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Gaston Leaders Reflect on the Impacts of Covid-19

Gaston community leaders reflect on COVID-19 and its local impact over the past year
Bill Poteat
The Gaston Gazette

As the first anniversary of the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic approached, The Gazette asked a variety of community leaders to think about and to answer three simple questions:
(1) How have we changed?
(2) What have we learned?
(3) Where do we go from here?

Here are their responses:
Chris Peek -- President and CEO of CaroMont Health
(1) As a health system, there have been hundreds of changes made to the way we care for patients and protect employees, but I think the most powerful change has been in how we express gratitude to one another. Going through something as significant as a pandemic has been extremely challenging for our team, but I think it reminded each of us how important it is to express our appreciation for others.
COVID-19 has also changed the role healthcare professionals play in our community. Before the pandemic, most people weren’t acutely aware of the thousands of doctors, nurses, clinicians and support staff working around the clock to keep the community healthy, but having a strong medical community and incredible public health support made a significant difference in how our community weathered the last 12 months. I think that will have a lasting effect on the relationships patients have with providers and health systems.
(2) I think we learned the true strength of the health system and the resilience of our healthcare providers and professionals. At the beginning of the pandemic, I shared this statement with CaroMont Health’s more than 4,300 employees: "Doctors, nurses, clinicians and all who work in healthcare are the only people who have the ability to restore health to our communities. Now, more than ever, we must be there for those who need us." Our team answered that charge. At every level and in every department, they stepped up and stepped in to care for patients and the community.
(3) I think we move forward as a stronger, more connected community. The pandemic isn’t over, but the availability of vaccines is a very promising step forward. I think we use the knowledge gained over the last 12 months to continue to drive down transmission of COVID-19, and we continue to cultivate the partnerships and relationships needed to protect and support the community. The pandemic has certainly shown it takes every member of our health system and our community to build a brighter future, and we are fully invested in doing our part to make that happen.

Stanley Mayor Steven Denton
(1) As a small community, we have always been very supportive of each other, making sure legitimate needs are taken care of, doing the things that make a community better. This crisis, I think, has solidified our bond even more. I believe we are even more compassionate than we were. We've learned to be even more community-minded, less concerned about ourselves and more about our neighbors. I see individuals, businesses and churches, stepping up to help in greater ways or in ways they may never have before the pandemic.
(2) As implied in the previous paragraph, we've learned to be more compassionate as neighbors, working through a struggle that didn't just affect a small number of people, but everyone in some way. Technologically we've learned to communicate, work, meet and even worship in ways me may not have explored before, at least not taken full advantage of. We've re-learned the "arts" of giving AND receiving, working together, picking each other up. Although there were times it appeared that tensions would spike, I feel that, at least in Stanley, we revisited and now are back to expressing civility toward each other in the ways that we should.
(3) Keep working together. Keep looking out for each other. Keep focusing on the positive in our community. Keep lifting one another up. Speaking from the perspective of a local government leader, no town, no city can grow and thrive and prosper if the residents, businesses and leadership are not working together for the common purpose, a better community. Initiatives which are best for the people as a whole. Programs, plans and goals which allow those who have (talent, finance, skills, materials, etc.) to give and those who have needs, including the town itself, to receive. We have to continue to put our personal interests, peeves, desires and inclinations on the back burner and consider, as we have in this pandemic, what is best for our brothers and sisters in our county, our town and on our street.

Marc Jordan -- CEO of the Montcross Area Chamber of Commerce(
(1) We have learned how much smaller our world is than we even thought before the pandemic. How a little virus that started in some obscure part of the world, brought everyone to their knees. This has changed the way we enact, and live among each other.
(2) We have learned that together, the entire world, can exchange knowledge, and experiences, to defeat this virus. As an economy, and as a people, we have learned to “adapt-overcome-and survive”.
(3) From here, we will continue to “adapt-overcome-yet, THRIVE”. I truly believe that we will emerge from this better than before. We will be better at how we go about living our daily lives, and doing business. Small businesses in particular have become more innovative in generating customers and generating new business. Our nation has learned how to quickly overcome obstacles in order to develop a vaccine and save lives worldwide. I believe we will see new opportunities in the days ahead.

