EDITORIAL: Looking ahead: With tough year behind us, we have reason for optimism

For many people, 2020 couldn’t end soon enough. Most people will always remember it as a year of challenges, with the global COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on public interactions and all the social and economic troubles it created.

As we begin 2021, we see real reasons to believe that this year will be different from the last, and that it should be much better.

Much of that optimism also stems from the pandemic. Even amid a holiday-related surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, the recent release of two COVID-19 vaccines offers hope that those numbers will start to decline — rapidly, we hope — and life can return to some semblance of normalcy by March, which in much of the country marks a year since the virus-related restrictions were first imposed.

On an individual level, we hope that the pandemic gave people a new appreciation for personal hygiene and cleanliness, and led to new habits that could help stave off even lesser illnesses such as the common cold.

Reduced human activity has had environmental benefits. Some cities report cleaner air and water, and wildlife rebounded in a big way, with some animals seen in areas they had abandoned years ago; they even began to encroach into developed neighborhoods with greater frequency.

One of the greatest challenges came with the forced closure of our halls of education. That challenge was met to a large extent through the use of internet-based classes. It expanded online programs that already were being used at many universities, and brought the technology to K-12 programs.

At that level it also brought a new appreciation for alternative learning methods such as homeschooling and charter schools. This could lead to greater acceptance of school choice, which in turn could create greater opportunities for innovation and improvement in all realms of education.

Remote learning could not have been possible just a few years ago. Web-based social communications networks also enabled many businesses to stay alive, with people working from home after commercial buildings were ordered closed.

Other recent developments were proved providential with the pandemic, such as the creation of a South Texas medical school that has been able to provide needed services, assistance and research during the pandemic.

Equally auspicious was the 2019 decision to begin shipbuilding operations at Keppel AmFELS at the Port of Brownsville. The pandemic reportedly has caused many companies to rethink their global supply chains and return many factory operations to the United States, which could create a new market for U.S.-built ships.

Another cause for hope is the expected expansion of operations at the SpaceX facility at Boca Chica Beach. The company recently applied for new permits from the Federal Aviation Administration that will allow it to launch flights higher, and farther, than originally planned — including orbital flights.

These and other developments offer reasons or optimism that the Rio Grande Valley, and its economy and job market, won’t just rebound to pre-pandemic levels, but grow to unprecedented levels.