COLUMN: The last year in COVID-19

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

A year ago, I would have been sitting down to write this column in a normal world on Friday morning, March 13, 2020. Toilet paper was fully stocked, I could look at someone and see they were disgusted with me rather than trying to guess, I could hug my grandparents without the thought of being the reason they die and thousands of lives were still with us.

That all changed hours later when COVID-19 uplifted our lives and gave us a new sense of normal.

We have since spent the last year living in what feels like a different world. Many of us were forced to work from home, and still are, we were ordered to wear masks, we couldn’t walk down the same aisle at the grocery store without someone being judged, we wouldn’t go anywhere without our trusty hand sanitizer and we couldn’t attend any of our favorite events.

The hardest hit, however, were those actually impacted by the virus. Some of us have gotten through unscathed, either without getting the virus or having it impact our lives through work or someone we care about getting extremely sick and possibly even dying.

Many thought the different restrictions were too much over the last year, but truth be told, we don’t know how many lives we’ve saved by wearing a mask or keeping our distance from others.

I think we often forget how easily we cough and sneezed, spreading germs without a second thought. Even with the precautions in place, more than 10,000 people in Alabama have lost their life over the last year, while more than 500,000 have tested positive for the virus and more than 46,000 have been hospitalized.

That said, the restrictions were another side effect of COVID-19 that plagued the state and country over the last year with one of the worst economic downturns we’ve seen in modern-day history.

There wasn’t a single business that wasn’t impacted, as the unemployment rate surpassed 10 percent. Money wasn’t flowing, which forced businesses to lay off employees or close altogether.

Restaurants were limited to takeout only and other businesses that weren’t essential were ordered to close their doors for a period of time.

Looking back on those decisions, it was mistake to handle it the way we did, but nobody knew what we were dealing with.

Eventually, however, we realized we could coexist with the virus.

Businesses reopened, schools started back, sporting kicked off again and life started to feel more normal.

Now, as I sit here one year after the state was flipped upside down, I write this column with us seemingly the most optimistic we’ve been since the virus started.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all drastically decreasing from where they were in January, multiple vaccines are available, we’ve made it more than halfway through the school year, the unemployment rate is on its way back to the record lows we were seeing before the virus, we can eat in restaurants again, and soon enough, we’ll be able to see each other’s faces again.

That’s right, after a recent announcement from Gov. Kay Ivey, the state’s mask mandate will expire on April 9, giving us back our most normal feeling in a year.

This isn’t to say the virus is passed us. The danger is still very real and there is plenty of unknown when it comes to how long antibodies will last. So you should still wear your mask when it makes sense and you should continue to sanitize and clean your hands, which should be obvious, but we all know those who don’t. Also, for the love of all that is good, if you don’t wear your mask, cover your mouth and nose when you get the urge to cough or sneeze.

It has been a trying year. Many of us thought this would be over last summer. But now, finally, we are getting good news a year into the battle. If we continue to do our part and use our brains, life will get back to normal and this last year will feel like a gap year in our lives.