In their own words: Stanly officials, residents on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the county

2020 will appropriately be remembered by many as annus horribilis, Latin for “horrible year.” This is largely due to the rise and spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected millions and killed more than 300,000 people across the country. For most of this year, the pandemic has cast a long shadow across nearly every sector of society: Businesses have closed, sporting events have been canceled or postponed and millions of students have been forced to work from home.

Stanly County has not been immune to the ravages of the virus. To date, the county has experienced more than 4,000 cases, with 89 people having died. Thousands of residents have lost their jobs while many businesses, hampered by state restrictions, are struggling to survive. Stanly’s unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in October, a marked improvement over previous months, but still lagging considerably behind the pre-pandemic rate of 3.7 percent in February. Many of the effects of the pandemic will likely be felt for years to come.

And even with shipments of vaccines being distributed across the country each week, with 24 people in Stanly having already received the first dose, many health officials predict the coming weeks will be bad, with spikes in cases and hospitalizations occurring as a result of holiday gatherings. “January will be grim,” said Albemarle physician Jenny Hinson. “This is the time to double our efforts to save lives. I implore all of us to avoid indoor gatherings for the next several weeks.”

To learn more about how the pandemic has impacted the county, The Stanly News & Press reached out to roughly 40 prominent citizens across the county, including government officials, educators, business owners and others, to get their thoughts. To be as fair as possible, the SNAP emailed the same three questions to each person. A little less than half responded in time for publication. In one of the last stories of 2020, here are some of their responses, edited for brevity and clarity.

In your view, how has the pandemic most impacted the county, especially with regards to your specific focus/area of expertise?

“The pandemic has significantly increased the workload on our Health Department and EMS staff. However, all of our facilities have been open to the public since May 11 so our entire staff has been on the front lines and putting themselves at some level of risk of exposure for an extended period of time. This includes social workers going into homes, building inspectors going on to job sites and SCUSA drivers transporting hundreds of individuals per day.” — County Manager Andy Lucas

“We knew by May that this virus affected people differently depending on age, health conditions and degree of exposure to the virus, but there never was any plan to protect the people that were most vulnerable (over 65) and let the people that were not in danger to keep on making a living. The governors in each state chose to respond to the virus in a number of different ways. Total shutdown was appropriate until we figured out what we were dealing with. But then the governors started picking which businesses were essential. There never was any focus on protecting the people more likely to die such as those in nursing homes, prisons and assisted living.” — N.C. Rep. Wayne Sasser

“The city learned to adapt to changes quickly. The old ways were no longer efficient and safe for the employees and our citizens.  We adopted ways to offer our services in a safe and responsible manner to protect everyone. No matter where you go in city government you can see changes that occurred due to the impact of COVID.” — Albemarle Mayor Ronnie Michael

“The biggest impact has clearly been to the public we serve. Statistics on the impact of COVID-19 have consistently shown those who can least afford to be out of work or miss a paycheck have been hit the hardest. It has been devastating to many individuals, families, and businesses.” — Albemarle City Manager Michael Ferris

“I think our local businesses and restaurants took the biggest hit, especially at the beginning of the stay-at-home order. I was very pleased to see the overwhelming support by the community. We can tell by our local sales tax numbers that folks spent their money in Locust, I’m assuming in an effort to help our local businesses and restaurants.” — Locust City Administrator Cesar Correa

“The most severe impact is in the losses families are suffering. Losing a family member is a deep, personal infliction that permanently alters family structure. Without question, the pandemic has spawned a plethora of extreme difficulties related to employment, public service, social activities and much more, but I’d say they are secondary to impacts from losses in families.” — Badin Town Manager Jay Almond

