you're looking forward to the summer, encourage friends, family and others around you get vaccinated as well. I love to travel and have missed that and miss time for adventures with my family, miss seeing my father who's in his 70s. So I think those are all things that I'm really looking forward to. I can see hugs on the horizon.
CERISE HUNT: You know, as far we've come since last year, unfortunately we have not come far at all. And to me, it's very disheartening and frustrating because I think we can do better. And COVID-19 has illuminated the systemic inequities that have disproportionately impacted people of colors for centuries.
When I think about how far we’ve come, I have to go back to the historical aspects. We have a history and current reality of racism and discrimination across the United States and in Colorado. And these inequities result from systemic and unjust social and economic policies and practices that create barriers to opportunity. In this COVID-19 series, we've had those discussions, those talks, so I appreciate this space of learning and utilizing your resources to really shed light and to be a voice so we can make change.
And so, my desire is for decision makers, leaders, and all of us here in this virtual space, that we do the work required to dismantle structural racism. I'm often asked, why do you focus on racism? And it’s because it intersects and reinforces a broader set of -isms by people who experience structural and interpersonal discrimination. And these are along the lines of gender, identity, class, and geographic region. So each type of discrimination merits undoing in its own right, but an intentional focus on racism will give individuals and organizations a part to play. I want to make sure I stress this: I'm going to say individuals and organizations because like I said last time, we like to point our finger at the system and forget that we make up the system.
When we intentionally focus on racism, we give individuals and organizations ways of approaching issues that will serve them in working against other forms of systemic injustice. I'm going to use a socioecological approach to explain what my desire is because I am still hopeful. I appreciate what Rachel said about healing and coming together. But in order for this to occur, we all have to think strategically. I hear folks say that they're reading about anti-racism, white fragility, implicit bias, all these learnings around equity and justice. We have to take all of this capacity and translate it into our practice to really build it into action. We must constantly reflect on our own practice, to ensure we aren’t causing harm or oppressing individuals we claim to serve.
So really, that interrogation of your own practice and implicit biases, doing the work constantly, not the one-and-done “I read the book and put it on the shelf.” How does this inform my policies, practices and procedures? How can I apply this to my day to day work? So that's action at an organizational level. We must dismantle the structures within our own organizations that perpetuate inequities. We all talked about dismantling structural racism, but if we're not watchful, we can rebuild through the same lens, and so we have to shift our thinking and shift our lens because we can't do business the same as usual.
We have to look at who is benefiting from our services and who is not. When we know that folks aren't benefiting from our service - if we know groups of color aren’t getting the vaccine - we need to stop and pause and ask why. Oh, and then we might see we didn't have locations in their community for the vaccine. So we have to think strategically about who we are engaging, how are we engaging with folks, who's benefiting and who's not. Our unintended actions can have a tremendous impact and can be perpetuating activities. So really identifying how racism is operating within organizational structures.
And then at a society level, we need to apply a multi-systemic approach for dismantling and rebuilding. I think about our educational system, K-12 and higher ed, health care, public health, all of our government systems local and state, housing, justice, behavior, health, environmental health, employment systems. We all have to work together. We need to have equity in all policies, where we're really thinking of how do we promote justice within our systems. Where have we fallen behind, because it's the same communities, it's the same people that are being disproportionately impacted. These systems need to be working together to devise a COVID-19 recovery plan. That's the only way we're going to heal. We have to be intentional, with a plan that's really going to look at the educational gaps, those achievement gaps due to remote learning and accessibility. We need to address those concerns right now. Folks have lost their jobs.
So how are we going to rebuild? We’re not just going to give out funds. We’ve got to rebuild our communities, ensuring that the folks that are in isolation are getting the behavioral health services that they need on the ground. We need to ensure we're being proactive. So, to sum up, we’ve just got to be willing to do the work, all of us knowing what we need to do individually to dismantle structural racism.