Sharon Padgett -- Executive Director Gaston County YMCA
(1) Other than stocking up on more toilet paper and disinfecting wipes, adding Pure Spaces electrostatic sanitizing solutions, the Y has remained focused on our core mission....Strengthening our community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
The work we have done through the pandemic is the work we have always done in crisis or regular day-to-day operations. The Y is more than a fitness center, pool or camp. Because of our deep roots in the community, as well as our reach and influence, we were able to mobilize staff and volunteers to serve neighbors with the greatest need through child care (remote learning, senior care and feeding).
We advocated for funding support to expand our efforts to meet increased need. We worked with our Health Department to adjust our procedures to provide wellness programming and remote learning while kids were out of school SAFELY. 
(2) The pandemic has exposed issues that need to be addressed....as a community. Not everyone in Gaston County has access to things like internet, childcare, nutritious food and health care.
Our community is strong when ALL of its citizens have what they  need to thrive. I am proud of the work we have done to address these issues, but we have much more to do. With our community partners, the Y will continue to strengthen this community. 
(3) Here is what I know for sure....where ever it is...we go together! Partnerships, collaboration, listening with one another is the key for a stronger community. 

Linda Slade -- Executive Director Gaston County United Way
(1)  I don’t think any of us ever take anything for granted anymore!  However, as human beings, we do tend to forget things but I think many of us will always be looking over our shoulder now.
(2) How to pivot and get creative.  I think we’ve seen that across our community from restaurants shifting from dining in to all take out, to small businesses getting creative in providing services or shifting focus.
From a health and human service non-profit leader side, we’ve learned how to pivot quickly to meet increased and changing needs.  We’ve learned that forged partnerships and collaborations are important to get more work done to make a larger impact.
 Overall, we learned just how vulnerable we are as a community  and how many people  are truly just one paycheck away from deep financial struggle and potentially homelessness.
(3) I believe in the power of collaborations and partnerships and this is the perfect time for us all to come around a table and take a hard look at the impact this pandemic has had and how we can all work better together to strengthen our community.
I know we at United Way are looking at the deeper root causes of issues in our community and will begin to see how we can chip away at issues.

Patrick Mumford --- President and CEO, Gaston Business Association and Steve D'Avria, Chief Operating Officer
(1) As an organization created during the pandemic, we are hyperaware of the needs of others and the complexity of Covid-related challenges for the business community.
Whether obstacles are financial, technological or talent-based, there is no "one size fits all" solution. In response, the GBA is focused on connecting people to opportunities and the essential resources needed to address their unique set of circumstances.
(2) We have been reminded that people and connections are at the heart of our work and being part of a collaborative community is paramount to success.
Gaston County leaders, along with local health care providers and the business community, have united to identify and address critical needs in the community surfaced by the pandemic.
Shifting from in-person to virtual meetings is manageable and will likely become an ongoing approach in many instances. Related to virtual work, we will continually listen, learn, and innovate to provide options for our members and the community to connect from their chosen location.
Businesses in Gaston County have been extremely resilient and quickly pivoted their operating models to assist in the overall fight against the virus and demonstrated resourcefulness and tenacity in shifting to meet the evolving needs of customers.
Even during this unprecedented time, businesses are committed to Gaston County and optimistic about the economic opportunities ahead.
(3) The community must align around common goals with a clear vision of what success looks like coming out of the pandemic. We must leverage what we have learned and continue to seek new perspectives. approaches, technologies, and products to maximize the economic potential of Gaston County.

Lowell Mayor Sandy Railey
(1) We rely more on technology and different meeting techniques.  Our entire interaction in society has changed.  We limit our socialization in fear of the virus.
(2) How quickly our world as we know it can be turned upside down by a pandemic.  COVID-19 is no joke! 
(3) Continue the process of getting everyone vaccinated and reopen society. We need each other! We need hugs! We need to be together and to be happy!

