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A salute to the helpers in this horrible year


This is the time of year when people all over the world join in a collective wish that next year will be better than this one. Never in my lifetime has that bar been set so low.

Former children’s TV host Fred Rogers famously passed along the advice his mother gave him when he was a child and images on the TV news were frightening and confusing. Always look for the helpers, she said. In any disaster, there will always be people helping others get through it.

And so, with respect and sympathies for the 1.8 million souls worldwide lost to COVID-19 and their loved ones, I’d like to devote this column – the last I wrote in 2020 – to some of those who have helped us get through a disaster of a year.

Vaccine scientists: A process that normally takes years was accomplished in months, thanks in large part to past research during the previous SARS outbreak. The new vaccine, developed in an international partnership between Pfizer and the German company BioNTech, is different from past vaccines, which typically used weakened or inactive germs to build our immune systems. These new vaccines rely on what is called Messenger RNA, which triggers an immune response to produce antibodies that will protect us from the virus. Health care workers are appropriately first in line for the vaccine, but it will be available to all of us in the coming months. And that’s how we reach herd immunity -- not with millions of deaths.

Small business owners: During the good times, many small business owners liked to talk about how they consider longtime employees to be like family. That has been put to the test like never before, as small businesses have borne the financial burden of this pandemic. A poll by the small business advocacy group SCORE found that only 34 percent of small businesses were profitable this year. That number is less than 30 percent for Hispanic-owned businesses. Restrictions intended to preserve the public health have fallen hardest on small businesses. Attempts by the government to help have been sporadic and unfocused. And yet small business owners throughout the state have made personal sacrifices to try to help their workers hang on.

Poll workers: Elections, especially presidential elections held every four years, are essential to our functioning government. This year, 155,506,055 people cast their ballots. That’s more people than have ever voted in an election before, and it happened during a pandemic. Changes were made to enhance the safety of in-person voting and more options, like mail-in voting, were made available. The loser of the presidential election has gone to great lengths to cast doubt on his defeat. His most ardent supporters have even threatened poll workers. They are essential to our system of government, and they deserve thanks for a job well done in difficult circumstances.

Everyone who has made a donation of food, clothing, money or time; checked in on an older friend or neighbor; and made the sacrifices necessary to protect themselves and those for whom they are responsible.

The new year doesn’t promise anything. There are no solutions to be found in the changing of the calendar. And January is certain to bring more death and misery.

But we will soon have new national leadership, and a new global opportunity to finally go on the offensive against the virus.

That’s worth a collective celebration this New Year, from six feet apart, of course.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com. 

Walt Rubel