Let’s finish this race and beat COVID for good

BY PETE KOUTOULAS

Sun Columnist

March feels like a month of major transition.

It was about this time last year when the realization hit that life as we knew it was about to change radically as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take its toll on society. That month, the World Health Organization, which had only begun referring to the virus as COVID-19 a month earlier, declared the disease a global pandemic.

Earlier in the month, we started hearing the first rumors of impending school closures. In mid-March, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the closure of all schools for the two weeks leading up to spring break week. I think most of us assumed that after three weeks, in-person learning would resume in some form. Little did we suspect that we still wouldn’t have all of our students back in school buildings one year later.

Around March 11 of last year, the NCAA announced it would play its basketball tournament without fans. That very day many conferences, including the SEC, shut down their tournaments, and the NCAA did the same with their championship tournament.

I remember this day vividly. It was a Wednesday. Although it hadn’t been officially announced yet, we were already sure this would be the last week of in-person school. We assumed it would be our last week of working at the office (although that actually didn’t start for us until the week of March 23).

I left the office early that day and decided to take a walk at the Traveling Trail. It was a gloomy day and there was a light mist of rain as I walked. I was hearing all the news about basketball being canceled, and I saw the writing on the wall. I called my son to commiserate with him. We knew there would be no March Madness as we knew it. In the best case scenario, the games would be played with no fans in the stands. But we both were pretty much resigned to knowing there would be no tournament that year. And probably no opening day for Major League Baseball.

It feels weird now, knowing that I was focused on sports when so much of society was starting to fall apart. But that’s how I felt that day.

So that was last March. This week’s news was much brighter. The CDC recently released guidance for fully-vaccinated people, giving us the green light to gather with each other privately without masks. Fully 25% of Kentuckians — over one million of us — are now vaccinated, with thousands more getting their shots every day.

This is my fourth week back at the office. My grandson started back to in-person schooling this week and is excited about it.

Spring is in the air. Things are beginning to feel somewhat normal again. And March Madness is back, although without either the University of Kentucky or Louisville men’s teams. We can cheer on the women, as well as surprising Morehead State — the only men’s team from our commonwealth to make the tourney this year.

But there are also caution signs. After peaking in early January, new cases have declined dramatically. But that trend has now plateaued at a level roughly equivalent to where we were last September — still much too high.

New variants of the novel coronavirus are rapidly spreading around the world. There are still far too many people who are unvaccinated. And many U.S. states are relaxing restrictions too soon.

We are at a crucial point in the recovery from COVID-19. We must not let our guards down now. Masking, social distancing and all the other precautions we have become accustomed to must still be following in public settings.

Over the past year, we have lost half a million American lives. Our economy is in shambles. People are suffering physically, emotionally and financially. But there is hope on the horizon. Vaccines are here, and financial assistance is on its way to individuals, local governments and businesses.

We’ve run about 24 miles of our long marathon race to beat this pandemic. We are nearing the finish line. Let’s not stop a couple of miles short of it.