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The 20 Phrases That Defined 2020

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Related word: Joyscrolling

By early April, much of the country was under stay-at-home orders, marooned inside and safely out of the virus’s reach … unless, of course, you happened to work at a grocery store, a gas station, an airport, a hotel, a food processing plant, a restaurant, a convenience store, the U.S.P.S., a child-care center, a farm, a funeral home, a bike repair shop, an auto body shop, for a delivery app or any of the dozens of other types of businesses that were given permission to remain open during lockdowns.

“We are not essential. We are sacrificial,” Sujatha Gidla, an M.T.A. conductor in New York, wrote in an essay in May.

It was back to middle-school math: To prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, the country needed to reduce the overall number of virus cases and stop the exponential increase in infections.

After nationwide lockdowns, we were generally successful at flattening the curve of the first surge: Confirmed cases peaked at around 33,000 in one day in mid-April and slowly declined until mid-June. Then the summer surge hit, causing that previously flat line to shoot upward for a month until reaching a second, higher peak in mid-July of about 75,000 cases in a day. After a seasonal low of about 25,000 cases on one day in early September, cases have been on the rise ever since, reaching a recent high of about 230,000 in one day earlier this month.

Related words: Disinfect; “Wear a mask”; 6 feet; ventilator

Danielle Ofri is a primary care doctor at Bellevue Hospital in New York and the author of “When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error.” Dr. Ofri gave me my coronavirius test when I became the first Times employee to test positive, and I turned out to be her first positive case. I’ve invited her to share her experience as a frontline worker during the pandemic.

New York City’s Covid-19 surge in the spring made our hospital feel like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were frantically re-scrambled each day to accommodate yet another set of unprecedented circumstances. On the other hand, it also felt oddly ordinary: In health care, you go to work every day, and your mandate is whatever your patients bring that day. Which is why the “hero” appellation felt so awkward to most of us. Nurses, doctors, technicians, aides and housekeepers surely have put in heroic hours during the pandemic, placing themselves and their families at risk. But we do it every day as patients grapple with the vulnerability that illness engenders. We do it every day when they need to unload their worries and their grief.

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