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Newton County reflects on pandemic’s beginning one year later
Kemp - COVID task force 2020
Gov. Brian Kemp, right, meets with members of the state’s coronavirus task force March 12, 2020 — the same day Newton County’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed. (Office of Gov. Brian Kemp)

COVINGTON, Ga. — One year ago Friday, March 12, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Newton County by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

As the novel coronavirus hit close to home, its effects followed. Newton County saw the closure, postponement and suspension of several entities and planned activities.

What came next was a flurry of panic. People flooded grocery stores to stock up on supplies, leaving a shortage of several necessities, including toilet paper.

The Covington News asked community members to reflect on the pandemic’s beginning and share how the virus impacted their lives. These are some of their stories:

“I remember on March 12, 2020, sitting in my office at work and managers coming into my office and telling everyone to go home and that we would be teleworking full time for an undetermined amount of time,” resident Greg Thomas said. “So, naturally I worried about my job security. I thought people were overreacting to the pandemic. However, people who I knew, who worked in the health care field told me that the pandemic was going to be much worse than anyone expects. They were right. I also remember people rushing to the stores and clearing the shelves and buying up all the toilet paper. And I was trying to figure out the correlation between the pandemic and the need for toilet paper.”

“Thursday, March 12, around 4:45 p.m., we got an email from our corporate office telling us to pack up everything thing we needed to work from home for an ‘undetermined’ amount of time & to stay safe,” Tina Martin McCullough said. “99.7% of our global company with 25,000 employees have worked from home ever since. We are not expected to go back [face to face] till at least August, IF we ever return back to an office setting per our latest email from corporate Feb. 3.

“Everything CHANGED, LIFE as I’ve known it changed … no friend contact, very little family contact, groceries delivered, no mani/pedi, haircuts, I’m now a hermit basically,” McCullough continued. “I spent 11 days in Piedmont Atlanta in January with this horrible virus ... it’s real, it’s scary and it’s time for it to go! I can’t wait to see my friends, be around my family and watch my granddaughter play ball! Can’t wait to have some type of normalcy again!”

“I had just come back from Universal and went to the store to get regular household items like toilet paper and it was all gone,” Carolyn Robinson Dean said. “I work in a hospital so I continued to go to work everyday and barter my chicken eggs with people to get toilet paper as when I would go to the store after work those who were at home kept buying it all up!”

“As a senior living alone it became permanently alone, no visits or going out to eat or shop,” Cindy Hodgdon Barton said. “Going to the grocery store only once a month, not being able to go to church, not seeing doctors, and the worst is not being able to see my grandchildren for almost two years. It’s so heart breaking when you know you don’t have all the time left in the world and you are not able to be with them. I miss them so much.”

While many lives changed, some chose to press on and continue living life as normal as possible.

“I have lived my life the same way I did before COVID came into the world,” Andrew Terrell said. “I believe COVID is real but survivable. I know many people have died from it and I hate that. I absolutely refuse to believe the number of confirmed deaths the government and politicians have recorded from this pandemic.”

Newton County Schools System officials opted to close its schools starting March 16. Gov. Brian Kemp later decided to keep schools closed statewide through the remainder of the year. Newton schools were not reopened for in-person instruction until November.

“It was a half day at school on Friday, March 13, 2020,” Shannon Beshears Price said. “I hugged my fourth graders goodbye for the last time, not letting them know that Monday they would not be returning. Little did I know that it would not be til November before I had children step foot back into my classroom. It has been a long year.”

“I remember it was a hard day at school for my kids,” Christy Watson Taylor said. “I remember getting the call saying they would not be returning to class. It broke my fifth graders heart. She would never get to tell some of her very good friends bye before starting middle school. My eighth grader was also very sad because it was her last year in middle school and she had so many favorite teachers and she would not get to tell them bye. It was so hard on me seeing the kids so sad.”

Since the pandemic began, the state’s health department has reported more than 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases across Newton County to date. As of Friday, March 12, there had been a total of 192 deaths. 

“Has the [pandemic] changed me today? Yes. It stole my Papa from me,” Blake Ashleigh Temple said.

“I lost my Papa, former Fire Chief Steve Biggers,” LeeAnne Biggers Blankenship said. “Devastating is an understatement.”

Now, there are three vaccines available to eligible Georgians among others nationwide. Federal and state officials believe the nation is on track to celebrate Independence Day on July 4 with a greater sense of normalcy.