HONESDALE, PA — Bells tolled through the frigid winter air in downtown Honesdale last Friday, solemnly ringing in one full year since the novel coronavirus first appeared in Wayne County. Wayne …
HONESDALE, PA — Bells tolled through the frigid winter air in downtown Honesdale last Friday, solemnly ringing in one full year since the novel coronavirus first appeared in Wayne County. Wayne Memorial Hospital organized the effort in which local government officials, houses of worship and community members participated. Though the most unfortunate anniversary commemorated the tremendous loss of life and widespread hardship, hospital officials said the ceremony also demonstrated community solidarity through the crisis with an eye toward, hopefully, a brighter future.
The arrival of Wayne County’s first “presumptive” COVID-19 case also marked the onset of the virus’s spread in Pennsylvania; Wayne and Delaware counties had the commonwealth’s first two cases. It’s hard to remember what life was like before then, but it was impossible to predict just how much further the crisis was going to escalate from that first day. A press release from Gov. Tom Wolf on March 6, 2020 warned residents to be prepared for more confirmed cases in the coming “days and weeks.”
On the day that COVID-19 first arrived in PA, the Department of Health had the capacity to test between 20 and 25 people a day, and guidance on mitigating further spread was basically the same as guidelines for the flu: wash your hands, cough into your elbow and stay home if you’re feeling ill. Nationwide, there were 233 cases and 12 deaths.
A year later—through mask mandates, social distancing, business closures, federal stimulus packages, local emergency food drives, virtual schooling, empty grocery store shelves, political strife, vaccine development, distribution and so much else—PA alone has conducted more than 10 million COVID-19 tests, reported more than 800,000 cases and counted more than 24,000 deaths. But remarkably, a year in, over a million Pennsylvanians have received a COVID-19 vaccine, and the federal government is promising to immunize every adult American by the end of May.
A few minutes before last week’s bell-ringing ceremony began, on the steps of the county courthouse, the Wayne County Commissioners addressed an assembly of masked county employees. Commissioner Joe Adams set the tone for the event, saying that they were “very concerned about our community” yet “very hopeful for good things to happen.”
“I urge everybody to continue to be diligent and careful and safe, because it’s helped keep our numbers low,” commissioner Jocelyn Cramer said. “It’s been a long year, [but] there is light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a lot to be hopeful for.”
Finally, chairman Brian Smith thanked the community’s pandemic frontliners and said that a year of this crisis has tested and proven the strength of the county, as well as the country. Before ringing the bell in the courthouse’s front lawn, Smith called for a moment of silence.
“There’s a lot of people out there that deserve our recognition: the nurses, the doctors, the first responders, the people who have gotten people to a hospital and saved their lives,” he said. “We, as an American people, can survive so many things and we can begin to appreciate, even after a year of this, that we still have quality of life here in our county, here in our state and in the [nation].”
Rates of COVID-19 hit all-time highs through the months of December and January, but numbers have been steadily declining in recent weeks. According to the Department of Health’s early warning dashboard, Wayne County reported 57 new cases in the most recent seven-day period recorded, compared to 69 new cases the week before; the county’s positivity rate rose slightly to 8.2 percent; and more than 3,000 county residents have been fully vaccinated.