If that headline is a little bit confusing to you, don’t worry; it was supposed to be somewhat flippant.
In mid-March we observed the third anniversary of what was supposed to be a short-term shutdown of schools across the state as this thing called COVID-19 became part of our everyday vocabulary, like it or not. It was actually Friday, March 13, 2020 – ironically, Friday the 13th – and I had been covering the second day of Escalon High School’s Every 15 Minutes program. The luncheon to wrap up the two-day staged DUI accident scene and aftermath for high school juniors and seniors on campus had just ended when we got word that everyone on campus was being sent home. District officials said the directive came from the county Office of Education, via the state, with similar closures enacted throughout the region. And while it was originally purported to be a two-week or so closure, we all know what actually happened. The rest of that 2019-2020 school year, students did not return. Graduation was done, in many cases, with a ‘drive-through’ presentation of diplomas and yearbooks for students. Then the first day of school for the 2020-21 school year was virtual as well as students were relegated to distance learning. Businesses closed, masks were required everywhere, restaurants moved to take out or delivery only. Everything we knew, everything that we counted on, everything that was normal, all of a sudden was out the window. And as we tried to learn about this new reality of living in a pandemic, things looked drastically different than they ever had before.
Zoom became our friend. I can’t tell you how many events and meetings I attended, both through the course of work and personally, where I looked at people in little squares on my computer screen. It was a new experience and even though I eventually adjusted, it just wasn’t the same as having that in-person contact.
Students did return to classes during the school year, first with masks and one-way arrows all around campuses, but there were still so many restrictions. Slowly, as we know, things started to open back up and we creeped back toward a sense of normalcy.
Little by little, more activities returned, restaurants reopened fully, and you could walk in to a store without a mask covering half your face.
Even though this is very recent history, it’s honestly hard to remember how we managed to pull a paper together each week. So much of what we do in our Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon papers is focused on the kids, the schools, the community events – losing all that made it a challenge, no doubt.
Things had definitely made that move toward ‘normal’ in the 2021-22 school year throughout the area, with most restrictions lifted, but the formal announcement at the end of February 2023 that the California COVID-19 State of Emergency was officially over feels like it finally brought some closure. A lot of events I have covered in the past – but not in the last few years – have now returned full force and that’s the way I like it best.
Give me a camera, a notebook and three events to cover back-to-back-to-back; you have made my day. And given me lots of material to feature in the paper. That’s a winning combination all the way around.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Oakdale Leader, The Escalon Times and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.