dave russell


I come from one of those families that’s always hugging on each other, so it feels mighty strange not to have hugged my dad since his wedding last March.

On that sunny Saturday, COVID-19 seemed a long way from tiny Gum Creek Presbyterian Church just outside Oxford, Georgia.

At the time I didn’t know if COVID would change my life at all. Five days after throwing rice at my dad and his new bride, I knew it would.

Everyone has those “I remember where I was when I heard ...” stories. I remember where I was when I realized COVID-19 was here, was serious and would impact all our lives.

Standing in the newsroom on March 13, I heard my officemate Carey Phillips read an announcement that for the first time since it began in 1939, the annual NCAA basketball tournament was canceled. No Final Four after 80 consecutive years.

The March 12 Sylva Herald had a story about COVID-19 on page 3. The next week and every week since, a COVID-19 story has appeared on the front page of the Sylva Herald.

We figure only World War II has had a front-page run that long, so it’s fitting that COVID is front and center every week, and we make no apologies for it.

In about 56 months, WWII took the lives of an estimated 416,000 American military personnel. COVID-19 killed that many Americans in about 11 months. Without bullets.

The first case of COVID-19 in Jackson County hit the front page on March 26; the first death on May 7. One year, more than 3,400 cases and more than 50 deaths later, COVID is still on the front page.

We’ve been accused in some corners of scaring folks with our reporting, but it’s not us doing the scaring. It’s COVID-19 and the facts surrounding it.

The facts we stand by are from experts, the folks at the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the Jackson County Department of Public Health. All smart people with advanced degrees and years of experience in epidemiology.

They recommend wearing masks, physical distancing and handwashing, etc., and we’re going to continue to advocate those precautions.

The facts suggest those precautions work.

As just one of many examples, the report “An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19” on the website of the National Academy of Sciences concludes “We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.”

The report uses 141 scientific studies, some of them peer-reviewed papers, to draw its conclusions.

Scientists last month landed the rover Perseverance on Mars. They know their stuff, and we should listen.

Everybody loves Uncle Billy, the one who posts on Facebook that wearing masks is useless and communist, but where did he land his rover?

How much longer will COVID-19 be on the front page? That depends on how quickly it’s history, not our present or future. And that depends on how closely we follow the guidelines and how quickly we all get vaccinated.

The Sylva Herald is a community newspaper. Part of our mission is to protect our community from dangers. We run articles about scams, bad people, even how to avoid bear attacks.

COVID-19 is the most dangerous threat we have covered, and we owe it to the community to report deaths, cases and other information.

And more importantly, we feel an obligation to do everything we can to help lead the community out of this mess, which is why we advocate for the 3Ws and constantly update vaccination information.

So please, for your safety and the safety of others, stand away from others when out in public, wash your hands, wear a mask and get your vaccination as soon as you can.

I suffer from COVID fatigue like most folks do, but if it keeps him safe, I can go a little longer without hugging my dad.