“Stanly County schools have been affected primarily in three ways. Number one is requiring us to provide a remote learning option to all students in all grade levels, making it more difficult for our students to perform at their academic best. Number two is the ongoing struggle with having enough staff and resources to adequately staff our classrooms, buses and food services due to the number of them being quarantined for exposure to Covid-19. We have also had a number of students, including several complete athletic teams and coaches out due to exposure and quarantine.” — School Board Chairman Jeff Chance
“EMS has experienced multiple COVID related calls from all demographics of patients. Our EMTs and paramedics have done an extraordinary job caring for all of these patients. They have done this while responding to all other types of calls for service as well. Community paramedics have responded to an increase in overdose calls and calls related to substance abuse. The effects of the pandemic have unfortunately caused more people to resort to substance use to cope with issues related to depression, unemployment, etc. Community paramedics have, although, successfully placed dozens of individuals in recovery, and these individuals have remained successful in recovery. We are now having to implement new ways of doing things and expanding our services to reach a larger number of patients. We are thankful for our community partners in this effort. Community paramedics are also seeing COVID patients in their homes after they are discharged from the hospital. This is to ensure they are able to use medical equipment, such as oxygen, and to ensure that they recover well.” — Mike Campbell, Field Training Officer, Stanly County EMS
“Like most businesses, the pandemic forced the college to alter how we operate. Stanly Community College has historically been very effective at online instruction, but we had to transition classes that would have been taught face-to-face or hybrid to an online format. While the college handled the transition well, the fact remains that a certain percentage of students simply do not want to take classes online.” — Stanly Community College President Dr. John Enamait

“Our health department staff has been forced to come together (quite literally) and has shined in their successes. With no additional staff and no additional resources they developed a response plan, set up COVID testing facilities, have now had to set up vaccine protocols and action plans — and have quite literally somehow managed to negotiate this pandemic very successfully compared to some other places. This pandemic forced them to test the boundaries of working together, of problem solving, and of protecting our county.” — County Commissioner Tommy Jordan

“Vac & Dash has constantly evaluated and evolved in our response to COVID-19 and we have remained open throughout the pandemic. Our UPS services, bike shop and vacuum shop were all deemed essential to remain open early on. In the summer, we started hosting outdoor running events with COVID-19 protocols in place for everyone’s safety.” — Vac & Dash owner and County Commissioner Peter Asciutto.

“This pandemic/virus has had such a negative impact on our senior population. Not only the seniors in nursing homes and assisted livings, but also in their own homes. They are torn between being isolated and being alone and living with depression or seeing their family and taking a chance of getting sick. Also as a Rotarian and being president this year, trying to be civically responsible to our club members but also trying to keep them engaged with each other this year has been very difficult via Zoom meetings.” — Albemarle Rotary Club President and hospice nurse Jan Goetz

“Senior Services Department has had to rethink and be creative on how to continue our services and programs while safely delivering them to the seniors who are the most vulnerable population during this pandemic.” — Stanly County Senior Services Director Becky Weemhoff
“In Human Resources and across the company, we have learned to adjust and make changes to the workplace to accommodate ever-changing requirements to keep the community and workplace safe.” — Fiberon senior human resources generalist Krissy Miura

What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned this year in dealing with the pandemic? 

“I wouldn’t say I’ve learned this in 2020, but I believe I’ve seen it confirmed in the worst way … that is, the effects of casual daily decisions or the slightest actions and inactions can be profoundly and irretrievably life altering.” — Jay Almond

“I believe the biggest things I have learned are that the virus is very deadly when it gets into certain facilities or impacts certain populations in our community. We must be cognizant of this fact and do our best to follow the 3Ws (Wear, Wash and Wait).” — Andy Lucas

“It has been amazing to see how resilient people are. Our employees, like many others, have had to deal with the impact of this completely new and different issue. They have had to do this while dealing with unprecedented changes to both their work and personal lives. It has been amazing how we can all adapt and do what needs to be done to keep going.” — Michael Ferris

“I learned that an abundance of caution was our best resource to dealing with the pandemic in Locust. We didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks, or create unnecessary exposures for our community. We take the safety and health of our community and staff very seriously, and we hope the public will see that one day.” — Cesar Correa

“The faculty and staff at Stanly Community college proved their resilience. While I have known for some time that SCC had a team that is among the best in the nation, their ability to face a challenge such as the pandemic was not truly known. The manner in which the faculty and staff first transitioned to mostly remote operations, and have continued to operate in such a manner, has impressed me beyond words.” — Dr. John Enamait

“Dealing with people that do not believe COVID-19 is a serious issue. In mid-October we mandated that customers and staff wear a mask when they are in the retail portion of our store. We did lose a few customers over the policy, however, as the owner, I feel a responsibility to my staff and customers to keep them as safe as possible, even if it costs customers … My view is that people can overcome poverty, they can’t overcome death.” — Peter Asciutto

“I think the biggest thing I have learned is to keep a lot of my thoughts to myself. Also that we need to show each other grace and have tolerance because everybody is in a different place regarding this virus and the isolation.” — Jan Goetz

