It’s hard for Central Texans to look back on the year just ending and remember a time when the coronarivus wasn’t a part of our daily lives.
From the time the virus first arrived in our community in mid-March until this final week of the year, we have found ourselves living more carefully, more cautiously and more fearfully.
As with communities across the state, we confronted the realization that any of us could contract the disease at any time — and that the outcome of becoming infected was uncertain at best.
Before too long, we were reducing the size of public gatherings or canceling them altogether. Businesses were forced to reduce services or close their doors. Schools were closed at what would have been the end of spring break and for the most part, remained closed all summer. Churches went dark, as did movie theaters. Bowling alleys and bars closed as well.
And everywhere we went, our neighbors were wearing masks — somewhat hesitantly at first, but slowly the sight of face masks in public places became commonplace. Soon it was the person not wearing a mask who was the one drawing stares.
Our lives had changed — and in many ways there will be no going back to a more carefree society.
We lost so much in 2020.
Our local students lost more than two months of classroom instruction, and high school seniors lost proms and in-person graduations.
We experienced the loss of dozens of local sporting events, including UIL basketball playoffs and varsity baseball.
Many Central Texas residents lost their jobs — some temporarily, others permanently as businesses closed their doors in the wake of coronavirus-related restrictions and changes in public behavior.
But most importantly, we have lost lives — far too many of our community members — to the invading virus.
As of Wednesday, 152 Bell County residents had died as a result of COVID-19. Another 19 Coryell County residents had lost their lives to the virus, and 15 more have died in Lampasas County.
Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate. As of Wednesday the Bell County Public Health District had reported nearly 11,700 cumulative cases since March. What started as a slow trickle of confirmed cases has become a torrent, with the health district reporting a rolling average of 143 cases a day as of Dec. 23.
And ominously, the health district has elevated its status of the pandemic to Threat Level 1: Severe Uncontrolled Community Transmission. Health officials warn that the next few weeks will be critical, as residents traveling over the holidays have the potential to spur an even greater spike in cases.
How that will ultimately play out in Central Texas remains to be seen, but we should be prepared to take emergency measures, if necessary.
Certainly, President-elect Joe Biden’s characterization of the next few months as “a dark winter” has a ring of truth.
Yet amidst the darkness, we can all see growing glimmers of hope.
One such glimmer was the arrival of doses of the newly unveiled coronavirus vaccines at area hospitals. By Wednesday of last week, the first shipments had been delivered to healthcare facilities in Killeen, Temple, Harker Heights and Fort Hood — with more expected this week.
In examining events of the past several months, there are even more reasons Central Texans can look ahead to the coming year with hope, and not merely apprehension.
Though COVID-19 cases have been reported consistently since school began in late August, local districts have avoided large-scale shutdowns — though the Copperas Cove School District did close all campuses for an extended weekend in October.
Also, although last spring’s state-mandated business restrictions caused hardships for many local business owners and their customers, a second wave of business closures has not materialized as had been predicted.
The local economy has been resilient throughout the pandemic as well. Sales tax numbers for the last six months of 2020 were actually higher than the year-to-date totals across Bell County for the same period in 2019, showing that the virus hadn’t stunted economic growth as had been feared.
Churches across our community are starting to reopen, though at a reduced capacity. Many are finding ways to connect with their congregations through social media — with some churches airing their Sunday services live via Facebook and Zoom.
In fact, finding new ways to reach out to each other, despite social distancing safeguards, has been one of the bright spots in our COVID-ravaged year.
School districts have turned to virtual learning and found ways to improve upon it as well.
Communities have staged drive-by parades where traditional processions were impractical.
Socially distanced birthday parties and high school graduation celebrations were common as well.
And perhaps most importantly, the COVID experience has drawn attention to the importance of limiting the virus’ spread through wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from others and maintaining good personal hygiene.
Long after the virus has receded and our community begins to resume more traditional activities, these health precautions will be vital tools in our fight against communicable disease.
As we look ahead to 2021 and a possible return to a more normal way of life, let’s not forget the valuable lessons we have learned during this unprecedented, difficult year.
We have seen the value of following public health guidelines.
We have acknowledged that our personal wants can’t always be the basis for our decisions.
We have discovered that when faced with obstacles, we can be extremely resourceful and creative.
And we have felt how much the suffering of others at the hands of the pandemic impacts our community as a whole.
But more than anything else, we have come to understand that we are all together in this fight against the coronavirus — and our community is likely to be much stronger as a result.
As we look ahead to 2021, let’s not forget what we have endured, but let’s remember the strength, resilience and compassion we showed in coming this far.
Those are vital, valuable tools we will need as we tackle the challenges that lie ahead in the coming year.