Sandra Dunham

Memes abound about our race to kick 2020 to the curb. What a year it was! Nothing filled our minds more than the pandemic. But was it really that bad? According to National Geographic, we have a tendency to view every year as worse than the last. While there is no doubt it was a tough year for most of us, we might need to wait to determine what the true impact of 2020 will be. Could this unique year offer solutions to assist our planet and the lives of many people around the world?

Early in the pandemic we heard stories about the reduced levels of emissions, as flights were grounded and traffic ceased. The unique conditions allowed scientists to study the global impact of emissions on air pollution. These studies may provide guidance on addressing climate change in the real world.

COVID-19 also forced people around the world to use technology in new and innovative ways. The short-term impact of new telecommuting arrangements appears to be an exodus from large cities to the suburbs. The long-term impacts are still unknown. Many articles focus on the obvious: fewer emissions, more time for busy people, more productivity, and higher employee satisfaction. There has been a push to get better Internet access to rural and remote communities which could create a more level playing field in the future. However, there are a great many unknowns yet to be discovered. What will happen to the surplus office buildings? How will mass transit manage fewer users or less frequent users? Can we maintain positive relationships over time when we have no real-life interactions?

The Canadian Medical Association has been working on developing recommendations to increase the adoption of virtual care across Canada. As recently as August 2019, the conclusion of the CMA Health Summit Virtual Care in Canada was: “At the current rate of progress, it is likely to take decades for Canada to achieve the level of virtual care that is currently being delivered by systems such as Kaiser Permanente.” Whether we have achieved this level of success is unknown. However, according to CBC news in June, 47 percent of Canadians had used some type of virtual care during the pandemic. Of those, 91 percent were very satisfied with the process. For people living in remote communities, this could be a permanent change in the way they consume healthcare.

We know that the pandemic disproportionately impacted Canadians with lower socio-economic status, but we don’t know how that will change society in the long run. There is evidence that the pandemic fueled the race protests that occurred over the summer. Only time will tell whether these protests, and the role of the pandemic in them, are able to create lasting and significant change.

The creation of a vaccine in less than a year was made possible by collaboration. Industry, government, manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies worked together to create a safe and effective vaccine in record time. With this positive experience behind us, will there be future collaborative efforts to ameliorate other global challenges?

The 2020 daily dose of bad news has been difficult to bear at times. As the year draws to an end, we see the light at the end of the tunnel — a vaccination. A “miracle” of science. In 20 years, when we look back, will we remember the year of turmoil? Or the year that changed the trajectory of the world? It will only be in the history books of the future that the true impact of 2020 will be accurately measured.