Sometimes it’s the small things that can have much bigger meanings, if you’re willing to look.
The Enterprise ran a small story online Saturday announcing that Middlesex was opening its public swimming pool on Memorial Day weekend for the 2021 summer season. As you would expect, the story listed the projected pool hours, some pool rules and a menu of fees ranging from daily to seasonal family passes.
The opening of a swimming pool for the summer is normally an obvious occurrence, newsworthy mostly to the families in town that enjoy the cooling waters of a clean, safe pool on a hot summer day. For people who don’t live in Middlesex or otherwise need its pool, the story would normally pass by their attention with little more than a glance at the headline.
Since Spring Hope doesn’t have a public swimming pool, unfortunately, and I don’t think Bailey does, the pool’s happening in Middlesex, as they say, stays in Middlesex as far as southern Nash County is concerned. Our summer forecast, quick thunderstorms included, is typically hot and dry unless we have access to a private or personal pool, which, sadly, I don’t.
But this year, in the summer of 2021, the Middlesex pool opening is a great, big, wonderful story. Why?
Because it’s yet another example of normalcy returning as the coronavirus pandemic continues to recede in North Carolina. Public gatherings, including pools, especially in cities, were generally shut down last summer across the nation as the virus actually surged in its biological attack, which has killed almost 600,000 people in the U.S. alone. Folks could peer over their masks (if they wore one) to gaze forlornly at the empty or covered-up concrete pools.
Not this year. Pools are returning! As the government’s drive to vaccinate the population continues, more people are able to go out to eat, watch a movie, cruise a bar or go to church without the fear of death or disease dampening the moment.
And considering the economic, emotional and practical implications of the various pandemic restrictions easing or ending, the toll it has taken on our spirits and confidence, every instance of normalcy returning, however small, is momentous news to be celebrated — including the opening of the Middlesex pool.
Or perhaps you celebrated last weekend at the beach or perhaps in a backyard Memorial Day barbecue party with friends or family whose face you can now see or shoulders you can now hug, if you remember how. The formal restrictions and advisories are increasingly, if sometimes confusingly, giving us permission to engage in our favorite social behaviors. And that’s a wonderful thing.
Except, of course, not everything is really back to normal. The pandemic is not over, even though the country is starting to win the fight against it. We ignore this reality at our peril.
According to one online COVID-19 tracker, Nash County was still listed at a medium risk for exposure. Only 41.6% of our people had at least one dose of a version of the vaccines, not enough to confer herd immunity to protect the majority of people who remain unvaccinated.
“Vulnerability is very high,” the site says. “Nash County is more likely to experience severe physical and economic suffering from COVID, and to face harder, longer recovery.”
Talk about a killjoy statement. But it’s true. People who are not vaccinated can still get COVID-19 and possibly die, or infect others around them, who could also die. And people still are. The charts show declines in cases and hospitalizations, but the virus-related death rate in May was spiking upward.
And we can’t forget that many people are still out of work, jobless or underemployed because of the pandemic’s impact. Besides the government and community’s continued fight against the illness, we’ve also needed the various economic assistance programs the federal government (at least the Democrats, without any Republican support, which I also won’t forget) has provided — the stimulus checks, the continued extra unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses and more that have all combined to help keep our local economy and individual families from suffering even more.
The virus has scrambled the relationship between job openings and available workers, for complicated reasons. We’ve got to get people back to work, which is one ambition of the Democrats’ proposed infrastructure bill. And we’ve got more spending and work to do as schools struggle to get children back into classes and to help those who have had difficulty with remote learning catch up. At least the arrival of summer gives our educational systems some breathing room to prepare for the fall.
So, the opening of a pool isn’t really proof that normalcy has returned and the pandemic ended. It’s still, in reality, a small story in the middle of a big problem.
But it’s progress. And with progress, however impatiently we are and however slowly it moves, comes hope. And if we keep working at it, keep supporting each other, keep getting people vaccinated, keep protecting the unvaccinated with masks and social distancing, keep relying on common sense instead of conspiracy theories, the little stories will add up to the big meaning I felt this week.
Help has come, and hope is here. I just wish we had a pool in town.
Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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