This is being written exactly one year from the date Carroll County officials held a news conference announcing the first case of COVID-19 here. For some, the significance of the coronavirus pandemic hit home when schools or their favorite restaurant had to close. Or when Tom Hanks got sick.
For me, that was the day for finally comprehending this wasn’t something for China or Europe or Seattle to worry about. It was everywhere. And it sure wasn’t the flu.
I spoke with that first patient last week. Thankfully, symptoms were mild and praise for all physicians, nurses and the health department was effusive. We were interested in doing a story and it speaks volumes about the past year that the person, after initially agreeing to an interview, decided against it, worried that family members would be hit with backlash for being related to the person who brought COVID to Carroll.
Hard to argue with that. Too many moved very quickly from the idealistic pledge that we were all in this together and turned the virus into a political fight about science — or at least sciency-sounding stuff we read on the internet — and whose elected official knows best.
The only thing that spread faster than COVID-19 was disdain for those whose reactions to the virus we disagreed with.
From the deniers who refused to wear masks because their principles were more important than your health to the social distance police who pointed angry fingers at anyone who crept within 5 feet at the checkout line. From the fully reopen crowd who wanted every desk in every school filled in September to the keep ‘em closed crowd who think a safe return may be possible sometime around 2024. From those who insisted on working despite obvious coronavirus symptoms to those who simply worked the system.
What a year.
We continue to play politics of course. When President Biden went on television Thursday and said we could be back to some normalcy by the Fourth of July if we do the right things, like wearing masks and getting vaccinated, the right excoriated him. (Maybe he should have said the virus would magically disappear by Easter?)
He’s being ripped for telling us what to do, being lectured about freedom. And, as Americans, we do have the freedom to do stupid things and scare others with irresponsible behavior.
If the past year showed us anything, it’s that we take our cues from the public figures we like and distance ourselves, with prejudice, from the other side.
President Trump’s optimistic and sometimes dismissive messages about the coronavirus were, we now know, at odds with what he knew to be true, but his words, photo ops and defiant stances clearly found a receptive audience and contributed to us having had one-quarter of the world’s cases and more than 530,000 dead.
When Trump knowingly played down the severity of COVID-19, it mattered. When Trump ridiculed Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, it mattered. And when governors tell residents of their state they don’t have to follow CDC guidance about masks, it matters. (Don’t think masks work? How many of your friends and family members got the flu this winter?)
Of course, it works both ways. A lot of folks, including elected officials and media types, who ridiculed Trump for wanting to get kids back in schools, jumped on board when Biden said he same thing. For far too many, it’s the messenger rather than the message that matters.
In addition to March 13, 2020 being the day the first positive test in Carroll was announced, it was the last day I spent working in an office, collaborating face to face with colleagues, some of whom I haven’t seen since other than over the videoconferences that have, for many, become the new normal.
Yes, we made great strides technologically. While losing some of our humanity.
It’s been a year in exile for many, particularly older adults, understandably afraid to leave their homes. For some, afflicted with what is being called “cave syndrome,” that fear of others and venturing out will not change as the virus goes away.
It destroyed some families and brought others closer together. It set back a lot of students and taught many about overcoming adversity.
What a year. Tragic. Onerous and inconvenient Filled with arbitrary rules and idiotic arguments.
And also a year when we saw so many step up and help in so many ways. If it exposed the worst in some of us, it also revealed the best in others.
It’s a year of our lives we won’t forget. Or want to repeat.
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Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.