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Betsy Kneepkens: One more group that sacrificed during the pandemic needs our respect

Is this pandemic coming to an end? It certainly feels like we have turned a corner. You hear “experts” express concerns about the future strains, but we are moving back to normalcy for now.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I think we could all write a book about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on our lives. The difficulty associated with this unexpected life-ending disease, which seemed to pick victims indiscriminately, is hard to wrap my head around. Many died, most who were ill were barely sick, and another massive number of people were spared finding out their fate if they were exposed. Like so much in history, the truth of what this whole pandemic was about will not be understood for decades. With all the horror that came as a direct result of this pandemic, it is through faith we can see all the blessings that were absolute gifts that would never have been realized if we did not experience this common adversity.

One of the many fruits of this challenging ordeal was a shared appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who put themselves in harm’s way every day for the sake of others they did not know. I think as a population we have done a reasonably good job at acknowledging health care workers who attended to those who unknowingly could have spread COVID-19 to them. I find the most selfless were those care providers who continued working in congregated housing facilities when the pandemic hit the country hardest. These professionals dealt with the loss of life regularly. Their efforts were nothing short of heroic.

Besides those in the health care industry, I was equally impressed by those who worked in grocery stores or industries where direct service to unknown individuals was necessary to get the job done. Many of these positions were low-paying and required daily face-to-face interaction with people who could have indeed passed the virus on to them. The public acts of appreciation, be it signs posted in yards and windows, discounts at stores, and free meals, were well deserved, situationally appropriate, and well-meaning. As a society, I am proud of how we understood and respected the contribution of those who made our existence possible and tolerable at that time.

As I reflect on this year-and-a-half crisis, I strongly feel that adults underappreciated a considerable portion of society that gave selflessly. A large population segment accepted stringent restrictions, complete life disruption, and was least at risk during this pandemic. At the time, the guidelines placed upon them seemed relatively unnecessary, yet they complied with respect and diligence. What this group of citizens sacrificed, as compared to any other generation, was massive and significant.

Since nearly the beginning of the pandemic, we have known that this group of individuals were less likely to be infected by this disease, and they had minimal symptoms and a death rate of less than .03%. Some sources, including the CDC, report that the complication from COVID-19 for this population is less than the seasonal flu.

The group I am referring to, of course, is the children of our nation. Most childhood memories span approximately ten years, from ages 7 to 17. So, when you put the time in percent of their lives, COVID restrictions have taken 15% of current children’s childhood away. On the other hand, all other generation lost nothing of their childhood, and still we have all those really cherished childhood memories.

The risk of complication of COVID as you got older was significantly higher than that of our children. Yet what leaders, educators, and politicians canceled, altered, and minimized for kids during this pandemic was decided swiftly, stringently, and at times without science to back up their decisions. There were elder advocates, health care advocates, restaurant and bar advocates that wisely brought forth the science to manage the situation. However, for children, the level of diligence and oversight seemed to be almost nonexistent. The powers that be knew imposing restrictions and controls over children would come with little resistance, because they lacked the resources to impact their fate.

I have shared my concerns with family and friends, and I have often heard from them that kids are resilient — they will be fine. Being OK is good, but being appreciated is necessary and respectful. As a child, I vividly remember how I looked forward to specific events, and if something was a week away, it seemed like a year. If it was a month away, it felt like decades. I can’t imagine the anguish of looking forward to an event that, through no fault of theirs, was canceled.

Every parent knows the sadness their children experienced this year when their birthday party, sport season, prom, school play, family vacation, sixth-grade trip to Valleyfair, eighth-grade retreat, Camp Survive, mission trip, state tournaments were all canceled. At the peak of the pandemic, it was a little easier to explain. Still, as the year continued, and restrictions were the last to be lifted for children, they waited patiently and accepted the losses valiantly and respectfully.

Toward this school year’s end, I was frustrated for kids as activities continued to be canceled or watered down. Often it seemed that many adult activity planners used COVID-19 as a reason not to return to these special events because it was just easier. As an adult, I think you can forget how meaningful these lifetime memories are. I am impressed at how children accepted everything we imposed on them, even when the kids themselves started questioning why restrictions were still in place when those rules did not align with what the science was saying.

I think we all can be cautiously optimistic that this pandemic is waning. I rejoice at the respect everyone seemed to pay toward those that put themselves on the front line serving those in need. This outpouring of appreciation is a beautiful sign of humanity. I believe this connection is an innate God-given gift of our brotherhood and sisterhood. Everyone missed many special events and extended time with loved ones over the last year and a half.

However, the loss of even a portion of your childhood is irreplaceable, and I think the children of this country bravely accepted that loss even though they were at minimal risk of complication for this virus. Wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to our children if we adults put thank you notes on our front windows and store marquees, gave discounts at theme parks and the like, and we had a national day of appreciation for the sacrifices young people made for our sake during this pandemic?

It seems to me that honoring our youth would be a fitting end to a historically difficult time and would pay that generation the respect they rightfully deserve. If you are a young person reading this, please accept my thank you for what you gave up for our sake.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.