Perspective as we celebrate a New Year

We made it. Like most of you, I’m sure, I greeted the New Year yesterday with the same measure of bittersweetness that has infused many of our holiday traditions these last couple months. Celebrations that are typically a source of joy have had to look a little different, and after a long year in which so much was lost and endured, to be denied the usual togetherness, especially with beloved friends and colleagues, has been painful and hard. It is possible to take comfort in these changes because we recognize why those sacrifices were necessary. When we stack those reasons up against the risks, against the other losses of the year, and against how bad things could have been, that should bring some comfort. No matter how you adapted your celebrations this year, I hope that you found ways to still communicate to those most important to you how much they matter and that they offered the same to you. It is only because of our support for and reliance on one another that I believe we came through 2020 stronger than when we entered it.

Yes, the calendar has flipped, and we can greet 2021 with optimism, but because many elements that defined 2020 are still very much with us, this year’s optimism differs some from previous years’, now tempered by the practicality and wisdom we’ve gained. In many ways, a more carefully drawn set of expectations, one where we know even the worst-case scenario cannot entirely derail us, gives me greater confidence in what we can achieve in 2021. As believers in science, we can place our trust in data. And one of my new favorite pieces of data is an addition to the daily report from University of Iowa Health Care. For months, this page would deliver a growing series of numbers—current inpatients, percent positive tests, ILI clinic visits—that all served as a daily drumbeat of what we faced. But now the page also includes data that feel like the first rays of dawn peeking over the horizon: employees who have received the first COVID-19 vaccine dose yesterday and year-to-date. Soon those who have received second/final doses will start to replace those zeroes in the last row. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter and we can be reasonably sure it is not an oncoming train.

It is not clear at the writing of this message how long it will take for our community, our state, our nation, and the rest of the planet to reach herd immunity. Some predictions place the necessary 70-plus percent of vaccinations to occur in the United States by the end of June. But even when infections begin to recede, we should prepare for COVID-19 and its effects to dominate more than just the first half of our year. We will be called on to care for more than just the so-called long-haulers who will experience harmful effects of their previous infection. We will need to continue to care for and bring back to our clinics many members of our community who have avoided infection but remain at serious risk if they should contract the virus. Some of our neighbors might remain wary of in-person care for a while, and their delays last year in seeking care might complicate our care for them in this one. We will also need to maintain the standards of excellence, precision, and focus we have established with our trainees and in our research teams should we become complacent and relax our cautionary measures.

Indeed, this will not be a year to relax in any area as we unravel the knots that 2020 tied for us, using the talents we have honed. We achieved much in the last year, and in the face of unimaginable odds, but the cause of human health to which we have dedicated ourselves requires our renewed motivation to discovery, to passing on our knowledge, and to the diminishment of suffering wherever we find it. I hope that in these last weeks you have taken advantage of the opportunity to diminish any weariness of your own in the company and warmth of loved ones. I am as excited as ever for what we will accomplish together in this New Year. Although we cannot know exactly what is in store for us, I know that a year from now, I will be amazed by what we have done together.

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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