Guilford marks year of COVID-19

Paul B. Johnson, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·5 min read

Mar. 14—HIGH POINT — For Carlvena Foster, her impression of the coronavirus pandemic as an elected leader, executive director of a city YMCA branch and active member of her church and community comes down to five people.

They are the five people she knew well who died from COVD-19 in the past year, five people she never expected to lose when the pandemic took hold locally.

"You never really think about these things happening in your circle," Foster said. "You see it happening, but when it impacts the circle of people you know, it's a really different feel. It's not a TV show or horror movie — it's real."

This Wednesday marks the anniversary of the Guilford County Division of Public Health announcing the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the county. In a year, the number of cases in Guilford County has ballooned to 40,987, with 564 dying from the virus.

High Point has endured 10,815 cases and suffered 180 deaths since the onset of the pandemic, according to ZIP code area data for the city compiled by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Saturday, 535,758 Americans had lost their lives to COVID-19, according to the grim daily toll maintained online by Johns Hopkins University. The number seems unfathomable as a whole, but as Foster said, each life lost carries personal, painful resonance within a circle of family and friends.

Foster has served on the frontline of the pandemic response as a Guilford County commissioner, making decisions since last March on how to distribute resources for COVID-19 relief. She readily acknowledges that she never expected the pandemic to reach the sobering proportions of the past year.

"Never — never did I envision that it would last this long, that it would impact not just our city, county and state but the world the way that it has," she told The High Point Enterprise

The loss of life during the pandemic represents the greatest toll from COVID-19. But the virus also has altered the collective mindset of the community, changing day-to-day life in manners most couldn't have imagined when the first Guilford County case was confirmed on March 17, 2020.

Wearing masks has become commonplace, while handshakes and hugs have evaporated. Setting yourself apart by at least six feet has turned into routine, as people have to adjust their space when they get too close to someone in a store or restaurant.

Workers at home or in an office who are caught in loops of Zoom virtual meetings yearn for something that not too long ago seemed mundane — speaking with people face to face.

The enormity of the scope of COVID-19 distills into moments with individuals, said

Trevor Hoppe, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who has an expertise in pandemics.

When Hoppe volunteered recently at a mass vaccination clinic helping older adults, the comment of a woman struck a poignant chord.

"She was hopeful about getting the vaccine," the professor said. "But this one woman was talking about going back to church and thinking about the number of people in her congregation that weren't going to be there because they had died. That's the kind of trauma that I don't think there's a parallel for in recent history."

Twenty years ago, the city of New York served as a focal point for the 3,000 lives lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hoppe said the entire nation mourned, but it was most personal for New Yorkers who knew loved ones dying in the Twin Towers.

"This is like 9/11 for the whole country," he said, referring to the void felt by the loss of people close to you from COVID-19. "It's such a massive scale."

Amid the despair of COVID-19, people locally and across the nation have shown determination and resilience, trying to remain positive in a terrible situation.

"We've found ways to come together even when we are very far apart," Hoppe told The Enterprise.

Nonprofit groups have crafted innovative ways to raise money through virtual events and celebrations. Government agencies have formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to distribute aid to more people in need because of the pandemic's impact on the economy.

Churches have held virtual services to allow the faithful to worship. Artists have used digital connections to lift the spirits of audiences who haven't been able to gather in concert halls or performance venues.

"We have found ways to connect, and that's been a saving grace," Hoppe said. "There's some humanity to be thankful for, for sure."

Foster said COVID-19 has changed the tenor of local politics among elected leaders. Turf wars and petty spats have receded as leaders decide how to spend state and federal assistance.

"Everybody in the county has become a willing partner in this pandemic era," she said.

Hoppe said the social impact of the pandemic will extend beyond the current efforts coping with the crisis. As more people get vaccinated and the threat hopefully recedes, communities and the nation will face a new task of processing the cultural pain imposed by the pandemic.

"It's going to take a long time to work through the collective trauma," he said. — 336-888-3528 — @HPEpaul