Column: Jay Wolz: From the Business Beat: Lessons learned while coping with COVID (3/15/21)


I observed a couple of “one year” milestones in recent weeks; one of them was a cause for celebration, while the other has given me pause to reflect.

The joyous occasion was my granddaughter’s first birthday. Naturally, she didn’t know what all the fuss was about as posed for the obligatory photos with a baby-sized birthday cake. And, as it turned out, she didn’t care for the taste of frosting, so perhaps she doesn’t have a sweet tooth, which ought to make her aunt, a dentist, happy (and would have also pleased her great-grandfather, my dad, who was also a dentist).

The other milestone, of course, was this month’s one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a year ago a national emergency was declared and we were told we’d have to wash our hands and avoid large groups for a few weeks to “flatten the curve” and stop the spread of the virus. Little did we know then how coronavirus would become the world’s No. 1 health concern and we were heading into the deadliest 12-month span in American history.

This week, the Southeast Missourian is publishing several features reflecting on how the pandemic has impacted our society and how it has affected the way we work, play, learn and worship.

Last week, as I interviewed several business leaders for my COVID-19 impact story, I thought about how the pandemic has affected me. Fortunately, no one in my immediate family ever tested positive, but I cannot say the same for several relatives on my wife’s side of the family who contracted the virus. They survived, with the exception of my mother-in-law, who passed in December, just days after her diagnosis.

If you or someone you know — a family member, a co-worker, a friend, a neighbor or acquaintance — haven’t had coronavirus, you’re the exception rather than the rule.

It was a year ago this week I packed up my desk and set up a home office. Most of us in the news department began filing our stories remotely last spring rather than risk coming in close proximity to each other in the newsroom and possibly spreading the virus.

In the months since, some of the desks in the newsroom have been reoccupied, but I’ve grown accustomed to my residential setting and have discovered there’s almost nothing I did at the office that I can’t do at home … and my commute is so much shorter.

That’s one of several observations I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic.

I’ve discovered how much I miss traveling and spending time with family members, including my 89-year-old mother who lives just a few miles from my house. She and I still manage some brief “masked” visits every week or so, but we haven’t hugged each other in more than a year (perhaps that will change soon now that we’ve both had our vaccine shots).

Speaking of face coverings, I’ve become so accustomed to wearing them when I leave the house that I think of masks more as a fashion accessory than as a nuisance. Although the county health board has rescinded its order requiring them to be worn in public, my family and I will gladly keep doing so if for no other reason than to remind others to be vigilant until the virus is defeated.

The pandemic has also helped me be more patient and realize we won’t get back to “normal” — whatever that is — overnight. As a society, I think we were becoming accustomed to having everything “on demand” whether it was fast food, Amazon merchandise or movies on demand via Netflix and other streaming services.

I also learned to be patient when it comes to home remodeling. We embarked on a home makeover project last fall involving demolition of most of our main floor and reconfiguration of several rooms, completely opening our kitchen, dining and living room floor plan. Our house looked exactly like the set of one of those home renovation shows on HGTV, only there was no camera crew and it has taken a heck of a lot longer than an hour to do the work. In fact, as I write this, we’re still waiting for a kitchen backsplash and refrigerator we ordered in October. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was my kitchen.

But most of all, and all joking aside, I believe the pandemic has served to help us realize what’s essential and what’s truly important in life, such as family, faith, friends and a future in which we can apply the lessons we’ve learned.

St. Pat’s Day by the numbers

Wednesday, March 17, is St. Patrick’s Day, and although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend people avoid crowds and large gatherings because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, don’t be surprised if millions of Americans claim to be Irish on Wednesday while hunting for leprechauns at their neighborhood Irish pub. (If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to celebrate in Dublin where Guinness simply tastes better, but that’s just my opinion.)

Here are a few numbers related to St. Patrick’s Day in America (and they must be accurate because I found them on the internet, right?):

* 57% — The percentage of Americans who observed St. Patrick’s Day last year.

* 40 to 60 — The amount, in pounds, of dye used to turn the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day.

* 70% — The percentage cabbage shipments increase around St. Patrick’s Day.

* 79% — The percentage of Americans who say they wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

* $40 — The average amount Americans spend per person celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

* 819% — The percentage the sale of Guinness beer increases on St. Patrick’s Day.

* 30% — The percentage of Americans who will celebrate by cooking an Irish meal.

* 284 — The number of years St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in America.

In non-pandemic years, St. Patrick’s Day is reportedly the third most popular drinking day in America, trailing only Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve, which are in first and second place, respectively.

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