WE’RE TEENAGERS NOW, sort of. It depends on how you count. It’s the beginning of our 13th year as a newspaper. Whether that matters is hard to tell.
If you’re 12 or older you probably remember what life was like when Covid-19 intruded late last winter. Suddenly the world was full of masks and color-coded maps, infection rates, school closings and death counts. The hush was scary.
The virus left us no choice but to “temporarily suspend” the print edition of The Columbia Paper. We had to protect the health of our drivers. Experts last year said this year would see the return to “something like” normal life before the illness arrived. Now, while parts of society open up, experts add words like “… or maybe 2022.”
We launched this newspaper in 2009, during the Great Recession, with its job losses and financial collapses. The pain and disruption back then, along with the outrage aimed at the few who profited from the losses, now sound quaint when compared to the misery and scope of the pandemic.
I see all the bad stuff. And yet I remain optimistic for the paper and the community that supports it.
Here’s an example. I received a robocall last week advising me that the state could not verify my claim for unemployment insurance benefits. I hung up. I’m not eligible for unemployment benefits and I hadn’t applied for funds.
The next day I received a letter from the state Department of Labor requesting more data about me and informing me, accurately, of a bank where the newspaper does business. I showed the letter to a lawyer. It’s probably a scam, he said. The next day I went to the bank. I was told to contact the state. I logged on to the labor department website and filled out a Fraud Report. I got an email moments later saying the department received my report.
I checked the online credit agencies. No unusual activity. I checked with another bank. The manager there already knew I filed a fraud report. The state emailed the manager that my report and several others are now in the hands of “law enforcement.”
I know that government fraud investigators handle huge numbers of cyber-crimes as the federal Covid Relief plan rolls out. International crime syndicates are reportedly behind some of it. Millions, possibly billions of dollars are at stake.
But in Columbia County there are people alert to this type of fraud. I’d like to think that “law enforcement” will set a trap that rolls up some buddies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. I get it that this happens only in movies and on TV. Still, I believe good people are on the right side when it comes to thieves who would exploit the pandemic. These thieves want to use my personal data to steal money from my government and the unemployed people who need help.
My fraud report intersects with Covid-19 because the virus has made it necessary to distribute so much money so quickly to so many people. That fact alone nourishes my optimism, because newspapers help tell the story of the pandemic. We give you written word of where and when vaccination sites open. We discuss the controversy over masks and the efforts that our public schools have made to educate children safely and effectively.
We can’t have a free country if people have only one source of information. We won’t be a functional society unless some of our information sources are local.
I’m fortunate to have had my vaccinations. I still wear a mask in gathering places and wherever I can’t socially distance. But I am so looking forward to the day I can toss all the masks into the trash.
I am fortunate, too, because of the chance you readers of this small newspaper give us to communicate what we learn each week about life in Columbia County.
So happy birthday to us. Stay safe. It’s better here than it was, but it’s not over yet. Keep your masks handy.