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April 2020
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Staff Editorials

An apocalypse is here

While most us think of apocalypse as meaning worldwide disaster or destruction, that is not the original meaning of the word, nor do modern dictionaries list that as the prime definition; you have to scroll down to find the definition on cataclysmic destruction.

In the Greek, apokálypsis  was defined as a “revelation...  to uncover, reveal,” according to Dictionary.com.

Since we first heard the word coronavirus with early jokes about the beer, we have been given a mighty and still-unfolding revelation on many things: healthcare, pandemics, how  viruses spread, social distancing and how to live cooped up together, plus the limits of government suggestions versus orders. 

It is far too premature to make definitive statements about what we should have done differently, as we haven’t seen the final score on deaths or financial carnage. Like a coach adjusting to events at halftime, a few points need to be made/reiterated while we continue with our real life, in real-time adjustment to the age of pandemics.

Part of the reason we are offering these points now, is that within weeks of the 9/11 attacks there were websites and conspiracy theorists already claiming what the entire world saw on every television channel wasn’t what happened. 

• If COVID-19 turns out to not be as deadly as early estimates, it doesn’t mean the early calls were false alarms. In fact, it could also be cited as a credit that the calls for social distancing did lessen the impact.

• But, if it turns out to be worse than expected, it doesn’t mean that social distancing didn’t work, as it could have been and still may wind up being much, much worse than first thought. Estimates of deaths have ranged from basic yearly flu numbers to truly staggering - in the millions. We are facing an unprecedented modern healthcare emergency the likes of which no one had seen before. We need to cut a little slack to people at all levels for not having a tried and true playbook to pull out. How could they? The scale of this is something no one had seen in modern times?

• It is troubling that hospital officials have expressed fears here and across the nation over the lack of ventilators, adequate space and staff. More federal coordination to plan how to get supplies where they are needed and organize some sort of a stockpile are warranted.

• But, as Pickens County government found with the previous bird flu fears, body bags sent out of precaution don’t last forever. It would be a costly, knee-jerk reaction to start filling warehouses with medical supplies that may not be appropriate to whatever comes next and will eventually go bad. Let’s make sure we encourage more planning but not wanton stockpiling.

• The lack of coordination among different agencies/cities/states on social distancing, closures, quarantines and curfews was/is/and will remain frustrating in the short term and needs to be remedied. On a national level, Kentucky’s governor told their citizens not to go to Tennessee as they weren’t follow proper safeguards. In Georgia, there has been squabbling between state and local officials over open beaches and closed business and whether second-home owners should be allowed to travel freely to them with a shelter-in place ordinances. And what exactly did that shelter-in-place order mean and who is supposed to enforce violations?

• But, while many people called for more direction from the national and state leaders, we’d urge our local officials to prepare themselves for prime decision-making roles for their local community. They may not want this responsibility as it will be hard to pass the buck, but that’s what is leadership is all about, standing up and making the call. By all accounts pandemic-related issues may last for several more months and even now we want to see our local response directed from Jasper City Hall and Pickens government. What’s needed here is not the same as in Fulton County, nor should Jasper tailor a response to look like Atlanta’s. We should follow the broad-based national recommendations and minimum standards set at the state, but we say keep it local.

We still have a ways to go and things are expected to get worse. Sorry, the surge is still projected here, but let’s not lose sight that only a community doing the right thing can defeat this.

 

Why are we being asked to do all this?

By Dan Pool

Editor

For the sake of brevity, I am combining several recent conversations and e-mail exchanges on the coronavirus, “I don’t see why we are shutting everything down. More people die of the flu and this may not even that bad. There are only a couple of confirmed cases here.”

I have sat through Zoom and teleconference meetings with our community leaders, taking notes and listening and here is a simple, brief re-cap of what  local officials are hearing and saying and why they are asking us all to shelter-in-place.

The big concern being expressed, most notably by the CEO of Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, is a surge of coronavirus cases projected over the next two weeks is more than the health system can handle. The fear is the number of patients would quickly increase to a point hospitals would not have beds, ventilators and staff to treat all the projected patients.

In New York, in Italy, and closer to home in Albany, Ga. this has happened. It’s not a rhetorical scenario. The cases shot up so quickly that hospitals ran out of resources. It may turn out that coronavirus deaths don’t surpass the flu. But if every one who died of the flu and those needing hospitalization, came in the same month, we have a similar problem.

Also with coronavirus, while some people only have mild symptoms, those who require hospitalization appear to require longer stays and more intensive care.

The point of the shut down/shelter-in-place is not to cure coronavirus, it is to slow the spread so that it is manageable and to reduce the total number of cases. 

There is an underlying dread of how the public will react (should a worse case scenario happen) when people arrive at hospitals to find there is no room, equipment nor any qualified staff without their hands full. We’re not used to that kind of scenario in America.

 

A few other points:

• There are plenty of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic. While some are so far-fetched they are laughable, breathing air from a hair dryer does not heat your breath enough to kill the virus in your lungs. Please maintain some common sense. And even if you have a secret e-mail that Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton worked together creating coronavirus, it doesn’t change the fact that social distancing is the best way to defeat it.

