One year ago, we couldn't imagine the darkness to come.

When we realized in March 2020 that the new Coronavirus would probably become an epidemic, there was a sense of anxiety, similar to how we react when a rare major snowstorm is forecast. We rushed to the grocery stores to stock up on staples, creating a run on toilet paper and milk.

We thought that whatever happened, it would be over in a few days, a couple of weeks at most.

I don't think anyone, outside of a few medical professionals, thought we'd still be dealing with the impact of the virus 12 months later.

But here we are.

•••

We did foresee some things before the virus hit. I'd written a column on March 4, 2020, that outlined some of the possible worst-case issues: Over-crowded hospitals with a lack of beds and ventilators, cancelled school classes and possible stay-at-home orders.

But even though we knew all of that academically, it didn't seem real.

Recent virus and flu scares had not become as severe as anticipated. It'd been 50 years since the 1968 Hong Kong flu and over 100 years since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

We knew by mid-March that this time would be different. Alex and I had planned a trip to New Zealand that was supposed to begin in mid-March 2020. But we read in a NZ newspaper that the nation was about to impose a travel ban and mandatory 2-week curfew for all incoming non-residents.

We cancelled that March trip and rescheduled for the fall, thinking that certainly by October, the virus would be gone.

How wrong we were.

***

There have been a lot of odd things about the Covid virus.

Medically, it seems to affect different people in different ways. Some get seriously ill and die while others only have mild symptoms. Some people find their sense of taste and smell are affected; others have serious "brain fog" issues; for many, it becomes a respiratory problem.

The unknown of how it will hit someone is perhaps the scariest part. That lack of consistency has made the medical problems more challenging for doctors and unnerving for patients.

•••

Beyond the medical, the virus has affected the world in many other ways as well.

Economically, the impact has been uneven. The travel and hospitality industry has been hard hit, along with the communities whose economy is tied to tourism. I'd hate to have been running a resort hotel and restaurant over the past year.

Here in Jackson County, the story has been far different. The virus has actually boosted economic development.

That's because the pandemic has driven a huge amount of growth in e-commerce. To meet that demand, businesses are expanding their distribution centers and warehouses along I-85 in Jackson County. 

And surprisingly, the demand for housing has also remained strong here. Perhaps that's due to people moving out form more urban areas, or maybe those families were going to move anyway.

Regardless, a lot of Jackson County's economy is driven by construction and housing and that sector has remained unbroken during the pandemic.

More broadly, the virus has changed how many of us work. Remote working from home has become the norm in some professions, a move that may become permanent in many workplaces.

And the virus has changed how we eat and how restaurants position themselves in the market, changes that may last far beyond the pandemic.

•••

Politically, the virus is changing the landscape here and around the world.

The U.S. was slow to respond to the virus as leaders downplayed it. Even after it was obviously deadly and serious, the political cleavage in the country divided people medically. It became a political statement to wear, or not wear a mask. It's currently a political statement to get, or not get, a vaccine.

The nation was polarized before the virus hit; it's now more polarized than ever due to a massive amount of misinformation about the virus that circulates on social media. The virus has  become a political wedge.

And there were tangible political impacts as well. The virus caused a lot of people to vote absentee in last year's elections. That spurred a lot more Democrats to vote, which in turn, threw out an incumbent Republican president and turned Georgia purple with a shocking vote to elect two Democratic U.S. Senators, a move that gave the balance of power in Washington to Democrats.

Because of that, Georgia Republicans are now pushing legislation that would limit absentee voting in the future and would make other changes to tip the balance of power back toward Republicans.

Maybe, but those actions — naked voter suppression — could backfire in 2022 by energizing the state's Democratic base. In fact, it gives Democrats, a notoriously fractured bunch, a cause to rally around.

Republicans may win the battle, but lose the war because of this strategy. 

•••

Although the increasing availability of the vaccine is giving us hope that this virus will soon be over, the effects of the pandemic will last for years, perhaps decades.

A lot of children around the country have missed crucial education objectives due to a lack of in-person classes. While our local schools have been able to hold a lot of in-person class this year, many other school systems around the country remain on remote learning.

The impact of that will be felt for a generation. Hopefully, most school systems will hold summer classes this year to help kids  catch up.

But the biggest and broadest impact in the coming months and years will be the mental health problems the pandemic has caused.

That's true for children, but also for many adults. Drinking and drug abuse problems have increased. Domestic violence has increased. The sense of isolation and dark foreboding has increased. Depression from having lost friends and family to the virus has increased.

That's especially true for medical staff members who have been on the front lines of the Covid pandemic. More than the rest of us, doctors, nurses and allied medical staff have suffered from the virus' psychological trauma.

Communities and states need to brace for an upcoming wave of mental health problems. Those will begin to show up as the virus itself recedes and it could prove to be equally challenging.

•••

Jackson County has been one of the hardest hit areas in the state and the nation from the Covid virus when measured on a per capita basis. At one point, we were having over 100 positive cases on average per day.

It's been bad and we've lost over 127 of our citizens to the virus and perhaps others who died as an indirect impact of the virus on other medical issues.

Despite that, Jackson County hasn't suffered as much as many communities in other ways. Our economy has remained strong; our local governments have been flush with money from increasing sales taxes and federal allocations; and our people have gone on with life with a sense of normalcy that hasn't been possible in more urban and high-density communities.

Personally, Alex and I have found ways to use this time to reconnect with the land, to grow some of what we eat and to look for ways to become more self-sufficient. We work from home a lot and although we have to go out into public often for work, we've attempted to be careful and safe. We've learned to take nothing for granted, to celebrate the dawning of spring and the rebirth of life in the garden and in ourselves.

I think we've come away from this dark journey more grounded than we began.

•••

Our community has come full circle over the past 12 months, almost to the day.

In mid-March 2020, we were all hunkering down, fearful, uncertain at the beginning of a gloomy, dreary time.

In March 2021, we are starting to awaken from this bad dream, starting to see the sunlight again, starting to have hope that soon, this nightmare will be over.

In 100 years, when our children's children look back on this time, they may wonder what it was like to live through a pandemic and how we coped. We will be in their history books.

Let's hope they judge us not for the mistakes we made, but rather for the strength, the resilience, the determination and the resolve that our people have shown.

The virus tested us, bent us, but did not break us.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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(1) comment

William Ledford

How is it voter suppression, to ask anyone voting, to prove they are legally eligible to vote in Georgia. I have to show ID every time I cash a check at the bank even though I visit that bank almost every day. Any one can get a photo ID if they really want one. What is wrong with having a fraud free election. Even the Democrats several years ago said that mass mail out of ballots, not absentee ballots, would lead to voter fraud.

I noticed you could not give the Trump administration any credit for getting a vaccine to the American people in record time. But you falsely stated the Trump administration was slow to react to the virus, when in fact , Trump was criticized for not letting any flights from China in to the US. The Democrats said he was , here's that word again, racist.

No one seems to address the problem of distortion of the truth and slanting of the news in favor of liberals. One sided news is propaganda and indoctrination. Most of the networks and press twist the news to support their agenda and attacking anyone who thinks differently, what we need is news not interpretation. Yes, freedom of the press is essential, but the steady diet of fake news is not.

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