STORY OF THE YEAR: Coronavirus repeats as dominant local topic

·3 min read

Jan. 1—MOULTRIE, Ga. — In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic was so pervasive it was named the local Story of the Year without competition. A year later, it's still hard to find any other story that has driven local news coverage the way the pandemic has.

Therefore, The Moultrie Observer is naming the coronavirus its Story of the Year for the second year in a row.

But this year, the story isn't just about people getting sick, people dying and events being canceled. This year's story also involves the turnaround as our community gets closer to normal. It's been a tough road.

The Georgia Department of Public Health tracks COVID cases and deaths by county on its website, Colquitt County's worst single day of the pandemic — so far as number of new cases — was Jan. 29. The website also tracks the average number of new cases over a rolling seven-day period. The highest average came during a surge in early September.

As of Dec. 30, Colquitt County has confirmed 5,803 cases and 136 deaths over the two-year pandemic. In our first issue of 2021, The Observer published a count dated Jan. 4: 2,588 cases and 44 deaths. So approximately half the county's total cases but two-thirds the total deaths have come in 2021.

In mid-August, Colquitt Regional Medical Center warned that its staff was stretched thin by the number of cases. The 99-bed hospital was over-capacity with some patients being housed in the emergency department until a room could become available, which sometimes took days. The hospital reverted to semi-private rooms for the first time since its renovation in 2014.

Local officials held Zoom calls off-and-on all year as case numbers rose and ebbed. These calls involved not only representatives of the hospital and county health department but also city and county governments, law enforcement, state elected officials and others as they worked to navigate the challenges the pandemic put before them. The Observer updated the community multiple times over the course of the year based on the content of those Zoom calls.

One concern that emerged from those calls was the slow pace of vaccinations locally. By the end of the year, only 41% of Colquitt Countians were fully vaccinated, even though vaccines were available to a portion of the population since late 2020 and to everyone over 16 years old as of late March.

The City of Moultrie canceled April's Spring Fling for a second year, but other events were held successfully, including both iterations of the Calico Arts and Crafts Show, the Sunbelt Expo and the Moultrie Downtown Christmas Parade. The city redesigned its Lights! Lights! celebration in 2020 to encourage people to come downtown throughout the week instead of all on Thanksgiving night, but this year the signature holiday event resumed its normal format.

The city had planned Second Saturday to become a recurring musical event downtown when it premiered in 2020, but the pandemic shut it down completely. It returned in June as an afternoon event with games, amateur musicians and food trucks before slowly easing back into its evening format by December.

As 2021 drew to a close, the coronavirus showed it wasn't through with Colquitt County yet. Officials gathered for a Zoom call that indicated a surge in COVID cases was just beginning.

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