When we mapped out our editorial calendar for the year, this month’s opinion piece was supposed to be about the importance of completing the 2020 Census. Then, COVID-19 hit. As we began to take everything in stride, and the virus began to make a bigger impact, completing the census took on a somewhat new level of importance. Having a new and accurate count of our community would impact the level of support we receive during a crisis. In this case, the personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to the health institutions in Oconee County as they combat COVID-19. As many of you undoubtedly saw, the amount of supplies distributed to Oconee County were small, given the number of people living in the county and the number of healthcare facilities and staff that we have. Completing the Census would ensure that the population counts and estimates for our area are as accurate as possible when determining the level of emergency resources we require.
Our organization as well as many in our community still urged people to take the time to go online and respond to the Census. After all, surely we all had 15 minutes to spare for such a small, but important task. I became slightly distracted as I watched our community come together in the face of the pandemic, though. Schools closed, but restaurants began offering free or reduced kids meals to those in need. A shortage of face masks led to an army of homebound workers pulling out their sewing machines and crafting homemade masks. Wherever a need was discovered, there seemed to be people working to help fill it. It was incredible to watch.
Then, April 13 at 3:30am, we were dealt a blow that no one saw coming. An EF-3 tornado carved out a 16 mile swath of destruction right through the middle of our county. We were s
peechless. As the sun rose and the extent of the damage began to be more fully realized, I remained speechless. How do you convey any words of sympathy or encouragement that would even come close to being enough? I’m not sure that it’s possible to do so; and after seeing some of the damage first hand, I’m almost certain it isn’t. For once, I say thanks for the virus-related shutdown of BorgWarner that saved countless lives that night, but I also mourn the loss of life we experienced. Even one is too many.
Once again, however, I watched something incredible begin to happen. Our community stepped up. Cleanup crews were on the scenes Monday morning. Charities, businesses, and residents were giving out food and ice, hauling brush, clearing trees and debris off of houses, cars, streets… you name it. Kindness and selflessness overflowed from every corner of Oconee County, and continues to do so. This will not be an easy circumstance to recover from, but if anyone can pull through this, I know Oconee County can. At this moment in time, we are all Seneca strong, and there is nothing that we cannot do.
We need you all to step up again for our community, but not with your chainsaws and donations, but just your time. I encourage you to go online and complete your 2020 census. It only takes ten minutes, but it truly does make a huge impact on our community for the next ten years. Within the coming weeks, if you do not complete your census, field agents will be sent out to your house, decked out in PPE, to gather your responses. We owe it to our community and these field workers to protect everyone’s health and safety by going online to complete the survey. Alternatively, paper surveys will also be arriving in the mail shortly, simply fill it out and mail it back in. However you do it, please make sure that you and your household are counted. We’re all counting on you.