Deborah Roberts 'Fell Deeper' for Al Roker During the Pandemic, Details ABC News' COVID Special

In 24 Months That Changed the World, anchored by GMA's Robin Roberts, Deborah and her colleagues explore how COVID-19 transformed the lives of millions

Deborah Roberts and Al Roker
Photo: John Lamparski/Getty

Ask Deborah Roberts what sticks out for her in one of her latest assignments, it's the pandemic love story of a 50-something-year-old couple.

Cheri and Tracey Syphax met and dated online and married one year after COVID-19 disrupted the world. For Roberts, interviewing the couple as part of ABC News' upcoming special, 24 Months That Changed the World, reminded her of her own relationship with husband Al Roker.

"This assignment allowed me to really process the last two years and how I experienced them," Deborah, 61, tells PEOPLE of the 20/20 episode, set to air on Wednesday night.

"There was so much sadness and loss, but there were also moments of joy and love," the senior national affairs correspondent continues. "I enjoyed meeting a 50-something-year-old couple in Philadelphia who, against all odds, found love amidst the ruins of the pandemic."

"It was a reminder of my own romantic journey with my husband and how we formed a tighter and more precious bond during the last 24 months. I marveled at how Al jumped in to take care of me and his family and I fell deeper for him," she adds. "And seeing other couples feel this was validating."

The Today weatherman's ability to "captain" the Roker family "ship" — including their children Leila, 23, and Nicholas, 19 — and steer them "toward calmer waters" during the uncertainty of the COVID lockdown is a taste of what millions of other families were experiencing around the world.

"We weren't used to this extended kind of 24/7 time together and [we] felt listless," says Deborah, who has been married to Roker since 1995. "There was tension at first as we settled into this new reality."

Good Morning America's Robin Roberts anchors the 20/20 special and she also spoke to people who have fundamentally changed the way that they work and live due to the pandemic. One family, the McDowells, moved three generations under one roof — an arrangement that they plan to make permanent.

"The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reshaped every aspect of society, our lives, and livelihoods," the GMA co-anchor says. "While we're now ready to turn a page on the pandemic, the reality is we will likely deal with the economic, financial, and social consequences for generations to come."

Robin's colleague, ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, notes that 24 months after the world shut down in an attempt to contain the virus, America is now living a new "normal."

"It certainly looks like it is our new normal for the time being and I talk about that in my latest book, The New Normal," says Dr. Ashton, who interviewed U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy for the special, which also features reporting by contributor Chris Connelly.

"We need to remember that, while we've been at this for over two years, that is still relatively early in the course of our relationship with this virus," she adds. "At the beginning and end of the day, there is how the virus behaves, and how we behave, and really only one of those things is under our control."

Robin Roberts with ABC News' chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jennifer Ashton. Lou Rocco/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty

One thing that millions of Americans haven't been able to control is the economy and how the pandemic upended it – from mass unemployment and remote working, to supply chain issues and labor shortages. It's a beat that ABC News chief business, technology and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis has doggedly covered.

In one segment, she features Maryland twins Raeshawn and LaShone Middleton, who, after losing their jobs during the pandemic, decided to launch a food delivery business, R&L Crab.

"The Great Resignation really only tells part of the story," Jarvis says in reference to the labor shortage. "The last 24 months have been a giant reevaluation. More than 20 million people lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic."

"We were forced to kind of collectively rethink our lives, our priorities. Side hustles became main gigs or additional income streams," she continues. "Some employers offered flexibility and work from anywhere and it gave people an option to see things differently, how things could work differently."

"More people searched for 'how to start a business' than 'how to find a job' in 2021," Jarvis notes.

Jarvis offers a word of caution though: "One warning from economists: it's unlikely to stay like this forever. If the economy turns and job openings aren't as plentiful, employees won't have the degree of bargaining power they do today."

For now, two years after the world shut down, Robin thinks it's the perfect time to reflect on how far we've come. She hopes that viewers will tune in to "explore the struggles, resilience and lessons learned."

24 Months That Changed the World airs on a special edition of 20/20 on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC and will be available on Hulu on Thursday.

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