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Editorial: Have behaviors helped or hurt virus’ spread?

One year ago today, the headline in the Salisbury Post stated in bold letters, “Infections climb in South Korea as world fights virus.”

The story, written by the Associated Press, appeared on page 8A and reported the country had seen a total of 433 cases and three deaths. Globally, there had been nearly 78,000 people infected and 2,300 deaths. In Rowan County, it was a far-away problem affecting people elsewhere — likely not even on the minds of most Rowan Countians.

News on the front page of the newspaper that day: a story about about then-Senate Leader Mitch McConnell helping out a Democrat in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, a feature about recreation centers named for prominent Black Salisburians, news that local scouting organizations wouldn’t be affected by the national organization’s bankruptcy and a report about high school students converging on the fairgrounds for a trade skill event.

Inside, Sen. Bernie Sanders had just won the Nevada caucuses and was leading the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, candidates running for state legislative seats talked about rural internet, commissioners candidates in the Republican primary talked about West End Plaza’s future, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College officials talked about a bond proposal and a story previewed discussions by the school board about renewal plans.

Across the country, communities like Salisbury and Rowan County likely will begin to mark the grim one-year anniversary of the pandemic by when the first case appeared. The United States has already passed that mark. Rowan County is about one month away.

No matter the anniversary, one thing is clear: the pandemic has been worse than just about anyone could have reasonably predicted at the start. Restrictions have been in place longer and economic and health-related effects have been longer-lasting.

In April, The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a forecast model used by the White House, predicted more than 2,500 deaths by August. That prediction was high — the actual number recorded was closer to 2,000. But for people still learning about a new virus, even 2,000 deaths in North Carolina in just months seemed like a lot.

Today, the state has seen nearly 11,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 840,000 positives.

In Rowan County, there have been 14,613 positives, 269 deaths and hundreds of people hospitalized. Once numbers are finalized, COVID-19 is expected to be one of the leading causes of death here in 2020. Families have lost loved ones. Many of those who survived are still living with the effects of the virus. Whether the numbers were zero or 14,613 and 269, people taking precautions have been ridiculed. People spun conspiracy theories as professionals tried to understand a new, rapidly spreading virus.

With the community approaching the one-year anniversary of the first case being publicly identified (March 19) and the first death (March 27), it’s worth reflecting on the events of the previous year and whether the community’s collective behavior accelerated the spread or helped slow it down.

Even as things improve, it’s critical to follow commonsense precautions like wearing a mask, waiting 6 feet apart, avoiding large crowds and washing your hands. Taking basic precautions is not incompatible with considering whether it’s time to change or lift some virus-related restrictions. Ignoring easy measures or continuing with the fantasy that the virus isn’t dangerous, however, is incompatible with a happy and healthy community.

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