Kyle Troutman: Little did we know — now we do

Saturday, March 19, 2022

I have been waiting even longer than last time to write this piece, afraid I might upset the karmic universe, but it may be safe to say there’s a light at the end of the dark, two-year-long tunnel of COVID-19.

It was March 23, 2020, when schools shut down for an apparently fast-moving virus spreading across the world, the novel Coronavirus.

The word “Coronavirus” first appeared in our newspapers on Feb. 19, 2020, included in a paraphrase of Scott Brown, state ag business specialist with the MU Extension. It said factors like the Coronavirus are causing the Chinese to choose between pork and beef imports.

The word appeared in another quote 10 days later. At a Pierce City school board meeting, CPA Brad Wegman said, “The markets are currently being impacted by both Brexit and the coronavirus, which makes it good for school districts.”

These factors contributed to low interest rates that allowed Pierce City to save $137,000 in a bond refinance, maybe an under-appreciated positive given the storm that was coming.

Our first true story on the pandemic having a local impact came on March 11, 2020. It was a generic PSA we crafted with the health department because while there were no cases here, COVID has started dominating the international news.

“Locally, there is not much reason for concern if people follow a few basic guidelines issued by the Lawrence County Health Department in Mt. Vernon…washing hands often with soap and water, don’t touch the face with unwashed hands and keep a distance of at least eight feet from people who are sick,” the story said.

By March 14, nursing homes were limiting access and events were being canceled. Also, there was a support page set up on Facebook so people could help one another in Monett find things like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and tissues that had been panic-bought across the region.

Schools closed March 23 and four days later, Barry County had its first case.

We spent most of that spring quarantining and laying low, but cases never actually hit Barry County until people started letting loose again in the summer.

Looking back, it still wasn’t the worst of the virus. As we got through winter, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

However, two variants — Delta and Omicron — would keep the virus circulating much longer than we thought.

Delta was a more severe version of the virus that arrived in the summer of 2021, putting a strain on hospitals. In late July, the CoxHealth Hospital system had 163 total COVID patients, close to the 170 record set in January. At that time, 66-75 percent of those patients lived outside of Greene County.

By mid-August, active cases had climbed above 200 in Barry County for the first time since November 2020. Fifteen months into the two-year period, the county had seen 3,943 total cases and 64 deaths.

As Delta faded out, Omicron emerged as a faster-spreading variant with less severe symptoms.

In January this year, cases spiked quickly from 63 active and 90 deaths to a record 399 active cases only two weeks later. This spike also came two weeks after the Attorney General stripped local health departments of the authority to issue quarantine orders.

As of March 16, Barry County had 6,982 cases and 117 deaths.

Also as of March 16, active cases numbered 13 and had not been above 25 in the previous three weeks.

There is news of another variant coming from China, but how that will spread is yet to be seen.

If the pandemic is really over, there two main questions. How does it compare to others historically? And, how can we take the little we knew in February 2020, inject what we know now and handle similar situations better in the future?

Firstly, as far as worldwide deaths, COVID ranks 7th at 6 million. The Bubonic plague, 1347-1351, killed 200 million. The Spanish Flu from 1918-1919 is third at 40-50 million. On the other end of the spectrum, SARS in 2002-2003 killed 770, MERS from 2012 to now has killed 850 and Ebola from 2014-2016 killed 11,300.

While the CDC says the COVID pandemic is not officially over, more than 98 percent of the nations counties do not fall under the recommendation to mask. Vaccinations are at 46.3 percent in the county and 63.4 percent statewide, and there are two anti-viral pills now FDA-approved as a treatment option, similar to using Tamiflu for the Flu.

However, there will be some long lasting effects. People I know who have contracted COVID say months after being in the clear, they still battle symptoms like difficulty breathing, hair loss (which actually isn’t listed in the Johns Hopkins symptom listing) and extended loss of taste or smell.

We also lost 117 people who were our family, friends and neighbors.

Is there anything we could have done to save them, as a community, a county, a state, a nation? Maybe so, but maybe not.

The best way to honor those we have lost is to learn from what happened and take action to prevent it from happening again. A pandemic of this level may be something we never deal with again, but hopefully the generations after us fare better in an identical situation.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.

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