By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
The three-year pandemic has been devastating for families and communities.
Over one million people have died from COVID-19 in the United States alone and millions more are suffering the long-term effects of the coronavirus and its mutations.
The pandemic has changed the way we live and has upended many institutions essential for our well-being.
The pandemic has also had other impacts on society that were not foreseen early in its rush across the globe.
No part of this country has been untouched by the labor shortage manifested through the pandemic and many industries continue to struggle with fewer people willing to work for wages they once accepted or to be on the front lines with the threat of infection for those wages.
The hospitality industry is one of the more readily visible impacted by fewer workers.
Many hotels no longer offer daily room cleaning services for example and many restaurants have cut back their hours because of staff shortages.
At the same time the restaurant industry in New Hampshire is holding steady at just above last year’s levels and the hotels are experiencing a nearly 20 percent increase, according to state finance officials.
While hospitality was hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic as a non-essential service that was shutdown, a state program using federal money to help the industry recently has had few takers as millions of dollars sit unused.
Other industries have had to adjust as well.
Two that received billions of federal dollars at the beginning of the pandemic are struggling to meet the demand that bounced back to near pre-pandemic levels this year.
The American Hospital Association has a banner on its webpage familiar to many: “Right Care, Right Place, Right Time.”
These days it might be the right care at the right place but the right time is questionable.
Patients are waiting months for an appointment that once took a couple of weeks to schedule.
If you need an MRI or CT Scan you may be waiting for months and months before you can have the procedure as a material used to contrast different organs is scarce and many hospitals have set up centralized scheduling centers that do not return calls in a timely manner or you can wait for hours to talk to a human if you are not disconnected at some point.
Again, part of the problem is finding enough people willing to work for the wages health providers are willing to pay, but also some managers like the bottom lines they have with fewer people on the payroll.
Remember when the pandemic hit, many hospitals had to stop elective surgery, and laid off all non-essential workers who were not needed to take care of the COVID patients and emergency procedures.
Many physician practices either closed or provided services through telemedicine while office staff was laid off.
So when people once again were able to see their doctors, the backlog was enormous and the staff was much smaller, not a good combination.
But the hospitals were able to survive through millions of dollars of federal aid, which did not make up for the lost revenue from elective procedures, but certainly kept the hospitals from closing their doors in this state.
Much like hospitals, air travel came to a near shutdown when the pandemic began and remained a shell of itself for about a year.
The industry laid off a lot of its employees with few planes flying and those that did were not full.
The near stop to air travel also impacted airports and the Federal Aviation Agency and their control towers.
The airports and federal regulators also shed staff during this period while the airlines received billions of dollars to stay afloat the airports and federal agencies did not.
During the summer of 2020 a flight from Boston to Chicago was less than $45 as airlines needed to have at least enough customers to maintain their slots at major airports.
But when vaccines were available and people began flying again and safer against the spread of infection, the airlines and airports and federal overseers did not keep up and continued to fail to do so.
Too many laid off people decided to retire, retire early or find another job with less stress and better pay and benefits.
Flying has not been fun for a long time, as airlines cut back on perks like meals, free drinks and free baggage checks and the hot towels in the morning on overnight flights.
They turned passengers into luggage handlers charging for checked luggage and having the flyers transport their carry-on luggage to the plane.
The airports used to offer more services to flyers and those long walks from the gates to the luggage claim or rental car pick up are not for the faint of heart these days.
So when the airlines tried to ramp up with fewer people and the pandemic still raging, the disaster stories are everywhere to read.
Pictures of luggage piled up in Heathrow Airport in London, or long lines to check in or go through customs are everywhere.
My wife and I recently traveled to Denver for a conference and then on to Portland to see our new grandchild before heading home.
The three flights booked several months ago were all changed before we left, two had time changes, but one was a change in flight from a red-eye to a day flight the next day.
There have been numerous cancelled flights and long delays. So we were very lucky not to experience that.
When we checked out of our hotel in Portland to fly home, the desk clerk told us the airlines had been bumping passengers in large numbers and wished us luck.
Every plane we were on had no empty seats.
The pandemic has taken its toll on our families and friends, but it has also altered our lives in ways that may be permanent.
And it has shown how fragile so many of the industries we take for granted are and how the decisions made to adjust to the impact may not be in customers’ best interests as much as for the companies’ bottom lines.
We may be traveling more, but enjoying it less, and we may be able to access the health care we need, but it might be later than we need.
The pandemic is far from over, and its impact will be felt for years to come.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.