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Six months in the time of COVID-19: A retrospective

  • 3 min to read
Six months in the time of COVID-19: A retrospective

COVID-19 made its first appearance in Boone County six months ago. Since then, the community has endured quarantine and economic shocks and watched with alarm as the number of cases has risen in Columbia and elsewhere in the state and country.

What have these six months meant for the community, and what are the next six likely to bring?

On Jan. 20 the first confirmed case of COVID-19 appeared in the United States, and by March 13 the virus had made its way to Boone County, according to the COVID-19 information hub.

Rock Bridge holds a socially distanced graduation

By July 30th, Rock Bridge High School held a socially-distanced graduation ceremony, weeks after the date of the traditional event that had been cancelled. “I wish I could have more family members here, but it’s still good to get a diploma here,” graduated senior John Crouse said.

When asked in the first week of March what he thought would happen, Stevan Whitt, an infectious disease specialist at MU Health Care, said Missouri residents were not at an elevated risk and recommended now seemingly quaint precautions, such as coughing into your elbow. This was at a time when there were reportedly 105 COVID-19 cases nationwide and none in the state.

“The primary purpose of this emergency declaration is to provide greater flexibility in allocating our state resources,” Parson said at the time, “not because the local health providers feel they are overwhelmed.”

The Missourian reported the first confirmed case in Boone County on March 17, but the information hub shows now that the virus had confirmed presence as early as the March 13. The first novel coronavirus death in the county was March 18. It was also the first COVID-19 death in the state.

Lenoir Woods Senior Service holds a drive through parade

Lenoir Woods Senior Service held a drive-thru parade on June 17. Relatives of the residents and some staff decorated their cars and drove by to lift the residents’ spirits.

As spring progressed, people began to adjust to life in quarantine, after a fashion. TikTok, Tiger King and at-home concert broadcasts from the likes of Elton John and Lady Gaga attempted to calm public tensions over the “new normal.” These cultural artifacts, though, seemed tiny in comparison to the enormity of joblessness and the growing understanding that the most vulnerable communities — the elderly, the incarcerated and the essential — were at tremendous risk.

Boone County stay-at-home orders eased May 3 as spring gave way to summer. Salons, shops and gyms cautiously welcomed returning patrons. Hopes that the warm weather would somehow help eradicate the virus evaporated in the summer sun, as outdoor recreation resumed and COVID-19 continued to spread.

On May 11, business owners filed a lawsuit against Health Director Stephanie Browning, who had ordered a slow reopening of commercial life in the city. The suit was later dropped.

An RV drives through the Mizzou Athletics lot on March

On March, 22, an RV drives through the parking lot near the Hearnes Center. MU Health Care offered drive-thru testing.

With this new chapter in coronavirus history, virulent debates emerged about mask protocols, social distancing and how to proceed with school. On July 7, after heated dialogue, the Columbia City Council voted to make masks mandatory in Columbia.

MU announced it would resume in the fall with blended instruction. Returning students who were veterans of “Zoom U” now adapted to another change — sitting in socially distant classrooms and packing masks along other school supplies.

CPS students chose between online or in-person instruction. The decision, for many families, was fraught with difficulty. Cases in Columbia and Boone County swelled with the return of university students, and by the end of August, CPS announced that fall instruction would be completely virtual.

“By keeping the bars open, we have shut down the schools,” said council member Ian Thomas in a meeting Sept. 8. If City Council had been stricter about interactions in the community, schools might not have been pushed online, he contended.

The Rev. Deon Johnson hosts drive-through communion

The Rev. Deon Johnson reacts to a coworker while waiting to give communion to members during a drive through event on Aug. 30. Parishioners drove into the parking lot of Calvary Episcopal Church for the vehicle service.

Now, with advances like saliva test strips on the near horizon and a widely available vaccine predicted for mid-2021, cases continue an upward trend in Boone County and responses to COVID-19 are a mix of stringent discipline and wishful thinking. MU recently suspended three students and expelled two others for violating social distance rules at the same time that Boone County health officials eased restrictions on bars.

As the nation nears 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, flu season approaches and communities brace for the next set of challenges the virus may bring.

One thing is clear: We’re in it for the long haul.

New Haven greets virtual students

New Haven Elementary School welcomes students into a virtual school year on Sept. 3 in Columbia. Columbia Public Schools opted to begin the semester online because of increased cases of COVID-19 in the community.

  • Assistant city editor, grad student studying investigative reporting and photojournalism. You can reach me at or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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