Two years ago, we heard the news that COVID-19 was reaching Catawba County.
We now know that there were likely cases before March 20, 2020. But in a time of fear and uncertainty, the news that day that there was a confirmed COVID-19 case at Pinecrest Senior Living in Hickory was great.
Days before, the potential spread of coronavirus had already sent students home for virtual learning, closed dining rooms at restaurants and forced unemployment rates to rise as companies shut down.
I had started working from home the day before. We wrote daily articles on the effects of COVID-19. Overall, I was lucky and largely isolated from the effects of the pandemic, but when an official case was announced by Catawba County Public Health, the virus felt a little more real.
Since that day, 47,398 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Catawba County, both rapid and PCR tests, and 560 county residents have died from the virus, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The numbers are far beyond what I imagined in the early days of the pandemic, when we published articles announcing a handful of cases each day.
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An email from my editor, sent the day the first case in Catawba County was announced, summarizes how many of us believed the pandemic could unfold: “The UNC epidemiology chief says we should be back to normal in mid-August. Yes, in mid-August. “
I still think about that mail sometimes. I remember reading it in disbelief. The pandemic would not last five months, would it?
Instead, we have seen two years of peaks and valleys as the virus spread.
That summer of 2020, we saw a slight increase in cases when restaurants and shops reopened. By August 2020, there had been approximately 2,700 COVID-19 cases in Catawba County, and 45 residents had died.
In December 2020 and January 2021, we saw one of our worst COVID-19 peaks. By the end of February 2021, Catawba County had seen 17,200 cases and 283 COVID-19 deaths.
Through it all, the Hickory Daily Record team released updates daily. We reported the numbers, detailed the effects of the pandemic on businesses and schools, and told personal stories of grief and loss.
At the end of this increase, in March 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine rolled out to the masses. It felt like a glimmer of hope. After a year of writing about illness and death in our society, there was something positive. People shouted for a solution to a years-long pandemic.
With low vaccination rates, the virus still came back. July and August 2021 brought the delta variant and with it a round of COVID fatigue.
Those were some of the toughest months I have faced. When things got up again, I got ready again to write about tragedy in our society. It felt like COVID-19 would never leave us alone.
By the end of September 2021, there had been 26,800 COVID-19 cases reported in Catawba County since March 2020.
COVID-19 lifted its head again with the omicron wave, causing more cases than ever. Between September 29 and March 14, 20,600 more cases were reported, the majority of which were in December and January.
Now, with omicron apparently behind us as we reach the two-year mark, things feel different. It feels like we’ve reached a breaking point. We have left masks in most environments, vaccination rates have not increased for several months, and our county’s public health department stopped reporting weekly updates on COVID-19 cases, leaving that responsibility to the state Department of Health.
Experts say we will reach a point where COVID-19 will be endemic – a virus we live with. While that may be the case, I’m still reluctant to say we’re comfortable with it until we face another wave: Will we implement masks, increase vaccinations, and stay inside again?
One thing is for sure, we will never return to how things were before March 20, 2020.
Virginia Annable is a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. She writes news about health, business and county administrative boards.