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Gone too soon




Evening Times Editor T he coronavirus has hit hard. For months, I have watched as the pandemic became a thing that was “over there” to a thing that was “here in the U.S., but not really a threat to us in Arkansas” to “Oh, it’s in Arkansas, but no one I know has it” to “Someone I’m Facebook friends with knows someone who tested positive” to “Oh no, someone I know has COVID-19” to “One of my best friends is sick with the coronavirus” to “My nephew has it!”

to “people I have known for years are dying from COVID-19.”

If you still think it’s not real, you’re a fool.

If you still think wearing masks or social distancing or limiting large gatherings is a step too far, please profess those beliefs, but first, get your white makeup, your big red nose and your clown shoes on before doing so.

Maybe it’s not “as bad as they say it is,” but what exactly isn’t “bad enough” about 354,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus for you. That figure includes 3,800 dead Arkansans. And that figure includes 76 dead Crittenden County residents. If that isn’t “bad enough” for you to do even the minimum to help keep everyone as safe as possible, then you can just stop reading this newspaper right now, roll it up, and smack yourself in the nose with it like a puppy that won’t stop peeing on the living room rug.

Yes, 354,000 or 3,800 or 76 … those are all real people with real families, and COVID-19 rages on.

Yes, there’s a vaccine. Yes, there’s hope that we are at least maybe on the backhalf of this thing, but it’s still a global pandemic and it’s still important to be careful.

But even if the coronavirus disappeared tomorrow, it has already left its mark on us all. My wife’s grandmother passed away right around Thanksgiving. In the days before her death, she was alone in the hospital suffering from, among other ailments, dementia. She had also tested positive for COVID-19, although she was asymptomatic, but she had to be quarantined. Her case is far from unique.

Most of you have heard that Memphis DJ Chris Jarman died recently from a heart attack. It wasn’t COVID-19, but the delay in getting him to a hospital that could accommodate him might have cost him precious minutes.

Even if you don’t have the coronavirus, you have to be aware of its far-reaching consequences.

The virus has also directly taken some of our loved one. Among those 76 local deaths was Marion Police Chief Gary Kelley. You can read about that on today’s front page. Yes, the virus is now directly affecting people I know and have known for years. I lost a high school classmate to COVID-19, Kerry Cozart.

Well, she was Kerry Ford in her adult life. I went to school with her in Marion from kindergarten through graduation. I sat next to her in several classes over the years. I think I might even have a Christmas ornament her mom Peggy made for all of her classmates back in like first or second grade.

I played baseball with her younger brother. And now she’s gone. Her only pre-existing condition was that she had asthma. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that.

I don’t know how many of you knew Bobby Harrell.

I go to church with his parents. His sister was my son’s third grade teacher.

My daughter is friends with his niece. He announced right before Christmas that the coronavirus “finally got me” and that he was a hospital. I guess it seemed like an inevitability for him, which might have been true. He was a paramedic, EMT and supervisor for Priority Ambulance, one of millions of front-line workers who are putting their lives at risk just by going to work. He ended up with a double-shot of coronavirus and pneumonia. Just a few days later, he was gone. Dead at the age of 50. That’s not much older than I am. That’s just wrong.

It won’t stop there. Just the other day, Arkansas broke another record … 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day. Three months ago, we had a then-record 2,000 cases in one day.

Three months is all it took to double the daily infection rate. Where will it be three months from now? 8,000 cases a day? 10,000? How many more Gary Kelleys or Bobby Harrells (or tangentally- related cases like Chris Jarman) will we see by then? One is too many.

It’s a new year, and I know we’re all eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and never look back, but we will need to keep looking back, so that we can remember the impact this pandemic has had on us all and so that we remember everyone we lost and everyone who lost someone.

It will get better.

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