Mar. 21—On this day one year ago, the Joplin area had just received word that COVID-19, the dreaded disease that we'd been reading about for months, was here. The first local case had been reported in Jasper County. The schools were closed indefinitely. Businesses and restaurants were shutting their doors. Stay-at-home orders would soon follow.
Today, more than 20,000 people in Joplin and Jasper and Newton counties have been infected. When you look at the number of infections in the past year across the Four-State Area, that number jumps to more than 45,000 — almost a full Joplin-sized city.
As a community, as a country, we wouldn't be where we are today without the hard work of our front-line health care workers. Our gratitude to you for your dedication in caring for the most ill COVID-19 patients, risking your lives to ensure that they were treated with love and kindness during a time when their families couldn't be with them, cannot be overstated.
As we look back over the past year, we also acknowledge those who made the (sometimes unpopular) decision to require the wearing of masks or face coverings, as recommended by public health and medical experts to lessen the risk of spreading the virus from one person to another. From businesses such as Walmart that took an early stand in favor of masks, to the Joplin City Council that twice implemented a mask-wearing ordinance for residents, you put yourselves out there in a way that many others didn't, and it's likely that lives were saved because of it.
Thanks also to the individuals who made difficult sacrifices over the past year to keep themselves and everyone around them safe. Maybe you gave up in-person dining or shopping and instead only used drive-thru services. Perhaps you visited an elderly parent in a nursing home only via telephone or through a window. Or you might have worn a mask, even though it was uncomfortable, every time you went out because it was the right thing to do. The choices you made also certainly saved lives.
We can't mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic without acknowledging its victims. In Joplin and Jasper and Newton counties, a documented 364 people had died of COVID-19 since the beginning the pandemic as of Friday, according to area health departments. That's an average of one person lost to us per day over the past year as a result of COVID-19. One person per day. The loss is immeasurable, and the grief will be felt for a long time.
As the second year of life in a pandemic begins, let's reflect on what we've endured over the past 12 months to try to make the next 12 months better for us all.