Spring is the season of renewal. We see it in warmer weather. In extra hours of daylight. And in the cry to “play ball.” But spring 2021 offers a new perspective on renewal given the past year of lost friends and family, business closures, online schooling, delivered groceries, and separation from our loved ones.
Now that millions of us are receiving effective vaccines, an economic, cultural, and public health renewal appears within reach. But as we pass the one-year mark of the pandemic, there is much to be learned from how people acted, and reacted, when many aspects of daily life changed overnight. The Pew Research Center makes its contribution in a report summarizing its U.S. polling data from 2020.
In April 2020, majorities in both American political parties saw COVID-19 as a significant economic crisis. And there was widespread support for some government actions, such as banning travel and closing K-12 schools. But there were also partisan disagreements about how well President Donald Trump was handling the crisis, the accuracy of the media’s coverage of the pandemic, and whether state restrictions would be lifted too soon. As the year progressed, the number and intensity of these differences grew. In late July, 36% of Republicans said K-12 schools should be open five days a week compared with 6% of Democrats. And during the holiday season, Democrats were much more likely to cancel travel plans than Republicans.
The Center also took a close look at health and financial disparities tied to race and ethnicity. Between February and March of last year, the Center found that “90% of the total decrease in U.S. employment arose from positions that could not be teleworked”—jobs disproportionately held by minorities without a college degree. And much more troubling, the fatality rates from COVID-19 were significantly higher among Black, Asian, and Hispanic groups than among White Americans.
In short, the pandemic has laid bare foundational issues for the United States that can help inform an agenda for improvement as we move forward. That is also true for the world of arts and culture. The pandemic put into relief long-standing challenges for many venerable institutions that have been seeing traditional audiences age and are seeking new ways to grow. Shut down by health restrictions, these artists and organizations suddenly had to use their creativity to reach audiences virtually.
The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, along with other funders, commissioned a study on how to help cultural organizations survive. As you’ll read in Trust, my colleagues there now plan to turn their attention to providing grants to specifically aid recovery and sustainability, including reimagining business models, rethinking how to engage audiences, and upgrading health and safety measures.
Many of us who have received the vaccine have felt a sense of renewal. For others, questions remain. The pandemic has prompted new—and often intense—conversations about the role of science and trust in health advice and data. In an interview in this issue, Rebecca Wurtz, a physician at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, discusses the science behind the vaccines, explains what effectiveness rates are, and says that for most people speaking “with a trusted health care provider about whether the vaccine is right for them will be the most persuasive and compelling” way to learn more.
Even as we renew many of the joys and activities from our pre-pandemic lives that have been sorely missed for a year, we can also be grateful that the pandemic opened the door to policies that research has shown will help us build a safer, healthier, and more prosperous future. It is certainly a time of immense change, but with renewal comes hope and promise.