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June 2020
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Staff Editorials

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.

 

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.

Coronavirus and seatbelts

One of the simplest views of the precautions necessary for coronavirus/COVID-19 came from podcast guru Tim Ferriss.

Ferriss wrote in a blog that he was treating coronavirus like he does wearing a seatbelt. “How many head-on car accidents have I had? Zero. I nonetheless put on my seatbelt every time that I drive.”

He expands this line of thought to a fire extinguisher in his kitchen. It’s pretty unlikely to have a kitchen fire and he will most likely never need a fire extinguisher in his home. But, he asks, would you get rid of your home/office fire extinguisher permanently for $100? $1,000?

For a thousand, we’d be extinguisher-less. But for $100, no chance, and even at a thousand, we’d realize it was a foolish gamble.

It makes sense to wear a seatbelt, to have a fire extinguisher and to take basic precautions as coronavirus spreads. Health experts say to take the same steps with this virus as you should in the flu/cold season. 

We join the calls for a common sense philosophy for coronavirus response – don’t panic or start wearing a mask everywhere, but don’t hug everyone you see at Ingles either.

There are differences between coronavirus and the seasonal influenza and some key aspects experts don’t fully understand yet. But they know enough to advise precautions, such as handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and to avoid crowds.

Georgia’s governor appointed a state council of health, political and academic leaders to keep an eye on the virus situation and to be ready to jump into action here if necessary. 

Gov. Brian Kemp gave his version of the seat belt advice in announcing the panel, “We’re asking everyone to remain calm. We have no confirmed cases in Georgia, but we want to be prepared for whatever comes our way,” according to the story from Capitol Beat News Service on Friday. By Tuesday we do have confirmed cases and most likely there will be more in Georgia.

On Monday, it was reported that there had been two deaths in Seattle due to the virus (rising to six by Tuesday) and the Centers for Disease Control listed around 100 cases in the U.S. and that number is expected to rise.

President Trump has declared the country ready, “Our country is prepared for any circumstance. We hope it’s not going to be a major circumstance, it’ll be a smaller circumstance. But whatever the circumstances, we’re prepared.”

While it is spreading quickly, it is important to keep the disease in proper proportion. It is something you want to avoid, but it is not a zombie apocalypse. Someone in the travel industry here commented that it’s really just like another virus like the flu. 

And that is true, but it’s also true that this virus appears to have a somewhat higher fatality rate than the flu. Though the counter-argument is also that  a lot more people have had it and passed it on with symptoms so minor they never even knew they had it.

While the worldwide aspect is daunting, it should be comforting that nothing fancy is required – unless you consider hand sanitizer exotic. As a reminder, the best ways to avoid the disease are just like the regular flu/colds. They aren’t fancy or new - wash your hands, avoid crowds, avoid people who are sick, if you are sick stay home.

Please look over our front page article for more tips and continue to follow news from respected sources and be aware there is plenty of misinformation already online.

 

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.

 

On proper public debate

To coincide with the pastors’ efforts to raise the level of civil discourse through a prayer breakfast this week, we’d like to offer a few thoughts on proper public debate, particularly in local races.

On the one hand, vile, nasty political attacks are nothing new. In fact, research of old Roman empire writings show plenty of ancient mud being slung. 

And even the Founding Fathers were often scheming and issuing pamphlets with anonymous authors trading in rumor and insults of their opposition.

Consider that the famous Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton duel in 1804 was a response to a “despicable opinion” of Burr made by Hamilton. As nasty as the current political landscape is, we haven’t had a duel – yet.

But to foster a civil political atmosphere locally, we offer a few suggestions:

#1. For Pickens County, the national political tone of slash and burn is not what we should aspire to or tolerate.

This needs to be emphasized even more when you get way down the political tickets to council members, school board members and appointed members of boards. Keep in mind that most of these people are doing it essentially for volunteer level pay, which isn’t an excuse for poor job performance, but maybe warrants cutting them a little slack. 

In other words, feel free to vote them back out of office, but don’t make the environment toxic while doing so. One person, formerly on the school board, told us that he was elected with plans to bring a basic business approach to the schools, but after a term, he’d become the devil, with people who saw him as pure evil just because he took different views on a handful of policies.

#2. Pickens is too small of a pond to alienate people.

Pickens County has more in common with a large family than a national population, literally. We may have a population of 30,000 but the vast majority of those aren’t active in the community. The people who run for office (winners and losers) are usually involved in multiple other groups. It’s this dynamic that should remind us to keep doors open for later cooperation after the races are over.

In Washington the losing side slinks back to home states or other places to find work after an election. In Pickens County this isn’t an option; you can’t go over to Hinton if you alienate everyone in Marble Hill during a nasty political ruckus.

So, temper your political tone, knowing that not only may you have to deal with a winner you didn’t support, but even the losing candidates may pop up again heading a church committee, at a local business, or civic club. Not supporting someone or working against them is fine, as long as you do it honorably.

Savvy, small town business-owners have long recognized that you don’t want to be so vocal or nasty during a campaign that people shy away from your company.

#3. Remember the opposing side likely has some valid points.

In high school and college debate, some formats have teams required to argue both affirmative and negative in different rounds. School debate proponents say this side-switching does wonders for students who learn to look at both sides of any given issue. Frankly, it would be un-imaginable to see either congressmen Collins or Graves getting very far with academic debates that required being open to alternative views.

For practical, small county governance, finding a common approach or shared goals, not destroying the other side makes a lot of sense.

#4 Don’t make it personal.

Again with the debate format, you never see the participants go after the person, kind of like the old “hate the sin, but love the sinner” approach. Attacking your opposition on a personal level is as unseemly as when a football player pulls the helmet off an opposing quarterback and tries to bash him with it. Even the diehard fans grimace at someone going too far.