I didn’t always take it quite so seriously.

I’ve lived my entire life in the insular heart of the Midwest, where we work, we play, we enjoy family gatherings and parties, sporting events and concerts.

The devastating impact of a virus never crossed my mind.

I’ve been dating a guy and we went to the movies, bowling, concerts — lots of public events — all while national news outlets began reporting on this strange new virus that was killing people overseas. 

I celebrated Christmas with my family and continued my daily routine — all while the story of the virus worsened. “But it will contain itself to the East Coast,” my mind said. I was pretty positive COVID-19 was not going to reach me. But now COVID-19 positivity has taken on a whole new, darker, meaning.

My family continued plans for my niece’s March 15 wedding, but the guest list kept decreasing as her older relatives erred on the side of caution and did not attend due to what had now been called a pandemic. Well, we weren’t rescheduling because all the plans were made, food ordered, reception hall rented. So we added more hand sanitizer to the “party favors” list.

But mere hours after the Sunday afternoon event ended, life as we knew it changed drastically. Event spaces closed that evening, events themselves were canceled. Many restaurants closed until they could at least come up with a takeout option. Some retailers followed suit.

Life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt, splintering the idyllic vision of the world in my mind. 

It still took me another month or so to grasp the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Sure, we at your hometown newspaper reported on the economic burden, health hazards, delays, and emotional toll the pandemic was taking on business, schools, etc. However, I still believed, in that sometimes annoyingly optimistic Pollyanna way, that Jackson County would escape relatively unscathed.

But by July, after more than three months of working mostly at home and seeing the continual rise in cases and deaths, my blinders fully flew off. I firmly realized the implications of COVID-19. The number of positive cases squeaked up to about 17 at the beginning of the month but leapt to more than 100 by the end. We’d become complacent and there was no one to blame but us. (That number topped 1,200 last week.)

My mask wearing is pretty strict — if I’m in public, a mask covers my face. My glove compartment holds about 40 disposable masks, with two reusable ones on my dashboard and two in my billfold. A bottle of hand sanitizer lives in my back seat, with a travel-size one in the front seat and another attached to my camera bag. 

More than a few personal acquaintances close to me have tested positive. Some suffered mild cases while others had to be hospitalized. Thankfully, none died. But I pause to add the word “yet” to that sentence because my optimistic side does not want to face the reality of that possibility. 

There is no way to misconstrue data that shows there is a global problem, that millions have been infected with this virus, that hundreds of thousands have already died because many of us were too complacent to think it would affect us. Some national leaders have tried to debunk the gravity of the issue, poo-poo it and denigrate anyone who does not conform to the same beliefs. Local leaders are stepping on board in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. With any luck, and the full community’s cooperation and involvement, it will work.

2020 has been one screwed up year. It’s bound to get better with a little extra effort on our part to protect others from this viral killer while protecting ourselves, too.