N.C. Sen. Dana Bumgardner - 109th House District
(1) We are more personally distant than before. Some people are much more sensitive than before the pandemic. The average person is more careful about where they go and how big of a crowd they are around. When the pandemic started it was very scary and everyone was rightfully worried. I get the sense people are still a little worried but long for a normal life.
(2) We have learned we are vulnerable. We have learned our social fabric is fragile and we must work to preserve it. We have learned that leaders are imperfect and can make painful mistakes. We’ve learned we can create a vaccine in a short period of time that can help us get back to normal. We also learned there was a finite supply of soap and certain kinds of paper!
(3) We need to get back to a normal way of life very soon. There is still much to learn about what happened and why. Emergency laws should be enforced equally and objectively. We need to open our schools, churches and health clubs as well as restaurants. Our children should be in school learning. We will have plenty of time to assess what has happened and what the next steps should be.

N.C. Sen Ted Alexander -- 44th Senate District
(1) I believe out of every hardship, good can come. The COVID-19 shutdown curtailed activities that often prevented people from spending time together as a family and allowed them to do things together such as eating dinner together as a family, getting outside to go for walks, cook dinner together or start new family routines.
Hopefully this brought many families closer together. People were able to adopt pets they never had time for previously. Families, like mine, took an interest in home improvements, which abounded, and people cleaned out their closets boosting donations to charitable organizations.
We recognize how many things we, as a society and individually, have taken for granted like stores and restaurants conveniently being open when we want them, seeing a doctor when needed, being able to go to the gym and see a sports event. Many people started working from home reducing traffic issues.
However, at the same time, hard-working business owners watched their lives and livelihoods be destroyed. Many sacrificed all they had, including homes, to salvage a business where the executive branch of government chose the winners and losers.
We watched the painful death of restaurants, gyms, retail stores, event venues and many, many others that will never recuperate or return.
(2) We have seen a dramatic change in how many people have begun to live their lives in fear and I believe this is unfortunate because fear can allow people to become easily manipulated.
Another thing is how people have been unable to socialize, interact and enjoy the company of others which is so important for the human person.
I hope we have learned that our religious and other freedoms are easily targeted and taken away if we allow it to happen.
(3) We want to move on and not go this way again. People have been deprived of visiting families and friends in the hospital, visiting loved ones in nursing homes, people dying alone, not allowing funerals that give people the opportunity to pay their respects and support the surviving loved ones.
Students have lost out on important developmental milestones such as graduations, proms, sporting events. We must re-examine the executive powers vested in our governor which were never intended for a health emergency.
The governor’s powers were always intended for short-term natural disasters, rectifying economic hardships caused by the disaster and unfortunately in this case the powers that the governor used had the opposite intended affect.

Bill Watson -- President Cleveland County Chamber of Commerce
(1) COVID-19  has forced the obvious changes that most of us have had to live and work with, i.e. remote working, virtual meetings, home schooling, etc. 
I think equally important has been a need and a conscious effort to support each other, to rely on each other and to actively look for ways to share with each other, both professionally and personally.
(2) We have learned to be flexible, to constantly explore different ways of doing business, and, as much as it might be resented at times, we have learned to embrace unfamiliar technology.
(3) I think we would be naïve to believe that personal or professional life will simply return as it was before.  Businesses have acknowledged that productivity doesn't necessarily suffer with remote working, which will conceivably cause major changes to the need for physical office space.
I think the entire supply chain in many companies, small and large, will bear very intense examination as we work to prevent the lack of products and raw materials that we are currently experiencing.
And, in addition, with the rapid creation of apparently effective vaccines, we may see more scrutiny on how drug development/approval has been regulated over the years.

Cameron Corder -- CEO Cleveland County YMCA
(1) Our community has changed for the better. At the Y we have seen an overwhelming response of people helping people. Neighbors helping neighbors. There has been an overwhelming support for kids and families in need.
Cleveland County has always exhibited the values of generosity but I have seen an elevated amount of care and concern for those that are hurting.
(2) We have learned how much we need to be together. And it is not just being together as a family at holidays or on vacation, but we need to be at work together, in church together, as dinner together, and at the Y together.
The value of community should never be taken for granted.
(3) We need to work collectively to address the long term mental health ripple from the pandemic. We may never fully grasp the social and emotional toll on seniors, kids, etc. We will look back five or six years from now and evaluate whether we have responded appropriately.

Bill Poteat may be reached at 704-869-1855 or bpoteat@gastongazette.com.

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