There is a history of mistrust. People aren't trusting the systems, and it goes beyond just Tuskegee. It's about current mistrust based on how people aren't being treated fairly within our health systems. History is a component, but there's current injustice where people feel like I'm not being heard. When we talk about vaccine hesitancy, if our conversation isn't looking at why folks in our systems do not trust us, we will be faced with this time and time again. We can no longer ignore the inequities and the racism within our systems.
TRACI PRIEBE: I think I can speak for my colleagues that a lot has changed since last year, since we've spoken. I'd say overall, we're doing a lot better in the sense that we have found our new normal. We have developed and discovered a type of strength and resiliency that I think a lot of us never knew we had. We've made some advancements scientifically and medically about the disease, including more effective treatments, the best supportive care, and about what to expect when a patient presents with COVID. So I think that that has helped us to give more holistic care to these patients.
And we've also improved exponentially in efficiency and safety. Safety for our patients, for their loved ones, for the community in general, and for ourselves. We're still continuing to see these waves and these spikes, but we can handle them in a much, much better way than we could a year ago at this time.
Of course, some of the challenges still remain. I'd say one of the most difficult things that we're still seeing from the hospital goes around our visitors and the visitor restrictions. That's not only for the COVID patients, but for all patients here in the hospital. We know it's for the best, it's for the community at large, and it's very important that we are restricting the ins and outs of the hospital. But it's hard to watch patients and the loved ones have to communicate virtually, and hard to watch loved ones try to support their patients or patients support their families as they're trying to fight this virus on their own. They're not on their own. Health care workers are here right by their side every step of the way. But it's just not the same as having your loved one there in person.
That being said, our hospital has a new trial visitor policy with our COVID patients where we are allowing a visitor in. And that is quite rare to find throughout a lot of hospitals and systems in the nation. But we have gotten such great feedback and I think that that can help as far as physical healing, psychological healing, emotional healing for the patients. It's a win win situation. We have the adequate PPE where before, about this time, that was a huge concern. We have the safety equipment we need to keep everyone safe.
Regarding hopes and desires for the future, one of my biggest hopes is that we will continue to seek and utilize resources that allow us to continue impacting lives for years to come. It's been a traumatic year for multiple people in many, many ways, but being at the front line, there's, there's a lot of trauma and PTSD that I think has developed and that does worry me moving forward for healthcare workers. These feelings of burnout and despair and hopelessness. On the other side, we've seen a type of resilience and strength I didn't know we had. We have seen the teamwork, the hope, that compassion. So good and bad. I hope that people will utilize the resources that are available for their psychological and emotional wellbeing.
I also really hope that people will trust us and trust medicine to protect themselves and their loved ones with the vaccine being very available at this time. I just want to encourage people to seek out knowledge, seek out resources that help them feel like they know what they are getting. This is not something to take lightly. Too often people take it for granted, the importance of telling your loved ones how you feel. I think that that has become more and more important and hopefully people are more and more aware of that. Also the importance of having a living will so that your loved ones can help you honor your wishes. That's one thing, even prior to COVID, that we ran into a lot, but especially with COVID. We have seen that people don't have those advanced directives and living wills and families do not have as much guidance. That’s something that I would highly recommend.
And then just physical, mental, emotional health all go hand in hand. Watch out for yourself and your loved ones in every way. Seek those resources, check in on your loved one, check in on others, and live every day like it could be your last because some of these people come in thinking they have a cough or a cold and they are never allowed to leave.
I feel so supported. I feel so cared for. I feel valued. And I feel like I have made a difference this last year, and that has been my goal. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to impact this world, how can I make a difference, how can I make my parents proud. And I feel like I've done that with other healthcare workers in general. That's not the reason we do it, but it helps us to be better, and to do better. That has motivated me even at times when I don't know if I can make it on for another shift and another day, and my heart just feels broken by everything I'm seeing. It gives me hope. And I know that we're going to be okay.
Personally, I've been dealing with a lot this last year. For those of you don't know, my father in the midst of all of this was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he passed a few weeks ago. Trying to deal with that situation as well as professionally in the hospital in the ICU with all this COVID stuff - it was a very tough year. But I think I can move forward knowing that I did my best, that I was able to support my family and my father in his final moments and traveled back and forth in a safe manner as much as I could. And then again, make an impact here. I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of my colleagues. I'm proud of my leadership. And I'm proud of us as a community for the progress that we've made.
