Georgia (Wilson) Ullmann ’13

University Board of Regents

Georgia UllmannShortly after 5 p.m. every day, an email from the Oregon Health Authority arrives in my inbox. The email summarizes the latest recommendations, news, and statistics related to COVID-19 in Oregon. At the end of these emails includes a list of every life in Oregon lost to COVID-19. By December 31, 2020, I have read about 1,477 Oregonians who have passed.

This pandemic has affected every person differently. For me, working in public health, I have felt the weight of each death and thought, “How could we have prevented this death?” Were the recommendations to stay apart, wear a mask, and wash hands frequently communicated in a way this person understood? Did the recommendations not resonate or feel important to this person? Did this person’s socioeconomic status drive her to continue to work or engage with people? Did this person feel like she had no other option? What services could have been brought into this person’s home to keep her safe? Did the nature of isolating those who were very ill, even in their final breaths, shield people from seeing the tragedy of the virus firsthand?

But each loss is more than a set of questions. I hold space for each person. These people were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who were loved and prayed for. I think of the health care workers who sacrificed their break to hold a patient’s hands as they took a final breath. I think about the family who could not be with their loved one and what it will take to heal from that pain. This is a collective loss that our community and our country will have to cope with for years to come.

This year has changed me personally and professionally. It has softened my heart by showing me how precious and fragile life is, but it has also strengthened my passion for working to keep our communities healthy and safe. I hope that whenever life returns to “normal” I will still hold on to these lessons from 2020.