The lost year of COVID-19: Navigating an extraordinary 12 months in Butler County

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Historians need to have a historical distance before analyzing the novel coronavirus’s impact, but Miami University professor Steven Conn predicts it won’t be a favorable analysis.

And in 50 years, the history professor who will be standing in Conn’s current lecture hall discussing the year 2020 “is going to be gobsmacked about having to explain what happened and what didn’t happen. It’s not going to be a proud moment in American history.”

A quarter of the world’s cases of the COVID-19 virus are in the United States. Twenty percent of COVID-related deaths in the world are in the United States. Heading into the weekend, Ohio ranked seventh in the total number of virus cases at just under 1 million and ninth in the total number of deaths at nearly 18,000.

The Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing performed a fly-by in the Butler County area Thursday. The fly-by was part of a series throughout the state meant to honor workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic and lift Ohioans’ spirits. Several of the Fairfield Mercy Hospital staff went outside to see the the F-16s fly over. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
The Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing performed a fly-by in the Butler County area Thursday. The fly-by was part of a series throughout the state meant to honor workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic and lift Ohioans’ spirits. Several of the Fairfield Mercy Hospital staff went outside to see the the F-16s fly over. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary that Ohio and the country began to lock down due to the fast-spreading virus. Scientists and healthcare professionals were still learning about the new virus, and protocols and guidelines changed quickly. Schools were shut down then went to virtual learning, a new concept that is now commonplace, and graduation ceremonies were socially distant affairs.

The public met protocols and guidelines from health experts with disbelief, doubt and defiance. Conn said while historians typically don’t make predictions, the future will not look kindly on how the country responded to a virus he believes will kill 750,000 Americans “by the time this all burns out, and that’s a failure at several levels.”

“We didn’t do, in a consistent and a well-coordinated way, the things we needed to do to mitigate (the virus),” he said. “I think everybody was going to acknowledge people were going to get sick, and people were going to die. But the fact that we just crested 500,000 deaths (on Feb. 22), I don’t even think the worst-case scenarios were playing that out 12 months ago. And we’re not done.”

In the beginning, nothing but bad news about the virus was reported.

The stay-at-home orders issued by Ohio Gov. DeWine and other governors across the country caused significant job losses — some temporary, some permanently. Nationally, the unemployment rate skyrocketed after reaching historic lows in the months before the pandemic started.

The state of Ohio ordered all inside visitations halted at long-term care facilities to try to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. On June 8, assisted living facilities and intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled can have outdoor visitation. Visitation at nursing homes is under review, said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Pictured is Sophie Holliday, 6, Ollie Holliday, 4, and Maggie Holliday, 7, with their great-grandmother Virginia “Ginny” Meyer, 95, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. The family built a clear, protective box placed outside Barrington of West Chester senior living facility so the family could visit her. NICK GRAHAM/FILE
The state of Ohio ordered all inside visitations halted at long-term care facilities to try to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. On June 8, assisted living facilities and intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled can have outdoor visitation. Visitation at nursing homes is under review, said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Pictured is Sophie Holliday, 6, Ollie Holliday, 4, and Maggie Holliday, 7, with their great-grandmother Virginia “Ginny” Meyer, 95, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. The family built a clear, protective box placed outside Barrington of West Chester senior living facility so the family could visit her. NICK GRAHAM/FILE

“It has probably been for most businesses the toughest year of their business existence. They have faced challenged that they never thought they had to encounter,” said Fairfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kert Radel. “Unfortunately, some of (the businesses) are not going to recover at all, or it’s going to be a very slow recovery.”

Radel said he knows of some small businesses, in order to keep going, owners had to tap into their children’s college funds to pay rent, utilities and/or employees.

“This has had a devastating impact, and fortunately, the vaccines have come at a time where people can start seeing there must be light at the end of the tunnel,” Radel said. “And therefore, in the business community, I’m seeing cautious optimism out there, so maybe we can move forward.”

The unemployed turned to food banks and pantries for help during the pandemic, especially early on, said Terry Perdue, Shared Harvest Foodbank executive director.

The Fairfield-based food bank activated its emergency plan on March 16, 2020, and a week later, the Ohio National Guard joined the food bank. The Guard will continue to assist the nonprofit until September or whenever health orders are rescinded and DeWine recalls the soldiers sooner.

