DAVIDSON COUNTY — As the community turned the page on 2021 and began the new year, it did so in the midst of a vastly changing landscape without several key figures who closed their own chapters.
Thomasville City Manager Michael Brandt began his tenure last January as leader in place of Kelly Craver, who retired Jan. 2, 2021, along with 14 other city department heads. Brandt inherited an ongoing health crisis which opened the year with 86 Davidson County residents dead due to COVID-19 and ended it with 343 having succumbed to the deadly virus.
Encouragement from state leaders to “take your spot to get your shot” kicked off its first phase of vaccinations last January, which involved individuals who worked with COVID-19 patients or administered the vaccine, as well as staff and residents of long-term-care facilities. Within weeks of the start to 2021, the vaccination was made available for people 75 and older regardless of health status and frontline essential workers who were 50 or older.
Phase 2 included jail or prison inmates, others living in group living settings and essential workers who had not already been vaccinated. Phase 3 was for K-12 and college students, and Phase 4 began vaccinating everyone else.
Gradually restrictions began lifting as the year went by. In March, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order that allowed an additional number of spectators at sporting events in North Carolina. High school football, as well as all outdoor sports, once limited to 30% attendance, began to fill up again.
Local businesses and retailers across the city welcomed more customers after Cooper allowed for up to 100% capacity for retailers, salons and museums at the end of March as long as mask and social distancing mandates are maintained.
In Thomasville, business owners began processing the news and what it would mean for determining their next course of action. Luca Gialone, owner of Elizabeth’s Pizza at 106 W. Main St., said greater occupancy meant an opportunity to serve customers in a more similar fashion to which patrons have grown accustomed.
“Thanks to the people of Thomasville, we were able to stay open,” Gialone said. “They helped us out with the to-go. We do a lot of carry out. People support us a lot. We were able to stay open, to have employees, to pay them and all the bills every month.”
As summer became fall, it was the schools’ turn to once again wrestle with the decision of how to handle its return to classes. Students and staff in Thomasville City Schools began the semester with face coverings in all classrooms across the district and remain with those restrictions in place entering this new year. In Davidson County, the district made masks optional for three weeks to begin the semester, but reversed course after the initial wave of outbreaks.
From the delta to omicron variant, a series of worrisome unknowns surround the new strains, and medical researchers continue to test how effective existing vaccines are against them.
The omicron variant first was identified in South Africa in November, but recent findings indicate the mutant coronavirus was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa, and it also has been found in Australia, Israel, Japan and Canada.
A final COVID-19 update from the Davidson County Health Department yielded worrisome numbers, as the department discontinued its “weekly dashboard” due to the inability to monitor in-home test results. A total of 814 new cases and maintenance of a 50% vaccination rate in the final 10 days of 2021 created a somber backdrop to ring in the new year.
As the health crisis continues to be the preemptive issue on the agenda of every school board, governing body and administrative department in Davidson County, updates will continue into the new year as more is learned. With each round of new information, the TIMES will bring you up-to-date information in the new year.
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Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.