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.
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.
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.