Giving Thought: There is some light at the end of the tunnel

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

The pandemic continues to place enormous stress on families and relationships — especially for those facing financial and medical hardships.

“It hit everybody,” said Michelle Muething, executive director of Aspen Hope Center. “We’re not all in exactly the same boat, but we’re weathering the same storm differently.

Many of the people who were able to keep their jobs or work from home, despite being in solid financial shape during the pandemic, are tense and anxious in their own ways. It’s obvious that everyone, social class or politics, has been touched by the disruption of COVID-19. However, we know that everyone has also been touched by the personal and social dislocation of the pandemic, some to their very core.

And we still have a long way to travel before we’ve reached the finish line with COVID-19, and we can’t be sure that a definitive “finish line” even exists. But things are beginning to change for the better.

After starting the year in Red-level restrictions, Pitkin County’s virus incidence rate has slowly declined to the Yellow. Indoor capacity for businesses and restaurants has increased, gatherings can be larger and in-person education is suggested. Also, the Pitkin County Board of Health has softened its travel affidavit program, which required incoming travelers to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving in the county. Instead, beginning Friday, travelers will have to sign a “pledge” that indicates they understand local COVID rules and restrictions.

On the vaccine front, roughly 1.5 million Americans are being vaccinated every day, and we’re approaching 75 million doses administered across the country, which is 330 million nationwide. In Pitkin County, more than 5,000 residents have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, roughly 28% of the population. Neighboring counties are reporting similar vaccination rates. All in all, things are looking brighter on the COVID front.

“A lot of people are already immunized, and I do think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Muething said. “And as we get vaccinated, I think a mental shift is going to come, in waves.”

“If you have kids, then your stress relief will come when the kids go back to school and resume that routine,” Muething continued. “If you’re unemployed, your shift will come when you go back to work and start getting paid.”

Of course, everything won’t simply fall back into place immediately once the restrictions are lifted. But, Muething said, “For the first time in a long time, I think people will have something to look forward to.”

At the Hope Center, Muething has seen first-hand the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, from the financial trouble wrought by unemployment to the psychological pressures of the mask debate and a lack of human connection.

“Look at the way our expectations have changed over the last year,” she said. “The simplest things can make us happy.”

And as we emerge from a year when everyone was so tightly wound — “it’s like living in a society of overblown balloons that will pop if you just touch them,” Muething said — the chance to break bread together is all the more special.

“I think there’s a lot of positive on the horizon, I really do,” Muething said.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.