Our world changed last week.

The COVID-19 pandemic which has been sweeping the globe hit home, and it hit hard in terms of how we go about – or curtail - our daily activities.

Life in America changed as the virus went from being something in the abstract.....a virus other countries were dealing with....to becoming a reality that we face in the United States.

The speed of new developments last week was beyond description.

New information seemed to be coming out hourly, and a trickle of event cancellations quickly cascaded into an almost across-the-board torrent.

High school athletics and other school events went by the wayside during one of the busiest times of the year, giving way to prudence and public health considerations.

Our Lady of Miracles Catholic School was the first school locally to announce that it was temporarily closing. 

Gustine and Newman-Crows Landing unified school districts announced late in the week that they intended to stay open on the recommendation of their respective county health officials…..by Sunday night it had been announced that both will be closing effective today (Thursday). 

All activities and programs at the Newman branch library were canceled through the end of March.

The list seemed endless, but nonetheless continued to grow.

On a national scale, numerous states shut down schools altogether, professional sports and colleges went dark, and a number of cruise lines docked their ships.

And the numbers that we once watched from afar started to grow in the United States, the tally of confirmed cases and, tragically, deaths from COVID-19.

Yet despite all that, life has gone on.....although with heightened awareness of basic precautions and practices essential to keep ourselves and others safe. I am trying to change some of my habits, which I admit is not always easy. And I also have to admit that being in the “over 60 (though not by far)” group is hitting home personally.

Public reaction has run the gamut, and quite frankly knowing what approach to take is difficult.

COVID-19 is a pandemic, a true public health crisis. It is going to take a toll.

The virus is certainly not to be dismissed or taken lightly, a realization that seemed to sink in much more thoroughly among people as last week went on.

But at the same time, I don’t think obsessive over-reaction is productive, either.

Prudence, yes.

Precautions, yes.

Panic, probably not going to help anybody.

Being stocked up on the basic essentials is probably a good thing, within reason.

Buying a two-year supply of toilet paper and bottled water by the pallet (some people would if they could)? Probably not necessary.

I guess, though, that one of the questions I have been wrestling with is trying to define the point at which a reaction is an over-reaction....but let’s try to let common sense prevail and, while staying ahead of the information, not let fear-mongering prevail.

In today’s world of social media and a news cycle that is serving up COVID-19 news 24/7 that may be easier said than done. I am normally an avid follower of MSN as I try to keep up on events of interest to me, but have had to largely walk away in order to keep my own sanity in the barrage of non-stop virus information.

Typically, my stress relief would be to turn on a hockey game or other sporting event....but that’s not an option.

At the newspaper, we are in uncharted territory.

We will strive to keep our communities apprised of the latest developments not just in print but digitally to provide information as quickly as possible through our website (westsideconnect.com) and the Mattos Newspapers Facebook page or Instagram. In this situation, what is a pertinent story on a Friday may be totally different by Monday and obsolete by the time the paper hits the news stands on Wednesday afternoon, so we will be regularly posting new developments.

Obviously, the paper for the next few weeks is going to look much different than it typically would, as the events which usually fill our news pages are largely on hold.

It is quite possible that in coming weeks the content of both the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard will be fully shared as we intend to take a more regional approach.

And while COVID-19 will without doubt dominate the news for an indeterminate period of time going forward, we remain committed to covering other topics in our community as well.

As frightening as COVID-19 is, and despite the essential precautions that are going to change life as we know it in our communities and in our nation through the weeks and months ahead, life will go on.

Take care, and be safe.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.