By Pauline Kerr
It is the dawn of a new year, 2021, and we hope it will be better than the old one, the year a problem too small to see with the naked eye changed the world.
COVID-19 has added new terms to our vocabulary that have been used with teeth-grinding regularity for several months. Most would agree the one that promises to make the most money for dentists is “unprecedented.” We have had an unprecedented year, with an unprecedented impact on our health-care system, economy and family life.
Another teeth-grinder is “social distancing.” Distancing is not social. Leaping back a few feet when someone enters our six-foot bubble is distinctly anti-social. However, it has kept most of us alive and well through the pandemic.
So have hand sanitizers and masks. Who would have thought that the simple act of visiting a grocery store bare-faced might trigger anything from getting the evil eye from staff, to being asked to leave by the store manager, punched in the face by another shopper, or even arrested? Such extreme reactions are absolutely … unprecedented.
And a year ago, who would have predicted some people would feel so strongly about masks – or rather, being told they need to wear one – that they would hold demonstrations and rebel against this despicable government conspiracy? Which raises questions about why a government would conspire to get people to wear face masks or wash their hands.
This gives rise to another word coined early in the pandemic – covidiots. At first it referred to folks who went on desperate shopping expeditions in search of that elusive package of toilet paper they were sure was hidden in some back room, just waiting for them to buy it and stack in the garage with the other 400 rolls of the stuff.
Covidiot also proved to be a handy term to describe the party animals who felt obliged to post on social media their packed-to-the-rafters gatherings, no masks in sight (but plenty of beer). Or who drove outside their locked-down region to do their holiday shopping, even though they were feeling a bit sniffly and feverish.
A more positive term COVID brought us is one that was formerly familiar only to those fluent in techno-speak – Zoom. As 2021 dawns, folks who, a few months ago, felt none too confident about sending emails or texting, are chattering confidently about attending a Zoom party to ring in the new year.
Everyone from a child in elementary school, to a teenager whose vocabulary seems limited to duh, to an adult whose knowledge of science is sketchy at best, can tell you exactly what asymptomatic transmission means – it means somebody should have been wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer and staying away from people. One can have COVID and give it to others without feeling sick.
We have also discovered what CERB is. It is not something you trip over because your COVID mask makes your glasses fog up. It is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that some people applied for and received without meeting the criteria, and now must repay. Or not. It depends on the day.
Perhaps the most dramatic language change has been to our definition of “essential worker.” It is not necessarily the person with the highest paid job in the company, the one with the most prestige or the one we see all the time on television.
COVID-19 helped us discover exactly who is essential. In addition to all kinds of health-care workers, bless them, essential workers include the kid who puts the toilet paper on the grocery store shelves; the trucker who risks his or her life to go back and forth across the border to bring us food, toiletries and other products; the people who pick up our garbage and take it to the landfill; the cleaners who make sure our workplaces are safe; and the smiling (yes, you can see if someone wearing a mask is smiling) person who hands you your coffee at the drive-through.