FARGO, ND (Valley News Live) – It was two years ago this week that our lives, as we knew them, changed abruptly as COVID-19 spread like wildfire around the globe.
Some of these changes have come to stay, while others have come and gone.
Over the past few days, Valley News Live spoke with educators, healthcare professionals, and the travel industry about how they are pushing through the ripple effects the pandemic has left behind, and the many takeaways and experiences to learn.
For some, March 2020 feels like yesterday. For others, it’s like another age.
“The first few months were very anxious,” said Dr. Avish Nagpal, a specialist in infectious diseases at Sanford Health.
Hospitals and clinics became the last place anyone wanted to be in fear of being hit by the virus. Meanwhile, those working inside were on edge as the CDC’s rollout of covid tests was a slow and rocky process.
“And it created a lot of anxiety because we knew deep down that the load was already circulating in our community and we could not plan anything because the test was lame,” Nagpal said.
Thousands of North Dakotans and Minnesotas have since died of coronavirus, but even more are still dealing with the harmful effects of it.
“By far the most challenging part was seeing someone, but especially young people, who became super sick,” said Dr. Bill Heegaard, an emergency physician at Essentia Health.
While masks and telemedicine are the obvious long-term changes in healthcare, both doctors say a reality that their pre-covid-self would never have expected is distrust of science and vaccines.
“We have seen our vaccination rates fall a lot, unfortunately in all vaccines. We think the coming months or years will be tough compared to that we can see some resurgence of vaccine preventable disease,” Nagpal said.
“It has been a very demanding two years, and there is burnout. Just the divisive nature of this covid is really documented as the reason why people have burnout, ”said Heegaard.
“You look at what’s going on at school board meetings, a marked push back on public health measures. It makes me a little worried. Covid will come and pass, but how we have a debate in our community, it’s a little worrying,” Nagpal said.
COVID-19’s clear change in the classroom was a push for virtual learning, which has been both a blessing and a curse.
The bright side: Districts like Fargo and Grand Forks were able to get a unit with free Wi-Fi for every single student. It also allows the show to continue when quarantine rules and illness come into play, as well as to reach those who would otherwise have been left out.
“It has been one of the biggest advances towards equity that I have ever seen in closing the digital divide. It enabled all our students and families, not only to receive an education in a remote environment, but it provided some families who otherwise would not have had Internet access, for mere general communication and to follow the news as we go through a global pandemic, ”said Dr. Rupak Gandhi, Superintendent of Fargo Public Schools.
“We actually had asymptomatic teachers who were supposed to be home for five days, and they were just teaching from their homes, and we were just monitoring their classrooms,” said Dr. Terry Brenner, Superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools.
“Our school psychology program was redesigned to hybrid and online, and now we reach rural districts that want some of their staff to be school psychologists who help with some of the mental health issues that occur in some of the elementary and middle school colleges. “They were isolated at one point, but now they can actually get here, get the credentials they need, and then serve the students in their region,” said Arrick Jackson, MSUM Provost and Senior Vice President.
But educators say they found that teaching and communicating through a small screen every day, and sometimes not even in real time, can mean that many things go unnoticed.
‘There were students slipping into the cracks. The isolation was difficult, ”said Stacy Duffield, NDSU’s Director, Office of Teaching & Learning.
“Sometimes we do not see that a student may need help. In a classroom, you can see how they come in and how they are dressed, but in this format, you can not really do that, so some things are lost, ”Jackson said.
Another downfall of the new virtual world is the negative impact it has had on airports, and experts say they do not anticipate that it will change in the near future.
“Our business traffic is not coming back across the country. They have obviously embraced Zoom and Teams and the other virtual meeting components, which for the aviation industry would typically generate about 80% of their revenue. It just does not happen now,” said Shawn Dobberstein, CEO Director of Fargo’s Airport Authority.
He adds, like most other industries, that staff shortages continue to hit the aviation industry hard. At the same time, Dobberstein says that almost record-high travel numbers rise out of Hector International Airport every month.
“We would have significantly more flights in Fargo right now if there were more pilots available and flight crews,” he said.
All seven people we have spoken to emphasize that it is not just doom and gloom. Instead, they say, while some of the last two years have been trying and dark, they are all grateful for the hard experiences and hopeful for the next.
“We always talked about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It feels like we have come through the tunnel, ”Brenner said.
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