• We aren’t protecting ourselves by social isolating, we are protecting the medically vulnerable and the unknown percentage of healthy people who are hit hard by the virus. You may be a tough guy and lick the shopping cart handles at Walmart and not even get a fever, but your elderly neighbor might pay the price a week later.

• Finally, a conversation that America may not be ready to have is ultimately the real issue, how much are we willing to sacrifice to potentially save lives? In my earlier conversation, one person who thought it was “all a bunch of bull” took pause when I replied ‘if you were in charge how many additional deaths would you accept to re-open everything?’ If the social distancing and shut downs, cuts fatal cases by a quarter, a half, three-quarters is it worth it? This is what the leaders at all levels are grappling with. 

It’s hard to gauge the potential fatalities from coronavirus as without more testing earlier, we don’t know how many people contracted it and passed it on without calling in sick. So the best we have are educated estimates from those who are trained in national health. Some are pretty scary, some are indeed like a bad year of the flu.

Lacking those exact figures and with an unprecedented health crisis, it is prudent to take the precautions. Over-reaction is not a bad reaction here, especially if one of the deaths you prevent is that sweet Sunday School teacher, nice old man down the street, or that kid working the checkout line saving to go to college.

 

What to say during a pandemic

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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When I agreed to take on the editorial for this edition it was Thursday morning of last week. At that time, the general idea was to discuss impacts of COVID-19 on a family with school-aged kids, other general observations, and, if possible, make it relatable and humorous.

Some of the things I was going to bring up before the weekend happened:   

•The disappointment I felt over the Georgia GymDogs meet being cancelled, which I had planned on taking my gymnastics-obsessed daughter to after a day hanging out with her in Athens.

•The much more extreme disappointment I felt when I realized my son’s school band trip to Disney World – which has been planned for over a year - might be cancelled (it eventually was).

• The noticeably thin crowd at PHS parents’ night for rising 9th graders last Wednesday. 

•A few other minor things.

But that was then and this is now, and then seems like a lifetime ago. So much has changed. There was a marked difference between the Thursday morning that I agreed to write this editorial and the following Monday when I actually did write this editorial. What was then a more novel phenomena that was easier to brush off became a dire, serious situation over the course of a few days. It was only a couple weeks ago that our biggest concerns were time change, rain, and Friday the 13th. 

Now every day - every few hours really - headlines are increasingly shocking. It reminded me of a much bigger version of this past January and February in our own community when a new and unbelievable story trumped the development from the day before. It left our town reeling and breathless, just as the larger matters at hand are now leaving us as a country, and planet. What we are experiencing collectively are issues that, on their own, would easily be the biggest story of the year had they happened alone – Italy shutting down, historic stock market dives, across-the-board school closures, cancelled everything, eerily empty grocery stores, gatherings of no larger than 10. 

My original idea to write about COVID-19 as experienced by a mom now seemed trite – so many people’s lists of impacts were much more serious than mine, like a friend’s brother and sister who are now on furlough for weeks with no income. What do I say? What do I write? Everything seemed to fall short of relaying the gravity of what’s happening. 

It’s beginning to sink in for many of us that we may not see our “normal” for a long time, and it’s sinking in that our future might look much different than we imagined it would a few months ago. Even as someone who isn’t quick to panic, I’ve felt myself on a couple of occasions feel fear threaten to creep in after reading a particularly startling headline - but so far I’ve been able to shake things off fairly easily. 

No matter what you believe about why this is happening, it’s happening to all of us. Isn’t it incredible to think that almost any person you can imagine has many of the same things on their mind right now? There’s something oddly comforting and unifying in that. We can ground ourselves in our faiths, in the people we love, in rational thinking and compassion and charity, and we can get through this (to be completely – but appropriately – cliché). 

As time marches on our personal experiences will emerge, and long-term impacts will be revealed. Despite the uncertainly one thing is certain – we will remember this time forever. Generations ahead of us will read about what life was like before, and after, COVID-19. Maybe what needs to be written is a humble acknowledgment of the gravity of what’s happening, and a prayer that our collective “after” will be brighter than our “before.” 

Like Maya Angelou says, every storm eventually runs out of rain.

In unfamiliar but not totally uncharted waters

By Dan Pool

Editor

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My oldest daughter, like all the students at UGA, got asked fairly sternly to depart from Athens over coronavirus concerns. So like thousands of her age-group, she found herself stuck at home with no plans.

Seeking my advice was useless. I told her, we are in uncharted waters here. I had nothing in my half-century of experience to draw on for any relevant experience.

While that is true regarding the timeline of history for my 50 years, it’s just barely true. The age of pandemic is “A” new normal, but not really “The” new normal -- as in the only time we have ever seen anything like this before. Consider that September 11, 2001 also ushered in a new normal. Everything changed then too. And now most us recall that horror only by griping that we have to take off our shoes at airports.

And, before terrorism changed everything, we lived through the decades-long latent fear that one slip in American/Soviet relations and we were all minutes from nuclear annihilation. 

