Our View: Our Pandemic Year

The Class of 2020 at Nauset Regional High School was dealt a blow this week when their July 28 graduation ceremony was canceled due to increasing COVID-19 cases in the region. Kat Szmit Photo

On March 10 of last year, Donald Trump told us COVID-19 “will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” Two days later, he repeated those words, presaging his failure to take seriously the most deadly pandemic in a century. How much his administration's reluctance, or inability, to address the situation contributed to the deaths of more than half a million Americans will be judged by history.

Today, we look back at our pandemic year with sadness for the loss of what could have been, but also with amazement at the ways people adapted and responded to the crisis. With hindsight, it's easy to see the mistakes, but it's more worthwhile to recognize the good that came out of the past 12 months.

Fears of the virus spreading as second homeowners retreated to the Cape from more populated areas didn't materialize. Local residents remained cautious and, for the most part, followed safety protocols. That kept COVID-19 cases low though the summer, when they began to creep up again, due in no small part to clusters that grew out of private parties and gatherings. Even though most of the summer was canceled, it's hard to shake the Cape's summer culture, especially for young people.

The region generally followed the arc of the pandemic nationwide, with cases escalating from Thanksgiving through January, but tapering off since as people hunkered down for the winter. Now, with vaccinations increasing thanks to the effort of Cape officials, there is hope for a return of at least some form of Cape Cod summer.

The real takeaway from the past year, however, is the way that local residents and institutions stepped up to take care of their fellow townspeople. Councils on aging in Chatham, Harwich and Orleans quickly established ways to get meals and needed services to their clients who were most in need. After classes were canceled, the Monomoy and Nauset school districts figured out how to get breakfast and lunch to kids who depended on the meals and parents suddenly overwhelmed with children stuck at home. From the very beginning, volunteers from the Brewster, Orleans, Chatham and Harwich Community Emergency Response Team delivered food and other items to veterans, helped out at senior centers and contributed other services. Chatham residents gave generously to the Chatham Coronavirus Relief Fund, which as of this week has provided nearly $500,000 in financial assistance to hundreds of year-round residents most hard-hit by the pandemic. Many other local and Cape-wide agencies widened their arms to shelter, feed and support residents beyond their usual scope. Front-line workers at local markets, health care facilities, as well as police and fire staff stayed on the job even when their safety was at risk. The list goes on. As Stephen Daniel, co-founder of the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund, said this week, this is still, at its essence, a small fishing village where we take care of our own. That goes for Harwich and Orleans too, where organizations like the Lower Cape Outreach Council and the Family Pantry of Cape Cod will forever be remembered by many for easing their struggle during these difficult times.

For us, the pandemic changed the way we gather the news. We haven't had face-to-face access to town officials and other sources; every meeting is virtual, sometimes dependent on tenuous internet connections. Still, we've managed to develop workarounds and get the stories that we hope have informed our readers. Like everyone else, we look forward to walking Main Street, dropping in at town hall, talking to people in person and covering our “comfort events” like the July 4 parade, band concerts and other public gatherings.

Realistically, those meetings and gatherings, when they happen, are likely to include masks and social distancing for some time to come. If this pandemic has done anything, its instilled a sense of caution. Even with the vaccines, safety will always be in the back of our minds. We'll still be washing our hands. And while shaking hands may be a thing of the past, we look forward to being able to see, in person, those people who contributed to making our pandemic year a bit less difficult, if only to say thank you.