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Column: Remember the before times? A look back just before the anniversary of coronavirus shutdowns
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

We’re a week out from the anniversary of the end of the world — OK, the world didn’t actually end, but it sure felt like it for a little while there.

March 13, schools shut down and signaled that this coronavirus thing was getting real. Some were thinking it would be short-lived. Some were wondering if this was the apocalypse.

But the week before everything stopped, we were singing “Happy Birthday” in our head while washing our hands for 20 seconds, thinking that’s all it would take to keep this virus at bay. No really, this time last year the headline on this column in print was “Wash your hands and don’t panic.”

My advice a year ago was, “Stop ordering hand sanitizer on Amazon, and use the soap you’ve got. Cough in your elbow instead of all over the counter at the convenience store.” 

Sometimes columns don’t age well. If you coughed in your elbow at a convenience store in April or May, someone was going to shoot daggers at you with their eyes. Or maybe throw their bag of chips and soda in the air and run for the door to escape your germs.

I’m not saying the panic helped — it didn’t. But goodness, just washing our hands didn’t save us. Over the course of the past year, we’ve lost 386 people in Hall County to COVID-19 and more than half a million nationwide. For comparison, 599,601 people died in 2019 in the U.S. of some form of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s list of leading causes of death. That year, 49,783 died of flu and pneumonia. 

What we know now, we didn’t know a year ago.

Back then, in that week before it all started to get real, people were still gathering en masse inside stadiums to watch their teams play. I heard the lines at the bathrooms were extra long since everyone was washing their hands for 20 seconds.

Back then, there was no question family members could visit their loved ones inside a hospital to say goodbye. In February, inside an Atlanta hospital with my family, I held my grandpa’s hand for a moment and told him I loved him for the last time. 

That night, I traveled to Athens for a concert, crowding against other fans, singing and shouting, the now infamous respiratory droplets flying everywhere.

Days later, my family and many friends gathered inside a ballroom at Grandpa’s continuing care facility to say goodbye. I’m thankful he escaped this world in time for us to get a crowd together, share stories about him, sing together, hug one another. 

Back then, the politics of mask wearing wasn’t a thing yet. We weren’t wearing masks yet. You certainly couldn’t buy one from Old Navy.

Back then, school from home for weeks on end was unfathomable. Virtual learning was just for snow days.

Back then, I drove to the office every day. We sat in a room together around a table to discuss what was going in the paper the next day. I remember our news editor making some dire predictions about the virus and how much longer we’d be sitting in a room together. His predictions were on point.

Back then we called it the novel coronavirus. We were just starting to learn terms like “flatten the curve” and “social distance.”

Back then, someone was spreading fake news about the first local coronavirus case and using our logo to do it. We didn’t yet have a single case. Now, we’ve had 23,931 cases in a county of about 200,000. 

Back then, we didn’t think it would ever last this long. We also didn’t know we’d have a vaccine in less than a year.

Now, we’re in a post-COVID world — not that it’s left us yet, but in that we will never fully return to what life was before. Next week, I’ll make some predictions about what that means in another year from now. If you’ve got some predictions, feel free to shoot them my way. And then we’ll see together how well that column ages.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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