For pandemics, we had fairly similar scares with H1N1 and SARS. Luckily (truly by luck) they didn’t take off, so COVID-19 isn’t different, just worse. And the yearly flu, always has the potential to come out with a nastier, deadlier and more contagious form.

Had I been 100 years old, I could have drawn from what I was probably still hearing about the Spanish Flu in 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million, and a 100-year-old could have pointed out that as far as worldwide disruption goes, World War II is much, much larger. World War I as well.

In this case, we are being asked to stay home and binge-watch television, to not shake hands, and to maintain a distance from others. In December 1941, Americans were  asked to get on big ships and go kill and be killed in massive numbers.

We have survived world wars and nuclear threats and we’ll surely survive this. Maybe not all of us, that’s the sad fact, but most of us. And the rest of us will do what we can.

Barring any personal experience, please listen to the experts – social distance, watch for symptoms in yourself and stay home. It’s bad right now but not complicated or the worst thing ever to befall the world and not going to end the world as we know. 

It sure is unpleasant and scary. But, as a mountain biker said meeting me on a trail at Talking Rock Sunday, “I’m doing pretty good, all things considered.”

 

One thing we do know: Local governments must get grip on budgets now

At this point there are a wide range of predictions about how this will play out from the disease side, but one aspect is already depressingly clear. For the next few weeks, and maybe a lot longer, the economy is in tatters. Local businesses are seeing revenue falling 20 percent, 50 percent, even 100 percent (absolutely closing up).

We call upon on our elected officials – county, city and schools to acknowledge this now and take action. Sales taxes are going to take a hit and come property tax time in the winter, there may be problems for many making payments.

Local government can’t experiment with vaccines, but they can put the brakes on spending.

What shouldn’t be tolerated is any government waiting until the budget times later this year to react. We suggest 5 to 10 percent spending cuts across the board, that’s a pure, middle road estimate of what the national economy is expected to contract in the immediate effects. Maybe it won’t be that bad, and if so, the budgets can be re-adjusted as needed.

In the strongest words possible, we call on our local governments to start right now to not only set good examples at social distancing but to share the pain of all small businesses and adjust budgets now.

 

City of Jasper gets in gear

In sports, players are taught to get in motion before play begins. Whether it’s a tennis player awaiting a serve or a basketball player being active on defense or a linebacker poised for the football to be snapped, no one wants to be caught flat-footed as the saying goes.

In sports as with projects, it’s crucial to get a good first step, whether it’s a literal step or renovating a park you can be sure getting that first piece of old playground equipment down was the hardest part.

This concept applies to our city government. Following a retreat where they established priorities, they are making progress – working, moving plans ahead. Boots are literally on the ground at both a downtown property owned by the city and in a park.

City Hall is doing things, not just talking about them.

The work itself isn’t monumental. Re-doing the well-used playground in the city park (duck pond area) and the demolition of the bank drive thru on the Main Street property the city bought a couple of years ago are standard public work projects.

But the action, the movement, and the progress are significant as they show forward momentum, which is something largely absent in this town for the past couple of years while the city council and former mayor played politics.

We have complained in this space at length about the stalemate in the city. So, now we’ll praise the work unfolding. 

Jasper, like Rome, wasn’t built in a day. Neither will we make big changes in a day, week or month, and maybe not even in a year. 

But it is significant that our city council and mayor and city manager are doing something – literally anything to get us out of a standstill.

One of these projects leaves us with a more attractive park and the other with a few badly-needed parking spots and more attractive Main Street corner. Over and above the tangible benefits, the work sets a tone, gets us in gear.

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction.

The city of Jasper is now in motion. It will be exciting to see where this direction takes us.

 

Coronavirus – 

remain calm, we 

are still okay

To follow up on last week’s editorial: at least two local groups have cancelled plans over the coronavirus. A youth art exhibit and a memorial dedication at the Eagle’s Rest park were both postponed until some time in the future.

These aren’t overly dramatic decisions, more of the common sense we encourage. If it’s an event that is nice, but not necessary, why take a risk? We quoted a podcast guru last week advising to treat the spreading virus like you would driving a car – wear your seatbelt. You are probably not going to have a crash, but it still makes sense to wear a seat belt.

In this case, simply wash your hands and avoid unnecessary contact. It seems very likely that the virus will continue spreading, but it’s also important to keep in mind that it creates an illness like the flu in most people. It’s not a zombie apocalypse.

Unfortunately it does kill people, as the regular yearly flu does. We saw where a healthcare professional posted on her social media that people who have never gotten a flu shot are  panicking over a less deadly, albeit new, virus. Ironically, there is a shot available for the more dangerous disease, which many people ignore, but the fact there is no vaccine for the new strain creates a panic.

We suspect there will be more event cancellations, which is a seatbelt-like approach. It doesn’t mean the sky is falling when youth art month is delayed; it means people are thinking ahead and not asking the public to take unnecessary risks. And that is a reasoned, might we even say adult-like, approach to life.