I am, knock on wood, one of the lucky ones. On the one-year anniversary of the first death from COVID-19 in Leflore County, I have not contracted the disease, not lost a single family member to it, or even a close friend.
In fact, to my knowledge, only one person in my extended family — and it’s a pretty large family — has caught the coronavirus. The wife of a cousin in Kansas City did so early in the outbreak, when I was still trying to figure out how much risk there really was from this newest contagion.
Obviously there was a lot in our neck of the woods. Leflore County quickly zoomed toward the top, on a per capita basis, for the number of Covid-related fatalities, and it has stayed there since. Even after 2½ weeks without a single virus death reported in the county, it still ranks No. 6 in Mississippi for its fatality rate.
Looking back, I’m almost embarrassed to acknowledge how much I — and a few others — underestimated how bad it would be. The alarmists were a whole lot closer to the truth than those non-panicky types like me.
On March 16, 2020, three days after the first documented case of COVID-19 was recorded in Leflore County, I circulated a long memo to all of the Commonwealth’s employees urging calm and recommending guidelines for them to follow to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
Some of the memo I wrote, some was provided by Wyatt Emmerich, the president of our company and a very smart man.
Most of it was on-target: reassuring, sensible, reaffirming the essential job that our newspaper performs at a time when most everyone else is scared and hunkering down.
One paragraph, though, in hindsight is cringe-worthy in its evaluation of the pandemic and its likely length and impact:
“Starting from scratch, it took China two months to get the coronavirus under control. It took South Korea one month. It will probably take a month or so for the United States to get over the hump. One very down month will have a negative impact on the economy, but probably not enough to bring a recession. Keep calm and carry on.”
As we all know now, Covid-19 was both deadly and widespread: 2.8 million deaths so far, including 560,000 in the United States. Every area in the world has been severely impacted.
The virus created an economic cataclysm almost overnight: 22 million jobs lost by the end of April and a 9% quarterly decline in gross domestic product, three times the largest quarterly decline in records going back to 1947. It was at the same time both the worst health crisis and the worst economic crisis in most of our lifetimes.
In Wyatt’s and my defense, our optimistic assumptions were early, when it was still largely unknown how contagious COVID-19 was.
And even the alarmists got one big prediction wrong: the speed with which vaccines would be developed. For all of his bungling of this crisis and his own unrealistic projections of how soon the pandemic would pass, former President Donald Trump was closer than his critics and the experts in the health community when he predicted how quickly vaccines would be ready to go.
It’s those vaccines, and maybe a little bit of herd immunity, that have dramatically driven down the rates of infection and death over the past two months. It’s definitely not because people are being more careful.
From what I can tell, there’s less compliance with mask wearing and social distancing now than at any time during this pandemic since the early stages.
As for me, having become a convert to masks after they were forced on me by city ordinance, I’m still wearing one at work, even when there’s no one within 6 feet of me. Part of this is to try to set a good example to our employees. Part of it is out of my own sense of being reasonably cautious.
I wasn’t about to be a hermit and try to work from home. I wasn’t going to give up eating out with my wife once restaurants reopened. I think sanitizing surfaces is mostly for show and a waste of money.
But even though I’ve had my first Moderna shot, I don’t want to be totally careless. There are people no longer with us because they were, or because others around them were.
The alarmists are telling us it’s too early to completely take your guard down. I didn’t heed them a year ago. A half-million deaths later, I’ve become a better listener.