JONATHAN SAMET: I think I wake up most days thinking about some aspect of the pandemic. I will say that if I had chosen a moment to be a Dean of a school of public health, I might not have picked one while a pandemic was in progress. It’s been sort of the moment of a lifetime to really try and make a difference as a public health leader and to bring our school into doing its job of engaging with public health, communicating about public health, being a trusted source of information over a very challenging year.
We work closely with Rachel Herlihy and the Governor's office in the modeling effort. Today is one of those days when we'll be talking about what we found in this week's models. We're always hopeful and I'm hoping that in the months ahead, we will begin to see the epidemic in Colorado really fade as vaccinations hit home.
I just want to make a comment on this terrific partnership with the museum. I think when George and I originally talked about this, we said yes, this is something we should do together and here we are, as we come not to an end but at least to a pause. I'm afraid that there probably will be some more things to talk about that will bring us back together. Part of the nature of a hopefully fading pandemic are surprises like variants, so when I wake up, inevitably the pandemic crosses my personal and professional life all throughout the day.
If you'd asked me a year ago, would we be sitting in April of 2021 with falling epidemic curves, vaccination rates going up quickly, I could not imagine that. So, there's much to be done. We have great vaccination rates in Colorado. We can achieve things in the United States, but there is also the rest of the world, for example sub-Saharan Africa where I still work. Vaccines are not yet arriving in most countries. And so I think we can feel good about what we've done and really in the spirit of equity when everyone is vaccinated, has access to vaccines that work. Perhaps we're winding down a bit here in Colorado, but there is still the rest of the world that we need to turn our attention to.
GEORGE SPARKS: As I think back over the last year, this partnership exceeded all expectations. I've never experienced anything like this webinar series with Jon and his team at the School of Public Health. I’m prouder of it than anything else that I've ever done in my life.
I think back a year ago, and the saddest time was the 100 days we were closed. There's nothing sadder than seeing a museum this big empty for 100 days. Normally we have 5,000-8,000 people in here, most of them kids. We’re back to 2,000-3,000 people a day now. School groups have still not returned. I won't consider it normal until we get to 300,000 school kids coming back through each year in school groups.
The other a-ha for me was three years ago when we started the Institute for Science and Policy. We took a kind of nerdy antiseptic approach to it, asking how can we use science more effectively for good public policy. And as we've learned, especially this last year, it ain't about the science. It's about the people, and that's who we're here to serve. And I think we've gained a new appreciation of how important science is to us as people, how it affects us, how we affect each other. After listening to Bobby and Rachel and Cerise and Traci, I am hopeful that we have more empathy for each other today than we did a year ago. I think that we see each other as individuals and as humans now, and not as a certain race or a certain class or a certain political party. And I'm hopeful that this series made a little contribution to that.
We've obviously learned that we have a lot more resilience, as Traci indicated. And the way we do things will probably never go back to the way they were. I think the business model of working from home will continue to stick with us for some people. I am worried about our educational system. We have a generation of kids now that essentially lost a year of education in many ways. And I think we're going to reevaluate how we educate our kids, and hopefully we'll be able to do it better in the future. I think that institutions like the School of Public Health and the museum and the Institute have indicated that we are trustworthy and we have to continue to live up to that.
KRISTAN UHLENBROCK: Thank you to our audience and to all of our guests today. We want to acknowledge and celebrate that it is National Public Health Week and recognize all of those that have worked very tirelessly to keep us informed, to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, to provide information to our policymakers and the public about this pandemic. So a huge thank you to all of our frontline workers and those in the public health field, as well as so many others. Thank you all for joining us today. Stay safe, stay well. Find your moments of joy, and please keep in touch with us. Thank you all.
The Institute for Science & Policy is committed to publishing diverse perspectives in order to advance civil discourse and productive dialogue. Views expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, or its affiliates.