Images from the historic COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, by Steven Stiefel.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The disease was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, and has since spread globally. It was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11.

As of March 29, 2020, more than 708,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 190 countries and territories, resulting in approximately 33,500 deaths.

COVID-19 pandemic

On March 28, non-essential businesses were ordered closed for a month by Gov. Kay Ivey. This hair salon shared messages encouraging unity during their shutdown. The only recently-opened FC Weiss Pub & Eatery of Fort Payne shut down despite still being able to offer takeout orders and deliveries.

Around mid-March 2020, it became obvious that COVID-19 had not been contained and local cases were inevitable. Local officials gathered for a press conference to reassure an increasingly anxious public that steps were underway to protect them. This included closing all schools. In the weeks that followed, the disease spread across the state and into the community despite most people staying home. Officials began meeting via telephone conference call after this.

COVID-19 proved especially lethal to senior citizens, so stores like Big Lots posted signs asking shoppers to let the elderly shop first. Roadside ‘Que explained that in the interest of protecting its employees and the community, it had decided to shut down temporarily.

COVID-19 pandemic

Main Street was empty, stored closed, owners determined to ride out the crisis and hopeful for a quick resolution.

I will be documenting this historic disaster as it unfolds, all the while hoping that it ends as quickly as possible.

“Insane and surreal.”

Those are two words I would use to describe the state of the world since, oh, March 13th. Friday the 13th. Little did we know that this would be my daughter’s final day of classroom instruction during her senior year of high school.

Just three days earlier, my workmates were handing out hotdogs to hundreds of people at Bruce’s Foodland for an annual fundraiser. Over the next several days, the coronavirus pandemic rapidly crept closer, like a hurricane approaching the shore. It was that Friday when I went back to the grocery store to get some extra food, just in case and discovered that everyone else had the same idea. Alarm had finally set in.

It turns out, our instincts were right. There was genuinely a reason to be very very frightened.

The reaction from public officials was measured. My local county officials were on top of it. I interviewed one of them on January 28 who said they’d started a response plan to the virus outbreak we were hearing about on the news. For the sake of recording history, here’s how I recall it:

  • On March 2, Alabama officials told us to just wash our hands and keep our distance from other people and we’d be fine. A lot of conservatives were following President Trump’s lead and dismissing the virus as little more than the seasonal flu – sure, some folks were probably going to die, but the flu kills people every year anyway.
  • On the 12th, Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus and ordered the schools closed until April 6th. My boss told me on that Friday the 13th that I was legally deemed essential as a journalist and would have to continue coming into the office daily. I was just grateful to have a job when so many others were suddenly displaced. Having been there myself last year, I know how terrifying and uncertain that can feel.
  • On March 16th, ole Kay told us not to eat out at restaurants after we’d just been told to do the very opposite and now, instead, avoid gatherings of 50 or more persons. That absolutely killed the slate of events like Fort Payne’s Third Sunday Sunset Cruise-In planned to mark the approach of Spring and much-welcome warmer weather. But at least the restaurants could still sell us food if they delivered or offered takeout orders.
  • On March 18, the state of Alabama revised that guidance to say avoid being in groups of 25 or more people – unless it was at work because, you know, gotta keep those factories churning. That was Spring Break week. By then, the number of positive coronavirus cases had grown to 78. In a couple of days, it surpassed 100. In my personal journal, I summed it up by writing “This virus is taking over the planet. Very frightening and stressful. The economy has collapsed. Schools closed. Government buildings shut down. Unthinkable. But we can’t wish it away.”
  • On March 22, the total number of confirmed cases reached 150. By March 25th, the number jumped from 219 to 386, probably because we were finally testing people – 2,812 by one count I read. And it made me feel very angry that so many idiots were still walking around not taking it seriously. I remember telling someone I’d realized “nothing will ever be the way it was again.”
  • On March 26, my birthday, Gov. Ivey said she wouldn’t issue a shelter-in-place order because “we are not New York state, we are not California…” The priority, she said, was getting folks back to work. She was following President Trump’s lead since he had just said in one of his press conferences that he wanted to get businesses back going by Easter.
  • On March 27, all “non-essential businesses” in Alabama were ordered closed until April 17. As previously stated, I was essential. By then, things were developing so rapidly that I felt a bit of whiplash. We finally had our first confirmed case in DeKalb County and the state’s first coronavirus death had happened to someone from the adjoining county. I was working my ass off trying to adequately cover everything happening.
  • On Saturday, March 28, I finally had a day off, so I spent it attempting to relax. Easier said than done, because there was no escaping the sense that the walls were closing in and we were in deep trouble with no clear end in sight. We were in it, no doubt about it. I watched troubling news reports about nurses and doctors lacking adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment and corpses filling morgues. The virus was confirmed in at least six nursing homes in Alabama and five of 19 coronavirus patients at the hospital in Opelika had died. Up to that point, I’d been too busy to really stop and worry. The same thing had happened on 9/11/2001 – scrambling in newsgathering mode, compartmentalizing to keep functioning and only later allowing myself to experience the sheer horror of that day.
  • Today, March 31, I sit in my pjs at home, taking the day off since my hours were cut back and we don’t have an issue to publish this afternoon. Again, trying to relax, but how is anyone supposed to do that with the end of the world as we know it — and I don’t feel fine.