Patrick Graham is the owner of The Walton Tribune, The Covington News, The Sand Mountain Reporter (Albertville, Alabama), Times-Journal (Fort Payne, Alabama) and Jackson County Sentinel (Scottsboro, Alabama). He is a graduate of the University of Alabama.

Monroe Area Band

The Monroe Area High School band performs Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Monroe, Ga.

On Thursday I had the opportunity to serve as the featured speaker for the regular meeting of the Rotary Club of Loganville.

I always enjoy getting to see my Loganville Rotary friends, and there were many who braved the elements on that dark and stormy morning to see.

While there were certainly myriad topics we could have discussed, on Thursday I decided to focus on COVID-19 and the impact on people, businesses and communities, particularly the ones where I own newspapers.

I own five newspapers, five businesses, in five different cities and two different states. As a result, I’ve seen COVID-19 from a lot of different angles, and I can tell you this is what I have learned about the worldwide pandemic at a time when it is still hard to know what is true and what is not.

First, it really does affect everyone differently. I had two publishers in Alabama test positive for COVID-19. One of them never showed a symptom and wouldn’t have known she was positive if her husband hadn’t passed out at work and tested positive, requiring her to be tested.

The other you could tell almost immediately she was sick, from the fever to the scratchy throat that made it difficult to even understand her.

It’s just different for different people, and it’s those outliers, the ones where you can’t really explain why the person has been so adversely impacted, that makes the disease so frightening for so many.

With most businesses, however, I think the affect has been the same. You have had to work really hard to make sure your businesses could weather the COVID-19 storm. I know we have at my newspapers, and I know many other newspaper owners and other business owners who have told me the same.

When it comes to communities, it’s like people: The impact is very different, and it mainly depends on how elected officials at the state and local level are interpreting the data and reacting to it.

In Walton County, for example, students have been in class since Aug. 4, with about 75% of the 14,000 students in the Walton County School District going to school in person. Throw in another couple thousand teachers, administrators and bus drivers, and you’ve had thousands of students and adults in fairly confined quarters for eight hours a day for weeks — with no significant issues.

Because our school officials looked at the data and decided our kids can go to school safely, they can play football, softball or be in the band safely. We’ll take the appropriate precautions, and we’ll accomodate those not comfortable enough to come back yet, but we can get this done.

We all owe Superintendent Nathan Franklin and the school board a big thank you for that. I promise you.

Newton County officials, on the other hand, looked at similar data and decided to take the opposite approach. They decided not to have in-person classes. They decided they weren’t going to sports or band, until there was so much pressure from parents and some school board members the superintendent reversed course. Even with that, their first day of in-person class is scheduled for Monday, six weeks after Walton County’s first day.

But this is what happens when you buy into the new normal. We do not have to accept the new normal. We can still have normal.

Living as we did before COVID, doing as we did before COVID, does not have to be a death sentence. I think a lot of people used to think that, but I also think the tide is finally turning.

Don’t believe me? Go to a high school football game and you’ll see the stands full. Because it’s what we are supposed to be doing in the fall. Soon we’ll be able to watch Georgia and the rest of SEC football. Which is what we are supposed to be doing in the fall.

Let’s keep living. Let’s keep doing. Let’s keep turning that tide.

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