Even a year into it, Oneida County Executive, Anthony Picente, Jr., is slapped in the face by the reality of a global pandemic, every day.
"Every day I drive in here....as I leave my house, get in my car and drive, I don't have a mask on. As soon as I get out of the car into this buildling and put the mask on, it strikes me," says Picente.
One year ago, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. One day later, on March 12, 2020, the first local case was announced, in Herkimer County. Five days later, Oneida County would announce its first case. Otsego County's first case followed, on March 23rd. On Friday, March 13, 2020, Picente closed down public schools. At the time, everyone thought such drastic steps would bring a swift end to the pandemic. No one imagined the world would still be wrestling itself from an invisible pathogen one year later.
"I still go back to a year ago thinking then that we were looking at six weeks, two months of issues and shutdowns and viruses and whatever. It's really hard to believe it's a year later," says Picente.
"Originally, it was two weeks to flatten the curve, then two weeks became a month, then six months, and now a year," says Otsego County's Board of Representatives Chairman, Dave Bliss.
Soon, non-essential business would close, accompanied by a crash course for all, on what constitutes an essential business. Essential workers received government documentation declaring them as such. Many non-essential workers waited for unemployment benefits, wondering how they would pay their bills in the interim. Life began to resemble a sci fi movie, with local leaders expecting the worst of it to be within a few months after the pandemic was declared. In reality, the darkest days would come in December, with Oneida County's new Covid cases topping out at over 300 in a day.
One year into the pandemic, life is returning to normal. Businesses have opened back up, but with capacity limits and distancing requirements that strangle profits. But they are once again bringing in money....and people. There are other subtle, yet encouraging, signs that life is returning to normal: antibacterial wipes can now be found in many stores. Buying toilet paper no longer involves encountering empty shelves at multiple establishments. In some stores, the "limit one" signs have disappeared from the shelves where cleaning products are sold. Most school districts have returned to at least partial in-person learning. And early next week, Picente plans to release guidance to school districts on how to safely bring students back to class, full time.
"If we can figure out a way to participate in high risk sports, we should be able to figure out a way for them to be in the classroom every day," says Picente.
For elected leaders, the Covid-19 vaccine represents hope for a return to normal.
"I think we've got around 15% of Otsego County vaccinated and that's changing fast, we're gonna get a mass vaccination site at SUNY Oneonta in a couple weeks. That'll help," says Otsego County Board of Representatives Chairman, Dave Bliss. "As long as we can get the vaccine supply in, I think in a few months, we'll be in a vastly different spot."
But while the optimisim is universal, so is the caution.
"There's no doubt we're gonna be dealing with this throughout 2021," says Picente. "I think we're gonna be in masks through this year in public settings."
"This year, I think it'll be significantly better than last year, but it's certainly not gonna be a return to normal. I think it'll be probably summer of 2022 before things really start to get back to the way they were," says Bliss.