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Opinion: A year like no other: What we’ve gained and lost at first pandemic anniversary
03132021 COVID 5.jpg
Northeast Georgia Medical Center Registered Nurses Cheyenne White and Kim Metzdorf check on a COVID patient Friday, March 12, 2021, in the COVID critical care unit of the Gainesville hospital. - photo by Scott Rogers

It has only been a year? It has already been a year?

For most of us, the tortured timeline during which our area has struggled to contain and survive the novel coronavirus generates a pair of conflicting sentiments.

On the one hand, it seems we have battled some of the incredible hardships imposed by the virus for much longer than any 12-month period; on the other, it doesn’t seem possible that we have already been dealing with the changes wrought by the disease for an entire year, and continue to do so.

As stories in today’s edition of The Times point out, it was this time last year that the reality of how the pandemic would change our lives truly began to be felt.

On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared that the United States was in a state of emergency, and a day later a similar declaration for the state of Georgia took effect after being issued by Gov. Brian Kemp.

With those declarations, the dominoes of change rapidly began to fall. Schools closed, government offices closed, courtrooms closed, entertainment and sporting events were canceled, businesses shut down. The state’s presidential preference primary, scheduled for March 24 of last year, was postponed, as would be the General Primary a few weeks later.

This weekend a year ago, Georgia had recorded 66 cases of COVID-19. None of those were in Hall County.

The United States was not alone in dealing with the disease in March 2020. Countries across the world, many already more severely impacted than the USA, were shutting their borders, closing cities and towns, ordering people to stay home. Hope of quickly stopping the virus from spreading had disappeared in Europe and Asia, where the disease was already obviously out of control.

Before long, we would be watching social media videos of European towns with empty streets, of neighbors standing on their patios to join in song with one another. Anything to pass the time of forced seclusion.

It has only been a year, yet seems so much longer.

Here in the states, retailers were already beginning to see inventories diminished by shoppers stocking up for extended stays at home. We laughed at shortages of toilet paper, but we didn’t laugh long as essential products became increasingly difficult to find. Cleaning supplies disappeared from the shelves; shoppers were limited in what they could buy and when, and discouraged from shopping in person if they could avoid doing so.

A year later and some products remain scarce. A supply chain overtaxed for a year, workforces depleted by disease, businesses forced to close. We no longer take for granted those things that seemed so normal just a year ago.

Early on, we were told the virus could be managed, that the curve could be flattened, that if we all did our part with clean hands, masked faces and adequate distancing between ourselves and others, everything would be fine.

It has already been a year, and still we’re being told to wear our masks, wash our hands and keep our distance.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

In the span between two Marches, we have seen a public health crisis become so intertwined in the nation’s political process as to be inseparable, so that life and death decisions were made based not on medical science but rather political partisanship. We saw the end of one presidential administration, the beginning of another, and an attempt to bypass the nation’s constitution with an illegal overthrowing of the national election results.

During that span we also saw racial unrest as the latest police abuse against Black Americans led to a swell of demand for justice and acknowledgement of systemic racism. Locally, Gainesville’s civil rights group, the Newtown Florist Club, started conversations between those who protested in the city’s streets and local law enforcement and judicial leaders. We also saw armed conflicts grow out of the unrest, with attacks on law enforcement and mob rule of some of the nation’s cities. This all against the backdrop of a life-changing, life-stealing pandemic.

So much fear, anger, pain, sadness and frustration for us all to absorb. For a year we’ve missed the funerals of loved ones, abandoned the life-affirming touch of a loving hug, steered clear of social engagement with others, lived in our secluded worlds of limited interaction one with another.

And yet we carry on, because there is reason to believe better days are ahead.

It has only been a year since those initial orders to close down, and already we have in hand multiple different vaccines to fight the disease, an incredible scientific achievement in such a short period of time. The development of such vaccines could be expected to take years to complete, even decades, and yet a year after those first emergency orders, some 100 million Americans have already received at least one of the shots that should help protect them from the worst of the virus. In Hall County, as of Thursday, 59,410 vaccines have been administered, according to the Department of Public Health, including 33,610 first doses and 25,800 second doses.

Just a year ago, we had no idea that by this anniversary there would have been more than 525,000 dead, tens of thousands more hospitalized, and untold numbers who were infected that will continue to suffer from some remnants of the disease for months and years to come.

We have lost so much in just 12 months. So many dead, sick, hospitalized. So many businesses destroyed. So many families in turmoil. So many mental health challenges. So many setbacks for school children. So much of the quality removed from our lives.

But many of us have also gained much during the same time frame. Gained a renewed respect for those in health care, for first responders, for educators, for those in the supply chain, for those in public service tasked with making difficult decisions. For neighbors. Friends. Community. Kindness. Gained perhaps a better understanding of ourselves while living sequestered lives independent of others within our social circles; strengthened bonds with the family members with whom we have faced the crisis.

We still have months to go before we can feel confident in any hope that life will return to some sort of normal, and when it does, we may not recognize the “new normal” we find, one of remote workplaces facilitated by new technologies, of schools that do not have to have students sitting in desk every day to succeed, of lost businesses replaced by new ventures, of redefined social interactions.

But for the first time since those initial scary dominoes began to fall last March, it is starting to feel like there will be an awakening from this national nightmare.

It has only been a year. It has already been a year.

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