Looking back, looking forward after a year of COVID

by Marianne Gasaway

It was one year ago this week that the Mirror-Reporter and news outlets throughout the country broadly introduced COVID-19 to the public.  I very clearly remember that in the midst of a busy Monday we were getting word that a global pandemic had been declared.  

National news usually isn’t our beat, but with every passing hour it was becoming apparent just how much our world — even our corner of it in Clear Lake— was changing.  As we prepared to go to press on Tuesday, we were suddenly learning as much as we could about COVID-19.  

“Does is have to be all caps?” I remember asking staff member Katie Behr, who in addition to being an excellent newspaper staff member, has a good deal of medical knowledge.  Soon she was detailing exactly what COVID stood for (it’s an acronym created by the World Health Organization using CO VI and DI from the world coronavirus. The 19 was added at the end to signify the year) and throwing out buzz words like social distancing and flatten the curve.  We decided that we should add a glossary of these terms to our coverage.  We also assured the public that while hospitals and care centers were restricting visitors, banks were still accessible and the library and City offices were still open.  

Testament to the thought that this would only last a few weeks— maybe a month, our COVID 19 story wasn’t even above the fold, as we say in the newspaper business.

That quickly changed.

The work-from-home era began. Suddenly grocery store shelves were empty.  Churches were live-streaming their services.  The governor ordered schools be closed for 30 days, beginning March 16.  School district leaders sprang into action to still provide school breakfast and lunches for students using a drop off system at bus stops.  CL Tel offered faster internet speeds at no extra charge and pledged to make internet service available to all local students in their homes so remote learning (there’s another one of those terms we learned courtesy of COVID-19) could continue.

Things that people often took for granted — like hugs, seeing friends at birthday parties, dinners out together and midday coffee runs with colleagues — were no longer considered safe and harmless.  A Clear Lake Connect Facebook page was established to help friends and neighbors stay connected.   Blessing boxes at a local business accepted donations of food, toiletries, pet supplies, cleaners and more which could help others.

High school, college and professional sports leagues canceled or postponed entire seasons.   With a nod to the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball championship, we headlined our first story “March Sadness.”  

We were more right than we knew.

Today, some of the changes made one year ago out of necessity have stayed in place out of convenience.  For example, the City Council continues to live stream its meetings.

The Clear Lake Senior Center was still serving congregate meals during the first announcement of the pandemic, but that quickly changed.  Soon meals were only available through delivery by volunteers and eventually the kitchen was shut down when COVID exposure was reported.  Senior Center manager Linda Matson said approximately 40 meals are being delivered these days, as seniors are advised to limit their time in public for safety sake.  

“I don’t know if we will ever congregate again,” said Matson.  “The system is working very well and we don’t want COVID coming in our doors again and shutting everything down again.”

Last week was the first time the center received an inquiry about activities resuming, shared Matson. “I think people are thinking about getting out more after more of them have had their second COVID vaccination.  We’ll have to wait and see.  We just can’t risk exposing the center again.”

This week Iowa’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccine continues to move forward, as the state opens eligibility for more people to receive the vaccine.

“As vaccine production continues to ramp up, and the White House projects weekly vaccine allocations to increase in the immediate weeks ahead, we’ve been able to further expand eligibility to include individuals aged 16-64 with pre-existing health conditions,” said Governor Kim Reynolds during her regular press conference on Wednesday, March 10.

With the introduction of a third

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