The thing about 2020 is that everyone will have a COVID-19 memory and it is sure to be one that will be told over and over again, perhaps for generations.
The pandemic could be called the great equalizer. We each faced it in the only way we knew how, reached different conclusions and acted in a way we felt was best for our families.
Whether you believe the virus was real, that it provided a valuable service as the “boomer remover” (yes, there are people who think this), that masking was necessary or that lockdowns were our worst nightmare, the common denominator is that everyone reading this has lived through it — at least so far.
I’d encourage everyone to take the time to write down their COVID story so it can be kept alive as part of their family history. Until something worse comes our way, this experience will leave an indelible mark.
Haywood’s story — the positives, negatives
This COVID story will be told from a community viewpoint, one that we at The Mountaineer are in a unique position to tell.
First off, unlike early expectations of an overall economic crisis, Haywood did OK. Government leaders tightened budgets expecting a drop in revenue, but that didn’t happen. In fact, July sales tax revenues were the highest ever recorded in Haywood, real estate sales set a new record and unemployment rates that hit nearly 15% at one point had dropped to 6.7% by the year’s end.
There are certainly pockets of our economy suffering greatly, mostly those in the entertainment, restaurant and some service industries. This resulted in a number of personal tragedies, but the uptick in most economic indicators has helped Haywood weather the storm.
Part of the reason Haywood County did well was its uniqueness. As tourism officials originally predicted, those wanting to escape the virus and boredom of shut-down cities fled to the great outdoors. Luckily, Haywood is one of the epicenters for that.
Tourists opted for vacation rentals in many cases, but flocked to Haywood in droves, where they supported the dining industry via takeout and shopped locally when they could.
Tourism data show the county hit all-time visitation highs in July and August.
While there is no firm evidence, it seems likely the real-estate surge is partly responsible for the great experiences of tourists during this visit or past ones.
On the down side, there has been plenty of tragedy during the year of COVID.
Our public school system has always been our shining star with student test scores near the top of the heap. This has been accomplished despite statistics showing an overwhelming poverty level within our schools. School leaders have always said poverty is no excuse for failure, but when students aren’t in the classroom, it’s a different story.
Often it is the impoverished who don’t have internet services and, in turn, the option for online learning. Then there are the families who are too busy, too unconcerned or who are unable to supervise home learning. While it is too early to know the impact of less classroom time for students, it is sure to take a toll.
Out of work
The unemployed did well for a time when the federal CARES Act temporarily provided up to $600 a week in addition to the state benefit. That put many in a situation where they were actually earning more than if they hadn’t lost their job. The boost likely helped the economy stay afloat, but once the 12 weeks of federal payments ended, those without jobs to go back to were in a fix.
It has led to many falling behind on bills and some even being on the brink of homelessness.
Another area where the ripple effects have not likely been calculated is in the isolation many experienced during the pandemic.
Even if a person wasn’t particularly concerned about social distancing, many of the opportunities for doing so were no longer available.
Dining options decreased, tavern capacity was slashed, the libraries closed, many churches met remotely for months and mostly suspended mid-week gatherings or Sunday school. Civic groups switched to Zoom meetings and many were working remotely, which revamped office interactions.
Sports enthusiasts were out of luck as sporting events from grade school to pro games were either canceled or revamped. Gatherings to celebrate high school graduations or final moments in the athletic arena will be associated with memories far from typical.
Too much family time was sometimes a disadvantage, especially where domestic violence festered, and where families didn’t have the resources to go beyond their back yards.
Losing a loved one
Those who have paid the highest price of all are families across the county who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
With large gatherings discouraged and people wary of venturing out, in many cases, families have had to grieve alone.
Nonprofits have always provided a strong safety net in Haywood, but because of limitations on gathering, they have been unable to fund-raise. They still persevered, but for many, it is the nonprofits in the community that are in need of a hand up.
Healthcare, emergency service, law enforcement officers and public health workers have certainly paid a high price during the pandemic.
While many were wondering how to fill idle time, these individuals were pushed into warp speed as they struggled to keep up with the ever-changing and ever-growing demands necessary to save lives.
They worked tirelessly, selflessly and professionally as they soldiered on despite threats to their personal health as they helped others. Each and every one of them deserves our deepest gratitude.
Hats off to all
To everyone in the county reading this, you have lived through an historic time. The memories will be rich and hopefully can be mined for life lessons for years to come.
Hats off to all of us for surviving to welcome 2021.