Kelly R. Kirkpatrick

Does this sound familiar?

A man and his wife parked about 30 yards from the entrance of a busy King Soopers and journeyed through a bustling maze of cars and carts to reach the entrance. Just as the giant sliding doors were about to open, the man came to an abrupt halt, highlighted by an emphatic foot-stomp.

“I have to go back to the car ... I forgot my stupid mask again,” he said.

“Not again,” his wife sighed, with eyes rolling and shoulders slumping. “OK, honey, I’ll be waiting near the front of the store.”

“What’s that, dear?,” the man asked loudly. “I can’t hear what you are saying through your mask.”

“I’ll wait near the front of the store,” his wife repeated, almost yelling, while simultaneously pulling her mask down so he could hear.

If the above scenario sounds familiar, or reminds us of someone we know, then we shouldn’t fret. We are probably among a majority of virus-weary Americans who dream of losing their protective face coverings – for good. But hey, it’s been that kind of year, and this to shall eventually pass.

News cycle keeps on giving

The first real mention of the coronavirus on these pages appeared in a March 20 story I happened to have authored. The story cited warnings from health agencies and officials, as well as closures and cancellations that had just been announced by Park County schools and businesses.

At that time, few of us could have imagined the gravity or longevity of the impending health crisis. And few of us could have possibly anticipated that this strange virus from China would remain firmly entrenched as the lead story in every news medium across the nation as we turned our calendars to 2021.

Almost nine months and 19.2 million COVID-19 cases later in the United States alone, the impact of the coronavirus continues to dominate headlines around the nation, and the world. In the meantime, more than 333,000 Americans have died as a result of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 news cycle, it seems, is an unfortunate and unwelcomed gift that just keeps on giving.

Upside down

Due to sweeping, all encompassing changes ushered in by COVID-19, it has felt at times this year as though the world as we know it has turned upside down – or at least severely tilted from what we know as normal.

Business and school closures dominated headlines throughout the late-spring and early-summer months, as public gatherings were not only discouraged, but formally forbidden by way of state and local law.

The crisis seemed to wane somewhat during the latter part of the summer, and most Colorado schools reopened for the fall semester to both online and in-person attendance.

Many school districts were forced to close their doors again to in-person classes during the fall semester, however, as a second surge of COVID-19 raged nationally and locally.

Park County school districts were fortunately able to maintain in-person attendance throughout the fall semester, but many nearby school districts beyond Park County were forced to go exclusively online.

Businesses such as restaurants and bars took yet another financial hit with the recent surge of new COVID-19 cases, as indoor dining was prohibited in many areas throughout the state and has been limited in Park County.

The second surge of COVID-19 cases impacted Park County much more than the first, as it turned out, and the fall wave accounts for the vast majority of cases reported in the county.

While Park County has still had fewer reported COVID-19 cases than some neighboring counties, it did experience a sharp spike during the fall months and has reported a total of 376 cases as of Dec. 28, with 11 active cases and four deaths.

The first wave of COVID-19 during the spring only accounted for about 40 cases within the county.

As a result of that second wave, Park County announced Nov. 27 that it was moving its level of protection on the COVID-19 Status Dial from Level Yellow (Concern) to the more restrictive Level Orange (High Risk). The Status Dial has remained at Level Orange since that time.

The economic impact to small businesses and business-owners as a whole has been crippling, as has been the loss of employment and reductions in annual income for large swaths of our local population.

According to personal accounts from those involved with local food banks, the number of residents seeking assistance has increased drastically in recent weeks and continues to soar.

Meanwhile, social and psychological impacts of COVID-19 have been especially glaring in Park County, as suicides and domestic violence cases spiked during various stages of the pandemic, according to reports from the Park County Sheriff’s Office, as well as The Town of Fairplay Police.

History will undoubtedly document 2020 as the year of the coronavirus; the year our lives were turned upside down by a health crisis of epic proportions. Every facet of our lives has been altered, and no person, regardless of social status, wealth, etc., has been exempt from the virus and its peripheral impacts.

Eagerly awaiting 2021

There are reasons for optimism and as we transition into a new year. For starters, vaccinations to prevent COVID-19 will likely be available to all who want them in the coming months.

While questions and debates continue regarding the effectiveness and distribution processes of the vaccine, the prevailing sentiment is that its recent development and impending distribution to millions of Americans is extraordinarily good news.

I, for one, am all in for a vaccine. Of the almost 20 million Americans who have contracted the virus, including a few I happen to know personally, I’ve not heard a single one of them say they enjoyed the COVID-19 experience, or that they are better off in any way for having caught the virus.

Throw in the fact that the virus is causing a range of long-term side effects for some people, and it’s a no-brainer for me. I’d rather roll the dice with the vaccine than the virus. Just my personal preference . . .

More financial relief is also forthcoming. Federal and state lawmakers have passed legislation within the last week designed to stimulate the economy and provide relief for businesses and families. While no stimulus package will solve all of our economic woes, it certainly can’t hurt.

In fact, I think I’m ready to order now: I’ll have one vaccine and one stimulus check to go, please.

Despite ongoing challenges, I believe we will soon get a handle on COVID-19 and forge ahead into a brighter and healthier new year. I have faith that modern science and medicine will ultimately help to prevail over the disease.

I believe in the fighting spirit of Americans, and especially Americans living in Park County. I believe in our unique brand of Park County determination and zest for personal health and independence.

Those qualities are perhaps our most potent weapons against the virus, and for that matter, any other obstacles that come our way.

I also believe in our friendships and bonds to one another, and our tendency to look out for others as we typically do in mountain communities.

Last but not least, I confidently maintain that our individual and collective faith will ultimately prove much more powerful than this strange but formidable virus from China.

With that said, here’s to making 2021 better than the year before.

Happy New Year’s to all, and thanks for reading The Flume – Park County’s official newspaper of record since 1879.

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