By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Ste. Genevieve County, like the United States and the World, has come a long way since the panic-stricken days of March and early April, 2020.
Confusion, fear and doubt were spreading as fast at the mysterious coronavirus called COVID-19, two years ago.
Today, many feel the virus is firmly in our rearview mirror, gradually disappearing from sight. Others believe it is still just as dangerous a threat and that letting down our guard after two years would be a huge mistake.
Another approach is that the coronaviruses are probably here to stay, in one form or another, and that with some continued adjustments, life can go on more or less as usual.
“I’m trying to forget it, but there’s no forgetting it,” Ste. Genevieve Mayor Paul Hassler said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to get away from it.”
He feels Ste. Genevieve came out of the pandemic in decent shape.
“If you think about it, we were very fortunate in Ste. Genevieve,” he said. “Even in the lockdown we didn’t see a big decrease in our businesses. I know we had a lot of take-out.”
That adjustment may have actually sparked some good ideas.
“As bad as it was, I think some good came out of it. I think the businesses adjusted to it and did a very good job,” Hassler said.
“I think we’ve definitely learned some things,” said David Bova, president of the Ste. Genevieve R-II Board of Education.
“It hurt the community economically,” Presiding County Commissioner Garry Nelson said. “Some businesses cut back on staff until it was over.”
Nelson vividly remembers his frustration at not being legally able to take the kind of decisive action many thought the commission should be undertaking.
“When it first started, right away we started getting calls from people wanting us to shut down the county and make mask mandates,” he said. “I read the statutes over and over and over. We have zero authority as commissioners to shut down the county. The only place we have authority to require mask mandates are on county property, such as the courthouse.”
He also noted that while the county health department did have authority to mandate certain things, those demands could not be policed or enforced.
“So what good would it do to make a mandate that was unenforceable?” he asked. “I had one friend say, ‘How many people are you going to let die before you do your job and shut the county down?’
“That was my biggest negative on it, was people thinking we had authority that we don’t.”
LIFE CHANGED RAPIDLY
Even before the county had its first COVID case, store shelves were stripped bare by panicked shoppers hording toilet paper, sanitary wipes and other items. Ste. Genevieve R-II and Valle Catholic schools closed their doors in mid March, going to virtual learning. A plan to reopen April 6 did not come to fruition and things like prom, graduation, the remainder of basketball season and the entire spring sports and extracurricular seasons were either lost of postponed.