• Today Magazine Online

Reflecting on unprecedented virus, with precedents

Updated: Mar 4

Seeking hope in face of COVID


By Bruce Deckert — Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief


A year ago, in February 2020, who could have predicted that a year later facemasks would be an ongoing medical fashion accessory in response to a global pandemic?

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Unprecedented — a Farmington Valley resident says he first heard this word utilized to describe the coronavirus crisis while volunteering in Hartford.


“It’s unprecedented,” said an unemployed man about the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament in March 2020 and the cessation of the NBA and NHL seasons — but of course the pandemic halted more than sports. Large public gatherings stopped. Simple courtesies like handshakes and in-person conversations were replaced by once-unfamiliar terms — social distancing and Zoom calls. Schools and businesses closed nationwide.


Medical experts and government officials saw these drastic measures as the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 … another unknown term until 2020.


In media reports and in emails from business and civic leaders, the word unprecedented was cited over and over again. The commerce shutdown led to record layoffs — so the above man has more company. Yet while the government’s response to this medical crisis has been unprecedented, the loss suffered by many families isn’t new.

Simple courtesies like handshakes and in-person conversations were replaced by once-unfamiliar terms — social distancing and Zoom calls.

About 510,000 Americans have died of the virus, according to the New York Times, and 2.5 million worldwide. Such loss is a shared human reality — just ask someone who has endured 9/11 or the Vietnam War or the Holocaust ... or the death of any loved one.


The world has likewise seen medical crises before: 50 million people worldwide died in the 1918-19 flu pandemic, per the CDC.


Earlier in the COVID shutdown, I took a neighborhood walk that revealed a time-honored antidote to such trauma, written in rainbow chalk that spanned a suburban Farmington Valley roadway: BE KIND. STAY POSITIVE. … Love each other.


From the chalk of children to God’s ears.


• This article is an updated and revised version of an essay first published in Today Magazine's May 2020 edition — and the message is as relevant now as it was then

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