This Thanksgiving, we will give thanks in a time like no other. More than 10 million Americans have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, and nearly 250,000 have died. Excess mortality, the number of deaths compared to the usual number annually, is more than 375,000. More than 3 million loved ones grieve the loss of these people while many others struggle with economic hardship, mental health impacts or lingering consequences of infection. At this time of great sorrow, feeling thankful is a challenge.
Yet, Virginia has been lucky. Based on national case rates, the commonwealth should have had about 400,000 cases; we only have had 200,000. Instead of 10,000 projected deaths, we only have witnessed about 3,800. While any loss of life is meaningful and should be mourned, it could have been worse. We have been lucky, and the reasons for this luck are why I am thankful.
I am thankful that leaders in the commonwealth aggressively responded in the early days of the pandemic. From the governor and state secretary of health and human services, to local health department leaders, these people made tough decisions during chaotic times to preserve the health of our communities. Their leadership on closing schools, working from home and social distancing saved lives.
I am thankful for health care practitioners and first responders who braved the early unknowns of this virus to provide compassionate help to our community. Despite lacking knowledge about this novel infection, and crucial supplies like personal protective equipment and testing kits, they courageously faced this challenge and continued to deliver high-quality, empathetic service. And, while the cheers and chalk drawings have faded, they continue to be heroes, just as they were before the pandemic started. Their new normal is vigilance.
I am thankful for the business owners, educators and other community leaders who championed the public health measures needed to slow the spread of the virus. Economically and socially, this has been a uniquely taxing time. Their leadership helped us better adapt to the pandemic, keep the infection counts lower in Virginia, and carefully open up our businesses, schools and other convening areas in ways that maintain safety as we try to live as full lives as possible.
Last, I am thankful for everyone who cares enough to join me in our new normal. We know social distancing and mask-wearing still are the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus. I chuckle when I think about the awkward dances I have had with strangers in stores, as we navigate social distancing. I empathize with those I have seen struggle with mask-wearing, the worker toiling in the heat or the person whose glasses are fogging with each breath. I am thankful for these efforts and people’s commitment to them. More than anything else, this personal, community-based commitment might be the reason we have been so lucky.
As I give thanks this year, I am thinking about next year, too. The pandemic is not over. While the promise of a vaccine means we might be nearing the beginning of the end, we are at least a year away from life returning to normal. My Thanksgiving 2020 wish is that we continue our vigilance as we think about the promise of Thanksgiving 2021.
May we keep our distance as we seek to be close.
May we wear our masks despite wanting to share our smiles.
May we convene in small groups as we anticipate future, boisterous celebrations with family and friends.
May our leaders and front-line workers continue to be courageous, wise and safe.
And, may we remember the sacrifices we have made this year so we will be as thankful a year from now.
Alan Dow, M.D., is a general internist and professor at the VCU School of Medicine. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @alan_dow