A little under a year ago our editorial team was sitting in the newsroom trying to grasp the gravity of the situation that was unfolding around us.
We had just spent the last week of our extended spring break trying to perform our jobs remotely. We were on our phones and our laptops marking off “COVID-19” stories from a long list on a Google Doc for hours as we tried to piece together what was happening.
We were speaking to Northwest leadership and local officials who were talking of masks, social distancing, flattening the curve and the possible cancellation of in-person classes for the next month. All of these terms are common to us now; we’ve heard them repeated over and over again, but a year ago they were foreign to us.
The thought that our lives would come to a dead standstill and then be restructured around a virus seemed to have more in common with science fiction than reality, but that’s what happened.
We had heard of SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as COVID-19, prior to it effectively shutting down our normal lives and routines. Some of us had read news stories about the mysterious virus that was ripping its way through the city of Wuhan, China. Others had seen the countless memes made about the random guy who ate a bat and did more to stop China than the U.S. ever had.
Even the name “coronavirus” to those of us with no medical expertise, sounded like something from a bad Saturday Night Live skit about an illness Vin Diesel got from drinking his favorite beer on the set of a movie.
As it slowly became clear that this virus was going to affect the U.S., it became associated with swine flu in many of our minds. All of us on the editorial team weren’t even in high school when the H1N1 virus was the thing everyone was talking about. It was certainly serious, but it was brief.
The swine flu, which was a funny name to those of us not yet old enough to be teenagers, seemed to leave with little fanfare, and part of us felt COVID-19 would do the same. That’s why less than a year ago in the basement of Wells Hall, we were in shock about the situation going on around us.
As we were trying to understand what was happening, so was everyone else in the country. Those in the service industry were being told their place of employment was temporarily closing or shifting formats. Toilet paper was flying off the shelves at an astounding rate, and many debated whether or not it was worth it to risk a supply run at the store.
Suddenly, masks weren’t a fringe fashion choice but an everyday necessity. Jobs were canceling in-person meetings and encouraging their employees to stay home. Parents were struggling to balance their children’s virtual learning schedule, and weddings, concerts and other events seemed to be hanging in the balance.
It seemed every day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was issuing new guidelines and changing information regarding the virus. We counted heads in the newsroom to make sure we were following the 10-person limit issued by our government. The thought of the government restricting gathering size seemed strange, as if we were all in one bad teen dystopian novel.
We still had a job to do, though, so we did it. We went about our — somewhat — normal week. We met and discussed how stories for this week’s paper were going. Our designers sketched out layouts for the special pages while reporters followed up on stories about special City Council meetings and what the Nodaway County Health Department was planning.
The Our View praised Northwest’s quick response and cautiousness with COVID-19 as many of our friends at fellow universities waited for announcements about how their semesters would end.
We edited stories about the financial impact of the virus and campus shutting down. We struggled to write headlines that filled the space, and we spell-checked pages and taped them to our big whiteboard. Finally, we sent the paper to the printer. There was one problem, though. Nobody was on campus.
Prior to March of 2020, Thursdays were the day our staff would be stationed around campus handing out papers to anyone who would take one, reminding passersby that they are free and the “best way to know what’s going on” at Northwest and the surrounding area.
The number of students on campus after the 2020 spring break wouldn’t fill a lecture hall, but we had an idea what we were going to do with the thousands of papers that we were about to print. So, early Thursday morning, we began rolling and bagging papers. The ink stained our hands black as we banded and bagged thousands of papers and placed them in boxes. Then came the fun part; we drove all around Maryville tossing papers into yards.
Our special COVID-19 issue was complete. For the rest of the semester, we had to meet on Zoom, write stories remotely and produce our paper virtually
We looked to the future with cautious optimism as we hoped this “new normal” would end soon. We had heard pundits on news programs and even some medical experts anticipate an end to COVID-19 when the summer months started. We hoped they were right, that we could attend concerts in a sea of people, and we could go to midnight premieres at movie theaters and go on vacations without fear and masks.
Almost a year later, with all this talk about how the world has changed, we are here doing the same thing we were doing last March. We are trying to make a special COVID-19 issue of The Missourian.
We are talking to University leaders and local officials about masks, social distancing and flattening the curve. We are marking “COVID stories” off a long list that is on a whiteboard now rather than a Google Doc. We are writing stories about new CDC guidelines and talking to the health department.
We are editing stories about the financial impact of the virus and photos of places with little to no people. Our designers are sketching out pages for our special issue. We are still struggling to write headlines that fill the space, and we are still taping spell-checked pages to a big whiteboard.
We are trying to limit the number of people in the Wells Hall basement during our meetings, and we are covering City Council meetings and following up on late stories.
We aren’t going around on-campus and handing out papers, but we are driving around Maryville and tossing bagged papers into yards. Luckily for us, the printer rolls and bags them prior to their arrival at our offices.
We are optimistic about the summer and how it could possibly spell the end of COVID-19’s reign of terror on the U.S. We are hoping to attend concerts in packed stadiums, go out to the movies and have every seat in the theater open, and go on vacation without needing to bring a mask.
We are hearing from pundits on news programs and medical experts tell us that we could reach herd immunity by the time the summer months begin.
Some of us have had loved ones pass away from the virus, and others have caught it themselves. We’ve had to spend a large chunk of a semester making virtual papers rather than printing them. We’ve had to host meetings over Zoom and write stories remotely.
We are not unique in any of the effects this pandemic has caused us.
Millions of Americans lost jobs and loved ones from the pandemic. Many have been and will continue to be working remotely and meeting over Zoom. And many are holding out hope for the summer when perhaps COVID-19 won’t be altering everyone’s lives in a dramatic fashion.
Rescheduled weddings and concerts still seem to hang in the balance, and parents are still trying to figure out how their child’s virtual education works — or if it works at all. Thankfully, there’s plenty of toilet paper.
This last year has certainly changed all of us, but in many aspects, we are the same. In some ways, our editorial team is still sitting in the newsroom trying to grasp the gravity.