“What we have realized after this year, I think collectively, is a clear understanding of how fragile our system is,” said Perdue. “We are grateful that people are more compassionate to those of us who struggle every day.”

Hamilton City School workers Debbie Reed, left, and Gary Schweinfest set up a table to distribute lunches Thursday, March 26 at the corner of East and Hensley Avenues in Hamilton. Hamilton City Schools is among many schools in the area supplying students with meals throughout the week since school is out due to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting Monday March 30 they will be distributing meals two days a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, at nearly 30 locations. Monday's meal bag will include 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches and Wednesday's bag will include 3 breakfasts and 3 lunches. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Hamilton City School workers Debbie Reed, left, and Gary Schweinfest set up a table to distribute lunches Thursday, March 26 at the corner of East and Hensley Avenues in Hamilton. Hamilton City Schools is among many schools in the area supplying students with meals throughout the week since school is out due to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting Monday March 30 they will be distributing meals two days a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, at nearly 30 locations. Monday's meal bag will include 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches and Wednesday's bag will include 3 breakfasts and 3 lunches. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

About 30,000 people who came to the food bank’s mass distributions were people who never had to turn to Shared Harvest of a food pantry before, he said. And Shared Harvest doubled the number of people it served the year prior.

Typically, the food bank’s distribution best practice is the choice pantry, where people can select the types of food they wanted for their families. Perdue said that “gave them a sense of dignity.” But food distribution moved to pre-packed boxes and drive-thrus with minimal contact with people. Hopefully, Perdue said, that will change so they can connect with and help people who are suffering.

Spc. Michael Doyle, left, Spc. Kyle Eden, middle, and Spc. Tray Bash, right, with Ohio Army National Guard Delta Company 237th deliver food from Shared Harvest Food Bank to The Salvation Army on First Avenue in Middletown Tuesday, April 21, 2020. National Guard members have been activated around the area to help pack and distribute food during the coronavirus pandemic. The Salvation Army continues to serve food items and meals to those in need in the community with the help of their staff and volunteers. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Spc. Michael Doyle, left, Spc. Kyle Eden, middle, and Spc. Tray Bash, right, with Ohio Army National Guard Delta Company 237th deliver food from Shared Harvest Food Bank to The Salvation Army on First Avenue in Middletown Tuesday, April 21, 2020. National Guard members have been activated around the area to help pack and distribute food during the coronavirus pandemic. The Salvation Army continues to serve food items and meals to those in need in the community with the help of their staff and volunteers. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“Our network has always valued to sit face to face with someone and hear their story and try to provide support to help them overcome,” he said. “And we’ve lost that ability in this environment.”

Entertainment venues, like the Fitton Center, were one of the first businesses to completely shut down, and they will be the last to open in Ohio.

Fitton Center Executive Director Ian MacKenzie-Thurley said the year of the pandemic has been “an absolutely challenging one.”

“Obviously, the biggest loss has been a human one, 500,000 of our fellow Americans,” he said. “We’re feeling that in a very real way here in Hamilton and at the Fitton Center. We’ve lost many of our members, some of our donors, some of our supporters of many, many years. People who date back before the Fitton was even here and helped create the Fitton Center.”

When the Fitton Center reopens, those long-time patrons will not be able to share in that celebration.

“No matter how full we are, there will always be empty seats,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “The whole goal of the Fitton Center is to bring people together and to share art ... and we want you to be in there together. That’s in our soul, and we have to get back to that. We want to go back to that.”

But, he said, they “need to find ways to remember and celebrate those lives, and the achievements of those who can’t be with us,” he said.

Katie Stewart stocks a shelf at Petals & Wicks in Main Street in Hamilton Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Petals & Wicks has recently added a group party space for candle making so they can now accommodate parties at the same time as walk in customers. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Katie Stewart stocks a shelf at Petals & Wicks in Main Street in Hamilton Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Petals & Wicks has recently added a group party space for candle making so they can now accommodate parties at the same time as walk in customers. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

COVERING COVID-19

Journal-News reporters have spent the past year-plus covering all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the initial tests of two Miami University students in January 2020 until this latest report on a year’s worth of loss in Butler County. We’ll continue to use reporters in our communities to cover the most important stories for full understanding of what’s happening.

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