On St. Patrick’s Day last year, Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond stood in the middle of his restaurant, a dazed and rueful look on his face. The handful of people still in his dining room were trickling out, on what should have been one of his busiest – and most profitable – days of the year.
Gov. Ralph Northam had just decreed that restaurants couldn’t have more than 10 people inside at a time, effectively shutting down indoor dining. Lamond was weary and wary, but nonetheless optimistic.
“We’ve survived floods and hurricanes and derechos. We’ll survive this. It’s just not going to be comfortable,” Lamond said in the story, “Little luck for Chadwicks this St. Paddy’s Day,” in the March 19, 2020 Alexandria Times.
The front page of that March 19 paper reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in Alexandria had climbed to five, a number that now seems quaint.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that we didn’t know what was in store in the ensuing 12 months. When Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, warned that up to 250,000 Americans could die from the disease, we collectively gasped. Surely it couldn’t be that bad, we thought.
Unfortunately, Dr. Fauci was more than 100% off on his projection: The nationwide death toll as of March 17, 2021 stood at 534,099, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 10,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19.
In Alexandria, those five cumulative cases have grown to 10,643, while 129 city residents have succumbed to the disease, most of them older: 67.5% of COVID-19 deaths in Alexandria have been residents age 70 and older, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
The bottom fell out of the U.S. economy in the second quarter of 2020, both locally and nationally, as most states imposed stringent shutdowns to try to stem the spread of the virus. Even in sectors where sales have rebounded, it has been difficult to escape from that second quarter fiscal hole.
Sales are still not back to normal in most restaurants and retail stores, and many big names like J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers and Chuck E. Cheese as well as local treasures like the Atlantis restaurant have shuttered for good.
If we had known it would be this bad, could we have borne it? Would we have had the necessary courage, or would we have been overwhelmed by anxiety? Along with the tragedy, there have, of course, also been amazing stories of bravery, selflessness, creativity, resilience and compassion.
Frontline medical workers have been rightly celebrated throughout the last 12 months. The courage and dedication shown by nurses, doctors and support staff has saved count-less lives. It’s worth noting, and honoring, those medical workers who are among the 129 Alexandrians who have lost their lives in the past year to COVID-19.
Anyone who has continued to work at jobs that involve dealing with the public also deserves our thanks. As do the hundreds of volunteers who have sorted and distributed food at food banks and those who have donated their time to COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution efforts. Volunteer Alexandria has tirelessly coordinated food aid and much more.
The City of Alexandria and organizations that support businesses, such as the Small Business Development Center and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, deserve thanks for creatively working with restaurants in particular to facilitate outdoor dining and enhanced carryout. These innovations have not only been helpful; enhanced outdoor dining is also fun.
Alexandria’s banks have helped minimize the pandemic’s economic damage by quickly facilitating loans to local businesses though the federal Paycheck Protection Program and other state and local initiatives.
And then there are the many stories of Alexandrians helping other Alexandrians, as exemplified in today’s page 1 story in the Times, “Vaccine hunting.” People have created websites and online networks to help others find vaccine availability, while others have helped total strangers navigate the system and sign up for vaccine appointments.
It’s these notes of grace amid the storm that have made the past 12 months bearable.