The fol­low­ing piece was one of my last columns for The Winchester Sun, writ­ten one year ago this week. Reading this again today gave me an eerie sense of déjà vu. I’ve added some new remarks at the end. The big ques­tions loom­ing in everyone’s mind in the spring of 2022 haunt us all. Will this pan­dem­ic ever end? Are we final­ly near­ing that “fin­ish line” we thought was approach­ing a year ago? Or is this yet anoth­er lull in the storm, to be fol­lowed by more surges?


Let’s finish this race and beat Covid for good

March feels like a month of major transition. 

It was about this time last year when the real­iza­tion hit that life as we knew it was about to change rad­i­cal­ly as the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic began to take its toll on soci­ety. That month, the World Health Organization, which had only begun refer­ring to the virus as Covid-19 a month ear­li­er, declared the dis­ease a glob­al pandemic.

Earlier in the month, we start­ed hear­ing the first rumors of impend­ing school clo­sures. In mid-March, Governor Beshear announced the clo­sure of all schools for the two weeks lead­ing up to spring break week. I think most of us assumed that after three weeks, in-per­son learn­ing would resume in some form. Little did we sus­pect that we still wouldn’t have all of our stu­dents back in school build­ings one year later.

hands in surgical gloves making heart shape

Around March 11 of last year, the NCAA announced it would play its bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment with­out fans. That very day many con­fer­ences, includ­ing the SEC, shut down their tour­na­ments, and the NCAA did the same with their cham­pi­onship tournament. 

I remem­ber this day vivid­ly. It was a Wednesday. Although it had­n’t been offi­cial­ly announced yet, we were already sure this would be the last week of in-per­son school. We assumed it would be our last week of work­ing at the office (although that actu­al­ly did­n’t start for us until the week of March 23).

I left the office ear­ly that day and decid­ed to take a walk at the Traveling Trail. It was a gloomy day and there was a light mist of rain as I walked. I was hear­ing all the news about bas­ket­ball being can­celed, and I saw the writ­ing on the wall. I called my son to com­mis­er­ate with him. We knew there would be no March Madness as we knew it. In the best case sce­nario, the games would be played with no fans in the stands. But we both were pret­ty much resigned to know­ing there would be no tour­na­ment that year. And prob­a­bly no open­ing day for Major League Baseball.

It feels weird now, know­ing that I was focused on sports when so much of soci­ety was start­ing to fall apart. But that’s how I felt that day.

So that was last March. This week’s news was much brighter. The CDC recent­ly released guid­ance for ful­ly-vac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple, giv­ing us the green light to gath­er with each oth­er pri­vate­ly with­out masks. Fully 25% of Kentuckians — over one mil­lion of us — are now vac­ci­nat­ed, with thou­sands more get­ting their shots every day.

This is my fourth week back at the office. My grand­son start­ed back to in-per­son school­ing this week and is excit­ed about it. 

Spring is in the air. Things are begin­ning to feel some­what nor­mal again. And March Madness is back, although with­out either the University of Kentucky or Louisville men’s teams. We can cheer on the women, as well as sur­pris­ing Morehead State — the only men’s team from our com­mon­wealth to make the tour­ney this year. 

But there are also cau­tion signs. After peak­ing in ear­ly January, new cas­es have declined dra­mat­i­cal­ly. But that trend has now plateaued at a lev­el rough­ly equiv­a­lent to where we were last September — still much too high.

New vari­ants of the nov­el coro­n­avirus are rapid­ly spread­ing around the world. There are still far too many peo­ple who are unvac­ci­nat­ed. And many US states are relax­ing restric­tions too soon.

We are at a cru­cial point in the recov­ery from Covid-19. We must not let our guards down now. Masking, social dis­tanc­ing, and all the oth­er pre­cau­tions we have become accus­tomed to must still be fol­lowed in pub­lic settings. 

Over the past year, we have lost half a mil­lion American lives. Our econ­o­my is in sham­bles. People are suf­fer­ing phys­i­cal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, and finan­cial­ly. But there is hope on the hori­zon. Vaccines are here, and finan­cial assis­tance is on its way to indi­vid­u­als, local gov­ern­ments, and businesses. 

We’ve run about 24 miles of our long marathon race to beat this pan­dem­ic. We are near­ing the fin­ish line. Let’s not stop a cou­ple of miles short of it. 


A journey with no end

One year lat­er. As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. After anoth­er year of new vari­ants and new surges around the world, we again find our­selves in an opti­mistic phase. 

Once again, we’re hope­ful­ly antic­i­pat­ing the end of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic — or at least, of it enter­ing a new phase that is much less dis­rup­tive of our lives. 

The rules are again chang­ing. Mask man­dates and rec­om­men­da­tions are being reduced. People are again gath­er­ing in pub­lic. The world of sports and enter­tain­ment goes on pret­ty much as it did before the start of the pandemic. 

We are weary of two years of the most dis­rup­tive world­wide event in gen­er­a­tions. We’re eager to put it behind us. We des­per­ate­ly want to believe the end is in sight. 

And yet…

We watch ner­vous­ly as we note that vac­ci­na­tion lev­els have plateaued at a point far short of that need­ed to reach herd immu­ni­ty. New vari­ants con­tin­ue to pop up, threat­en­ing yet anoth­er surge. China and parts of Europe are see­ing upticks in new cases. 

One has to won­der if our hopes of ever return­ing to a pre-pan­dem­ic world are even pos­si­ble. It may be that this is the new nor­mal. That we will live with con­tin­ued cycles of peaks and val­leys of infec­tion for the fore­see­able future. 

One year ago, I thought we were on mile 24 of a 26-mile marathon. Someone appar­ent­ly moved the fin­ish line. 

The best news to come out of the most recent surge is that most peo­ple who have some degree of immu­ni­ty — either from vac­ci­na­tions or from pri­or infec­tions — have been shown to have much milder symp­toms if rein­fec­tion occurs. Not always, but more often than not. 

So we should prob­a­bly stop hop­ing for an end to COVID-19 and rather start learn­ing to live with it. That’s the new reality.

This isn’t a race and there is no fin­ish line. It’s more like a jour­ney that has no end. But it seems the hills are get­ting less steep and the road less bumpy as we con­tin­ue on. 

Still, it’s sad to con­tem­plate that untold thou­sands of deaths and per­ma­nent health prob­lems could have been avoid­ed if only more of us had got­ten vac­ci­nat­ed as soon as vac­cines were made avail­able to us. And that more vac­cines could have got­ten to places in the world that don’t have the resources of a superpower. 

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.