How Does It End?

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It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since all of this began.

In February of last year, it felt like the COVID-19 crisis was a distant storm and we were all standing on the shore watching it materialize and intensify while telling ourselves that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as we’d been hearing. Stories emerged from the affected countries of people trapped in their homes and emerging in the evenings on their balconies to sing to their neighbors who were also stuck at home. It was too unsafe to go out, even for just a little bit, without a mask or a written reason for being on the street.

It didn’t seem real that something like this could happen in the U.S., let alone Virginia, especially in this particular region of Virginia. I grew up thinking that the mountains would protect us from just about anything. Nothing truly horrible ever happens here in Lex Vegas, I reassured myself. Weird things happen here, to be sure. Like that time a small plane fell apart in the air and eventually crashed on Washington Street. Or the time a prairie dog was seen on the streets of Providence Hill.

I remember that day when I heard that the Washington and Lee students who were studying abroad in northern Italy were coming back. That was the first inkling that our little refuge from the pandemic was being breached.

March 2020 emerged as a terrible, unending dream. The month normally known for bringing us spring brought a bleak extension of winter. Students at the public schools went home for two weeks, and then never went back for the finish of the school year. Shops were shuttered. Restaurants shut down. The movie theater put up the word a cinephile never wants to see on a marquee -- closed. Churches canceled services. Facial coverings were needed for admittance to grocery stores where supplies dwindled as people panic shopped.

At first the cases were few here in Rockbridge County. I liked to think that people were being smart and wearing masks, washing their hands and practicing social distancing.

But the storm we had been watching offshore finally hit.

It was thought that as the temperatures warmed, the virus would start to go away. It didn’t. More and more cases were reported. Deaths were recorded in horrifying numbers. Nursing homes became hot zones for the virus. The patients couldn’t receive visitors and had to watch family members smiling and waving at them from outside.

The holidays happened and big family gatherings were discouraged. Parades were strange as the spectators were invited to view the floats from the safety of their own cars. I covered the Lexington parade inside my car as a cold and hateful rain fell on the festive event.

We hoped to put the ugliness of 2020 behind us as the new year dawned, but 2021 is so far proving to be a sequel to 2020 that no one asked for. As I write this column, there have been 500,000 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 in a single year. To put this in perspective, approximately 620,000 soldiers in the North and the South died in the American Civil War across five Aprils from 1861 to 1865.

I was sent into a spiral of despair when I read that we might be wearing masks until 2022. I really hope that is not the case because I miss seeing smiles. I also miss hugs. I am willing to do my part to keep the virus from spreading so I wear my mask and I wash my hands and I practice social distancing.

No one has a clear vision of how this is all going to end. The virus is mutating; it is a living thing and will do what it needs to survive. It is important for everyone to get vaccinated so that we can finally get a handle on stopping this virus in its tracks.

Half a million lives lost to this virus is half a million too many. We must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and those around us.

The News-Gazette

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