“This pandemic has shown me how important socialization and human contact is to our overall mental and physical well-being. This pandemic has made many seniors experience isolation which can lead to depression, anxiety and stress. All of these can have a negative effect on their overall health. And secondly, don’t underestimate the power of a smile (even if it’s behind a mask) or a kind word. Many people need that now.” — Becky Weemhoff

“People will believe anything because it’s on social media or the internet. Both the pandemic and the elections have dominated the internet this year and so much false information is spread so easily. It’s actually harder to get people to listen to truth than it is fiction. Fiction can be summed up in a tweet. Truth takes time to put into context and attention spans seem to have lost the ability to digest anything over 140 characters.” — Tommy Jordan

“The biggest thing we’ve learned is that we have to be adaptive as a community in order to fight this pandemic successfully. As things change, we must change as well. When we work together to achieve a common goal, we have a much better chance of reaching that goal in a timely, effective manner. It is our job as EMS providers to meet the community’s needs regardless of any external factor that may affect them. EMS providers in this county are dedicated to this adaptive process and are always ready to respond to these needs when they arise.” — Mike Campbell

What do you expect for 2021 and how optimistic are you that things will improve? 

“I am very optimistic for the spring. Mortality rates have decreased, two incredibly effective vaccine rollouts have started and rapid home testing will soon be available. Warmer temperatures will help even more. I’m optimistic that we will come away from this pandemic with new resilience and with some improvements. The Stanly Health Foundation has gifted our hospital with a new UVC cleaning robot that will improve infection control beyond the pandemic.” — Physician Jenny Hinson

“I’m optimistic that 2021 will bring about some degree of normalcy to the schools with the two vaccines now on the market and that their availability will be sufficient for all of our citizens to get vaccinated. I believe this is the only way to get all of our students back to in-person learning. However, I’m less optimistic that adequate funding will be made available from federal and state sources to assist the school system in replacing local funds used due to issues related to Covid-19.” — Jeff Chance

“Overall, I am optimistic for 2021. While I do not think things will magically improve when the calendar turns to January, I believe 2021 will be a much better year overall. With vaccines receiving FDA approval, COVID-19 should gradually become less of an issue. I am hopeful that enrollment at SCC returns to normal levels as we approach summer and fall.” — Dr. John Enamait

“I am optimistic that things will improve for 2021, but it will be a new ‘normal’ that we will have to adjust to. I think this pandemic will make our department continue to adjust and modify our delivery methods in order to meet the needs of the vulnerable population we serve.” — Becky Weemhoff

“My cup is always half full. 2021 will be better than 2020 and we will get this country back to work.” — Wayne Sasser

“I have a very positive outlook for 2021. With the vaccines becoming a reality, I am hopeful we can change our current environment and see all businesses open and starting a recovery. We have many projects planned in the city and these investors are anxious to get started.” — Ronnie Michael
“I expect great things for Locust in 2021. A number of commercial developments are in the works, and we hope to have some exciting announcements soon. I hope the Covid-19 vaccine proves to be effective, and for our local businesses and restaurants to bounce back!” — Cesar Correa
“Following Thanksgiving we had a tremendous surge. Between Christmas gatherings, New Year’s gatherings, a new virus strain in the UK, another new strain in South Africa, and the economic frailty of the world in general, I think we’ve got a lot of tunnel left before we emerge into the light and I think that most people don’t believe that. I think it is likely that we will see surges at hospitals locally and throughout the state exceed the availability of treatment. I hope the vaccine will curb those numbers before they become fatalities that could have been prevented.” — Tommy Jordan
“I am very optimistic that things will improve in 2021. The citizens of Stanly County are strong and resilient. By working together and meeting the needs that arise in the community, the quality of life for citizens and visitors in this county have no other option but to improve.” — Mike Campbell
“We should stay vigilant by wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands. Listening to the projections of the scientists, things should begin improving as more people will have taken the vaccine and the warmer weather will get people outdoors more.” — Peter Asciutto
“Not sure how 2021 is going to go. Even with the vaccine people will still need to continue to wear masks and social distance. I don’t foresee restrictions being lifted until this time next year.” — Jan Goetz
“For 2021, we plan to continue to be mindful of protecting our employees and the community by doing our part to maintain safety standards and practices.” — Krissy Miura