The Day of Zero Covid-19 Cases

Here in Georgia, it was Sunday

This Sunday, something historic happened here in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live, something so quiet and unremarked upon that I’d have had no idea it occurred at all had I not checked myself this morning: We had zero Covid-19 cases.

Now, we are not New York City, which had 271 cases on the same day, a number that surely feels vanishingly small there. But we still have 128,331 people here. And zero is zero. Zero! Because the school board here in Athens, back last summer, set a certain threshold case number that we had to be under in order to get our children back to in-person school — and as someone whose heart broke every day watching his third- and first-grader stare at an iPad all day and call it “school” — I’ve been checking the number on a daily basis for nearly a year now. The number has been a regular barometer for my mood, on how I was viewing my neighbors, my children, my school board, everything. Everyone was affected by the pandemic, and everyone was affected differently. The biggest crisis in this household was not having the children in school. I checked the number every day because we desperately needed to get them back. The number affected everything.

We were doing okay in June until June 12, when cases began to finally follow the northeast and begin rising. By July, they were beginning to peak, and then, two weeks after the students at the University of Georgia returned to campus, cases exploded. On September 5, thanks to widespread outbreaks among the student population, we had 301 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Clarke County. In the span of four days, 877 people tested positive here, which means 1 out of every 146 people in Clarke County tested positive over a four-day span. (And this of course does not include those who were positive but weren’t tested.)

During that period, it was reasonable to wonder if my children were ever going back to school. (One member of the school board wondered the same thing, asking, “with students here, the numbers may never be low enough.”) That spike lowered a little, but we had that same explosion after Christmas the rest of the country did. When that went down, there was another after Spring Break. Our children eventually got back to school, largely thanks to teachers at last being made eligible for vaccinations. But the journey had been overwhelming. Every time you thought you’d turned a corner, you hadn’t.

But now we have. On Sunday, there were zero cases in Clarke County for the first time since… May 20, 2020. Every day since then, there had been at least one. Sometimes there were more than 300. Sometimes they were as few as five. Most days were were in the thirties. But we never made it to zero. Not once.

Until Sunday. Sunday, there were zero. Zero! Now, that was, of course, temporary. There were two on Monday, and five more on Tuesday. Covid-19 has not gone away. People need to get their shots. Four hundred sixteen people died of Covid-19 yesterday. This is still going on. We must remain cautious. We need to get those shots.

But zero, my friends, is zero. There was a time I wondered if we’d ever again get through a single day here, in the town I love and call home, without a Covid-19 case. And now, we just had one Sunday. There are surely more to come. We are not through this yet. But: We have come so far. I will appreciate a day with zero. I will not forget where we have been… and were we now can go.

Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the novel How Lucky, now available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of five books, including “How Lucky,” in bookstores now. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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