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Editorial: Yes, 2020 has been bad, but it hasn’t all been bad

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As we approach the end of one of the most tumultuous years in American history, I took time to stop and reflect on 2020, the struggles we’ve had to endure and the many bright spots we can still celebrate.

Delaware Business Times Editor Jacob Owens

In a year that has seen more than 825 Delawareans die from the novel coronavirus and more than 47,000 sickened, about 160,000 file at least one unemployment assistance claim, dozens of businesses close their doors for good, and a generation of children likely facing educational setbacks, it is understandable to dwell on the sheer amount of negative news that has enveloped our socially distanced days.

My family like most didn’t get to enjoy the birthdays, holidays and visits to elderly family members that have come to punctuate our year. We were not able to properly grieve the friends and family lost this year due to restrictions on gatherings like funerals. What time we’ve been able to spend with friends hasn’t been as cheerful with the requirement of surgical masks and 6-foot spacing.

While the switch to remote working was a welcomed respite in the early days of the pandemic – How great that I can avoid the daily commute and work from home in sweatpants! – that has slogged onto a burning desire to safely return to the office to mingle with colleagues again. Being a reporter and editor in the age of COVID has become a lesson in adaptation, as the public and private events that often serve as the most fertile breeding ground for stories of interest have been stripped from our toolbelt.

I know that I’m lucky though. My family has been able to remain COVID-free through 2020. While my wife and her sisters work in Delaware’s health care system like thousands of others, interacting with COVID-positive or presumptive positive patients on a near daily basis, I don’t face that level of risk.

We can also look back and recall that the pandemic has taught us all to reprioritize much of our lives. For perhaps the first time in history, life ground to a halt for a few weeks last spring, allowing us the ability to unplug and enjoy some weekdays with our families.

Delawareans can be especially proud of the resilience that many found in COVID-19’s challenges. In April and May, we talked with small business owners who didn’t even have a website who converted to practically all-digital stores in just days. They utilized social media in new ways, pushing products and services through Facebook Live and other programs to connect with consumers.

We saw distilleries big and small retool their production lines to mass produce hand sanitizer after panicked buying exhausted the market supply and left health care workers and first responders wondering if they would have the materials needed to stay safe. DuPont stepped up its production of Tyvek coveralls and ILC Dover did the same for its respirators to meet health care needs. When ventilators were needed to save lives, but supplies weren’t available, Bloom Energy dedicated a team at its Newark facility to refurbishing units that had been sitting in state stockpiles for years.

In Delaware’s first-class pharmaceutical industry, AstraZeneca has co-developed a COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford that will likely prove to be an important and cost-effective boost to America’s reopening. Work by organizations like the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals in Newark and the Gene Editing Institute at ChristianaCare will also help researchers understand the coronavirus and better prepare for future health crises.

The state’s financial services industry worked around the clock in April and May to push out billions of dollars to businesses of all sizes through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. In fact, the top three lenders in the program, and four out of the Top 10, have large Delaware presences. Although the PPP’s terms received their share of criticism, no one would argue that the program didn’t help keep millions on payrolls, including nearly 140,000 in Delaware.

It wasn’t just our mega-employers making a difference though. We saw small businesses like Sound FX Home Theater and Car Audio in Lewes spend time making face shields for Beebe Healthcare workers. Looking to help, business leaders Richard Piendak and Dave Tiberi formed the nonprofit Donate Delaware, which has sourced hundreds of thousands of gloves, face masks and more to get to essential workers.

Even though the pandemic has cut into many households budgets this year through layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts, many are still contributing to the state’s nonprofits with either their wallets or time. Thousands assisted the Food Bank of Delaware this year in disseminating food to those finding themselves in need and even more have stepped up in health care, childcare and social service needs.

Millions have been donated to Delaware nonprofits, universities and more to help them meet revenue gaps left in the carnage of the pandemic. While data on giving in Delaware for 2020 isn’t yet available, national charitable donations were up 7.5% year-over-year through the first six months despite the effects of the pandemic. Perhaps the biggest gift under Delaware’s Christmas tree came just recently, after billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $20 million to Delaware State University and $10 million to the YMCA of Delaware – both were record-breaking single donations – to meet needs and address racial equity concerns.

Yes, I like all of you cannot wait to turn the page on 2020 and await my turn to get a coveted COVID-19 vaccination, with hopes of enjoying a dinner with family and friends in a noisy, crowded restaurant once again. But let’s hold tight to the lessons we learned this year about all the good that we are capable of when we come together.

By Jacob Owens

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