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Fourth person charged with break-in

Halifax Town Council meets Tuesday

Virus cases accelerate in Halifax







Uncomfortably numb / April 30, 2020
It was a sparkling morning yesterday, the way spring is supposed to be, but the early part of the week had me in a grim mood. And it wasn’t because of overcast skies or the chill in the air, either. Over the past two weeks I’ve written stories for this newspaper that required picking up the phone and speaking to people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. Believe me, that’s the kind of thing that can put a person in a funk.

In a related development that may or may not have anything to do with the virus, this week also brought a first in my 30-year plus career in local newspapering. I edit and write for our newspaper in Mecklenburg County, The Mecklenburg Sun, and Tuesday I did something I’ve never done before: lay out 20 death notices and obituaries (some quite lengthy) over the expanse of two and half full newspaper pages. It knocked out a huge part of The Sun’s entire front section.

Now, it’s certainly possible the unusual number of obituaries has nothing, or mostly nothing, to do with our current COVID-19 crisis — although it is should be noted Mecklenburg is now up to 10 confirmed deaths from the disease, by far the highest death toll in Southside Virginia (as of Wednesday). I haven’t been able to investigate the matter sufficiently to explain how and why it came to be — but it’s hard to imagine this unprecedented run on our obituary page could happen without some X-factor skewing the usual reality.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post published a report that points strongly to the likelihood of the coronavirus death toll being much higher than official statistics tell us. “In the early weeks of the coronavirus epidemic, the United States recorded an estimated 15,400 excess deaths, nearly two times as many as were publicly attributed to Covid-19 at the time, according to an analysis of federal data conducted for The Washington Post by a research team led by the Yale School of Public Health.”

The Post article continued, “The excess deaths are not necessarily attributable directly to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They could include people who died because of the epidemic but not from the disease, such as those who were afraid to seek medical treatment for unrelated illnesses, as well as some number of deaths that are part of the ordinary variation in the death rate. The count is also affected by increases or decreases in other categories of deaths, such as suicides, homicides and motor vehicle accidents.”

This sort of after-the-fact assessment runs the risk of going off the rails as the focus shifts from a precise accounting of individual deaths to attempts to capture the worldwide pandemic’s hidden malicious effects. Just to turn the question back to The Sun’s obituary pages for a moment — 20 accounts of lives lost, told to heartbreaking effect — one could see from a casual read that many of the people who have passed were very elderly when death arrived. Was it simply their time? Could the accumulation of death notices be coincidence and nothing else? Like I said, I don’t know. But outlier numbers beg for explanation, and to say that nothing unusual is happening, absent proof positive, is the sort of thing that’s not likely to convince anyone.

Southside Virginia is probably too remote to have factored into an invisible first wave of Covid-19 deaths, as The Post has reported, but it’s hard to avoid the sense that this hideous pandemic is bearing down on us, cruel and fast, and there will be many dark moments ahead. People always say we’re six months behind the big city, and if that’s true in this particular instance, the consequences are horrifying to contemplate.

All this is just a long way of saying life is depressing as hell at the moment. I cannot begin to express my wonderment — to say nothing of my thanks — towards the grace of two people who have recently shared stories with me of their loved ones lost to the disease. Mary Lou Arrington of South Hill and Jan Harrison of Clarksville were kind enough to speak about the recent deaths of a husband (Phil Arrington) and mother (Dorothy Haley, Mrs. Harrison’s mother) to the coronavirus. Both women described harrowing experiences that the rest of us would do well to take to heart. Relatedly, there are so many people right now who are rising to the challenge of the Covid-19 crisis that it’s impossible to give each their proper due. Health care workers lead the list, obviously, insofar as they are risking their own health and well being to help others. After that, however, you could cite countless others — from store clerks to mail carriers to funeral home directors to food delivery volunteers and the list goes on and on — but I want to put in a word for people like Mrs. Arrington and Mrs. Harrison who bear witness to the terrible impact of this pandemic.

It would be great to say that people are heeding the essential part of their message — this crisis is real, and dangerous, and must be confronted seriously — but clearly this isn’t the case. There’s still way too much blithe disregard being shown by folks for the perils of this disease. One can only hope that those who may ignore accounts of devastation and suffering elsewhere will pay attention when the same effects show up here at home.

As I write these words, Mecklenburg County is up to 100 diagnosed Covid-19 cases, and Halifax County is at 17 cases — a comparatively low number, sure, but still one that can explode at any time with bad luck and bad judgment. In fact, I have no doubt the true level of contagion locally is much higher than what the official statistics say. Does this mean we need to go hibernate in a hole? Absolutely not. Embedded in this question is a false choice — between an all-out return to normal (not possible just yet) vs. the misery of a Great Depression-like existence that some might argue is worse than death itself (eh, not a thing). The proposition is a garbage way of framing the challenges ahead of us, as we ought to be able to avoid the most hideous outcomes of the pandemic through patience, intelligence and generosity of spirit that helps even the most vulnerable among us come through this crisis intact. I actually feel this latter quality is something we as a country can muster (and already have mustered). Am I as confident about the other two? Not so much.

Just as every good story needs a hero, it’ll have its share of villains, too. Let’s just cut to the chase here: To restore some semblance of normal everyday life, the first thing we need is testing, testing and more testing. It’s a simple but not easy challenge, and it must be solved ahead of so many other difficult tasks that loom before the country can confidently reopen. A massive scale-up in testing will be difficult and expensive, and in this and other tasks, no one should expect the impossible nor gloat over someone else’s failures. This is the part where patience is necessary. But it’s one thing to allow for missteps, it’s quite another to sit back and watch as people do jack-squat at a time when they ought to be running around with their hair was on fire attempting to accomplish all kinds of stuff.

Can anyone honestly attribute a sense of urgency to our president as he wastes hours a day subjecting the world to his tired rageaholic act, whining about this and tweeting about that, when there’s critical work to be done? You don’t see the governors who have risen to the challenge of this frightful moment — Democrats and Republicans — wasting their time baiting reporters or dispensing homespun medical advice, usually of the idiotic (and dangerous) variety. In ordinary times, I might welcome the laziness of Donald Trump and the sycophants he’s surrounded himself with, since this might mean they aren’t achieving their noxious agenda, but this happens to be a period when an activist federal government not only would be nice, it’s essential. This is no time for laziness atop the chain of command. Worse than the rank stupidity is the sloth of people who don’t even try.

Please don’t be one of these people. There are too many other folks making sacrifices — of varying degrees, but real sacrifices nevertheless — for others to undo that work in good conscience. If you aren’t convinced by now Covid-19 is real, it’s hard to know what to say at this point, except maybe this: If nothing else, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask and coughing into your elbow may strike you as a bunch of foolishness, but it may also save someone else’s life. Is allowing for that possibility, and acting on it, really so much to ask? After all, we’ve all been known to be wrong from time to time. Mere months into a worldwide health crisis that won’t truly abate until researchers come up with a vaccine or effective treatment — a crisis that has been greatly exacerbated by incompetence, misinformation and demagoguery from the get-go — you would think a little humility of mind and action would be the least each of us could manage.

Wear those masks and stand six feet apart because it’s the kind and considerate thing to do. What other justification should anyone need?

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