We’ve reached some grim one-year anniversaries. A year ago Friday, Maryland confirmed the first positive test for COVID-19 in the state. This Friday will mark a year since Gov. Hogan announced a shutdown of schools that was expected to last for two weeks but continues to this day for many. And Saturday represents a full year since Carroll County’s elected officials, law enforcement officials, health officials and others gathered to announce the first COVID-19 case in Carroll. “We have a situation here now,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz said.
We still have a situation, a full year later. The numbers tell part of the story. Through Friday, 225 dead and more than 7,500 infected across Carroll County, nearly 8,000 dead and nearly 400,000 infected across the state, more than 500,000 dead and some 29 million infected across the country.
But the full toll is incalculable. Those who neglected check-ups and important medical tests or procedures. Those who went into isolation and spent a year of their lives having little or no contact with family and friends. Those who have fallen desperately behind in school. Those who owned, or counted on, businesses that will never reopen. Those who had good jobs but now find themselves unemployed. Those who have struggled with mental health or substance use issues created or exacerbated by the pandemic.
We are not the same as we were a year ago today. No matter how badly we may want to be. But an anniversary and wanting a return to normalcy doesn’t end a crisis any more than an election does. The vaccine just might, assuming enough people muster up the common sense to get their shots. But it certainly hasn’t yet.
You wouldn’t know that from Texas or Mississippi, of course. To the governors of those states, the pandemic is over. No more masks, no more restrictions. Of note, Texas accounts for about 10% of new coronavirus cases in the United States.
Maryland continues to take the pandemic seriously, although the vaccine rollout has been problematic from the start, leaving many of our most vulnerable still seeking a first dose. The honor system at the state’s mass clinics has been a serious issue as people think nothing of arrogantly jumping the line. A clinic in Harford County last week was canceled when it was discovered that 90% of those who had signed up were not eligible.
In Carroll County, too many are assuming because the number of new cases has dropped to about one-fifth of where it was at the peak of the post-holiday surge, that the crisis is over. Going from more than 500 cases the first full week of January to just over 100 the past few weeks is a positive development. It does not mean it’s time to declare mission accomplished. As Health Officer Ed Singer told the commissioners last week: “Things are better but they’re certainly not in a great spot at this point. We’re still having substantial spread of this disease in our community.”
Remember, the weekly case numbers Carroll saw leading into March were still nearly three times the weekly case numbers Carroll saw leading into September. A few months after that we had numbers we hadn’t thought possible. The difference now is that we have a vaccine that, it is believed, could be distributed to everyone by June. The key is not rushing the return to normalcy, needlessly infecting people when that elusive victory is finally in sight. Staying vigilant for one final, difficult stretch, will allow us to one day celebrate anniversaries — like the date of the first vaccine clinic — rather than mourn them.