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Challenges over the past year have made us stronger

In an editorial in mid-May, we questioned and criticized the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ plan to purchase 10,000 masks to distribute to local residents and to be used by visitors to county offices, particularly those visiting the Warren County Courthouse.

“We truly appreciate and commend the supervisors for their heart, but this is one precaution, one moment where the public should and has taken care of themselves, by themselves,” we wrote.

At the time, Warren County had recorded just 122 cases of COVID-19 and five virus-related deaths.

In writing that editorial, we had also seen groups come together to make masks and provide them to first responders, and seen distribution systems put in place to provide personal protective equipment to first responders and front line medical personnel. We thought that was more than enough. The county, we said in so many words, did not need to spend taxpayer dollars on items that people who needed or wanted them had already found ways to get them.

To date, that editorial stands as one we would love to take back and delete. Knowing what we know now, we could have not been more wrong. We were shortsighted and — like a lot of people — had no idea what the next months would bring.

Since that editorial, we have seen more than 4,100 cases confirmed and sadly, seen 112 more of our friends, neighbors and loved ones lose their lives to this virus. We have seen our economy rattled, our livelihoods challenged and just about every single part of our lives — from work to church — likely permanently changed.

What a difference a year makes.

Had we known then, we would have called on the supervisors to buy more masks, empty the coffers and put in place strong mask mandates from the beginning. We know now that masks — once advocated and legislated — mitigated the spread of the virus and as a result, saved lives.

In the past year, we have seen a community rally together and support one another and show the strength of what a community focused on each other can do.

While other cities and counties came close to crumbling, we found ways to build each other up. There were efforts organized to support businesses like “Takeout Tuesdays” to help our local restaurants and food giveaways to help individuals make it from one meal to the next.

We have been reminded of the power of our own purse and how when we do focus on local businesses that they not only survive tremendously tough years, but in some cases adapt and thrive. We have seen sales tax collections at the local level meet and exceed previous totals because we found that we do have what we need here, in our community, and do not need to travel to other markets as much as we once did.

We also came to understand the true value of our tourism industry and the economy that is built and shaped by telling our story and sharing our history.

Our museums, eateries, hotels and destination locations suffered, and in some cases, continue to do so as tourism as a whole looks to rebuild after a year of being practically shut down. Then again, many of us discovered that a good staycation was important and learned once again the beauty of the Vicksburg National Military Park, the intricate storytelling in the Old Court House Museum and that a Coke float in mid-July from the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Vicksburg is the perfect treat.

Throughout the past year, since that first case was confirmed in Warren County on March 29, we — along with everyone else — have tried to do the best we could in a world that has been turned upside down.

There was no instruction manual on how to deal with a global pandemic. Our local leaders made decisions they thought were best and then changed course when they saw it was needed. There were mass closures and shutdowns that at the time seemed like the right thing to do, but now — with better data and other safety measures — would not be done.

Over the past 12 months, there have been plenty of mistakes, great accomplishments and lessons learned. We have made decisions that we thought were best for our families, our businesses and our communities. And, just like the editorial we wrote in mid-May, not every stroke of the pen or every decision made was correct.

But, today, we are stronger for the experiences and the lessons.

Today we know far more about the virus than we did last March and are able to make better decisions that have allowed our economy to fully reopen and, as of last week, welcome back riverboats to our shores.

This pandemic is far from over and there will be more mistakes made, but we have shown the ability to adapt and overcome, stand tall and flourish.

We might not be the same Vicksburg and Warren County that we were in March 2020, but that is a good thing. Today we are smarter, wiser, and have learned from our mistakes.

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