By Jacob Vito
520,785. At the time of writing, 520,785 Americans have died from COVID-19. Let it sink in for just a moment, a single virus has claimed a population larger than the size of Sacramento in a year. And though the vaccine may promise to reopen the world in as little as a year’s time, the challenges of reaching such a level of vaccination are far from gone.
UC Davis has begun the process of vaccinating the greater Davis area. Still, as the Daily Democrat reports, sporadic allocations have left the school only meeting around half of its weekly vaccination capabilities.
Such an inability for vaccination is worrying. A slow rollout only exposes more people to the virus and gives it more mutations; it also furthers the economic and social damage that the pandemic has caused.
Though UC Davis does not control the rate at which they receive vaccines, the provider’s inability to consistently supply is far from good. Herd immunity is still months away at the earliest; any stalls now will only prolong the time between today and the end of the pandemic. And frankly, that point can’t come fast enough.
The challenges placed on people living through COVID-19 have been numerous and painful. Sure, the pandemic still carries the obvious signs of disaster: health emergencies, economic destruction and fear. However, there’s an additional aspect to this last year that is unique: the isolation.
I’m a college student, I live in the UC Davis dorms, and this school year is perhaps the loneliest I’ve ever been in my life. I wake up in a room built for two but housing only one. I walk through our conveyor belt of a dining hall at a six-foot distance. I take my food back to my room, sit down in front of my computer and work from a screen until the whole cycle repeats itself.
Living in that rhythm of separation has slowly chipped away at what mental health I’ve built. I know my mind, but the worst of my depressive symptoms have re-emerged after over a year of healthy management over the past months. There are many days where I feel like I’ve fallen into that deep hole of depression that dominated my life for years.
Honestly, the most harrowing part is that I’m not alone in such experiences. According to a CDC poll, a staggeringly high 63 percent of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. 10 percent or more of them will likely be stuck with such issues. 25 percent said that they’d wanted to commit suicide.
If you want to know the long-term effects of COVID-19, here they are. COVID-19 and the American response to it have irreversibly damaged an entire generation’s mental, social and emotional health. And this is something that won’t go away from a vaccine.
We’re stuck with this.
I am honestly scared of what will happen to young people in the months and years to come. We will have lost time, yes, but also lost over a year of in-person education, a year of the social connections that are so important for human development, a year of the stabilizers that help to anchor our mental health. For many, this is a kind of trauma, and such things are not ever really recovered from.
The expected response to all of this would be rage, but what is there to rage at? As much as COVID-19 is both destructive and painful, it’s difficult to visualize something as small, thoughtless and invisible as a virus. And there is no person, no city, no nation that we could declare revenge against in its place. Sure, it started in Wuhan, but the disease can start anywhere. And you wouldn’t see people turning to racism if the pandemic originated in Topeka, Kansas.
Because of all of that, nothing about COVID-19 feels resolved. The events and life moments that were lost will never really get to be made up. The people that were lost will never get to be seen again. COVID-19 is a hole, a feeling of something missing, something that was taken but will never be returned.
That’s the worst part. Above everything else, the most defining feeling of this last year is unfulfillment. There’s really no “winning” against a virus like this, only mitigation. We all simply sit alone, suffering in silence and waiting for the worst of it to be over.
There was a poem written by a famous British writer T.S. Elliot called “The Hollow Men.” It’s largely considered a response to the struggles and following trauma of his time in World War I. In the poem’s conclusion, he drops the previous rhythms and meters to send a message about the reality of disaster, a reality millions saw 100 years ago, and millions more have seen today:
“This is the way that the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
Jacob Vito is a first-year Community and Regional Development major at UC Davis. He is from western Pennsylvania.
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