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Despite all the sunshine, a dark cloud still looms

Suddenly, unbelievably, it's June. The sun is mostly out, the temperatures are mild but warming up and, given all the rain, the grass, gardens, flowers and, of course, the weeds are growing rapidly.

And yet still there is a major dark cloud out there, a virus that has taken a horrific toll in this country already -- and it's far from done.

By last week, the death toll from COVID-19 had topped 100,000 Americans.

And if projections by the experts are anywhere near correct, that total will surpass 125,000 by the end of this month. Let's hope those projections are wrong, but the death toll is still on the rise in many states, including North Carolina and much of the Southeastern U.S.

This isn't over, folks, no matter how much we wish it were -- and no matter how much the politicians tell us to just get on with life as if nothing bad could happen.

Although we've had an almost complete lack of coherent, competent political leadership in the last five months, it appears to me that many of us are using common sense despite the unsliced baloney we are being fed.

Many of us are being very, very cautious, practicing social distancing whenever possible, wearing masks when we go to public places and avoiding crowds as much as possible.

Yes, North Carolina and other places are beginning to reopen but, as expected, a lot of Americans are both cautious and skeptical.

Yes, we'd like life to get back to normal as we once knew it but we also know, whether we want to admit it out loud or not, normal is not something we're going to be enjoying anytime soon.

Normal, if we dare call it that anymore, is months if not years away and dealing with this virus and the dangers it poses is just something we have to factor into everyday living.

We can't stay cooped up inside all the time -- but running around and socializing like we were doing this time a year ago doesn't make much sense either.

There still isn't a cure -- or even much of an accepted treatment regime -- for this disease and just getting diagnosed is still something of a challenge.

Granted, there are some places around that are doing tests -- but there are challenges.

Just this week our county -- about three months into this pandemic -- began doing drive-through testing for the virus for the first time.

Sounds good, finally.

Until you realize the tests are available for one hour per week -- and only with an advance appointment.

Note, no "walk ins" are being accepted.

Not sure how helpful that will be.

If you start showing symptoms shortly after each Tuesday's round of testing, you'll have to wait a week to be tested if you rely on the county.

And, we have no word on how long it will take to get test results.

At the speed this virus can move, it's likely that by the time you've got positive test results, you may be in serious trouble!

In a move that must drive the health insurance "bean counters" nuts, the tests are free for those without insurance, but insurance companies will be billed for testing of those with insurance coverage.

Go figure.

Really not sure how effective this one hour a week of testing is likely to be -- but it's something. There are other places doing the tests here and around the region and we have listed those in other stories.

If you think you need to try the county's drive thru testing, you can make an appointment by calling 919-496-2533. Good luck -- and although I'm often criticized for being negative -- I really hope your tests are negative!

Tough on students

Although this pandemic has been disruptive and a pain for all of us, it seems to me that the kids have taken the brunt of the effects.

That's especially true for the students who are graduating from either high school or college this year.

Graduation time is so much more than just getting handed a diploma -- and the graduates are missing so much of the pomp, circumstance and the fun that goes along with the entire series of events.

To their credit, many schools are doing their best, improvising, making up new rules, testing new ideas, and helping make memories that the graduates will take with them for the rest of their lives.

Here at The Times, we're still planning our traditional graduation edition -- and offering parents, grandparents and others a chance to send best wishes to their special graduates.

But whatever else we adults do, we need to stress to these young people that just because the ceremonies are different this year, it's their accomplishments that truly matter.

These young people have worked for years to get their educations -- and we need to help them celebrate their accomplishments, pandemic restrictions or not.

Just as importantly, we need to find a way to encourage them to continue their educations, even though it's likely that college and graduate school won't be the experience for them that most of us remember.

A fall to fear?

Once we get through graduation season and the summer, it'll be time for school to resume in August -- or not.

School officials at all levels are scrambling to try to get a handle on what school will be like -- especially whether it will be traditional classrooms or a virtual experience again.

Yes, that giant groan you may have just heard comes from all those parents who suddenly faced "home schooling" their youngsters this spring and for a great many, the experience wasn't one they want to repeat in this lifetime.

Most youngsters of all ages found virtual learning not only difficult for all the technical reasons but also isolating because they were away from their classmates, there was little-to-no one-on-one interactions with teachers and, lets face it, no social life to speak of at all during the last three months.

All of that makes for a very difficult situation for students, parents and school officials -- but the alternative, a virus running through a school, its staff and its families, is even worse.

Bottom line, folks, we were all woefully under prepared for this pandemic even though scientists have been warning that one was possible for years.

Worse, the reaction to it has been disjointed, haphazard and far more politicized than it should have been.

We could have done better -- but we must do better in coming weeks as we hope for an effective treatment and a vaccine.

For now at least, the best bet is to use your own common sense, wash your hands often, avoid crowds and wear a mask.

Bad headline!

Can I have a mulligan or a "do over" on a headline that this column carried on May 14?

It read: A virus then a May frost; Are locusts next?

Turns out, according to folks who make a career of studying such things, that locusts are, indeed, next! Actually the proper name is Cicadas, although they are fascinating critters by whatever name you prefer.

Seems that the majority of the locust infestations happen every 17 years -- and this is the year millions of the winged, noisy critters are expected to arrive!

Rest assured, just because locusts are coming, they are not coming because we beckoned them.

They will debut according to Mother Nature's timetable so get ready, this is their year to rise (from the ground) and shine -- or at least serenade us with their loud, tuneless noise that can be rather grating at times!

According to the experts, periodical cicadas' life span is among the longest of any insect, but they spend only a sliver of their days in the sun. After growing underground for 13 to 17 years, a brood will come out in one of 15 specific regions of the United States.

Individually, cicadas are helpless. When they shed their exoskeletons, their wings are wet, and they must wait for them to dry before they can fly off, making them vulnerable to predators who grab them and gobble them up. The insects also fall easily into ponds, where frogs and turtles can snatch them.

Their primary defense? Sheer numbers.

Shortly after a brood emerges, predators are quickly overwhelmed by the insects' abundance.

"Predators can't make a dent in the population," said Doug Pfeiffer, a professor of entomology at Virginia Tech.

But with the coronavirus limiting gatherings, this could be a good time for Southerners to sit in their backyards and marvel at the creatures, Eric Day, an entomologist at Virginia Tech said. Some may even be tempted to eat them, according to Day, who in the past has fried them up with sake and garlic.

Now, understand please, that's not a recommendation for a snack, it's just a reporter telling you one man's opinion.

But reporters are curious folks, so if you're tempted to try that recipe, let me know how it turns out, please!

In the meantime, enjoy the outdoors before the noise of the cicadas drive you inside.

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Members Opinions:
June 04, 2020 at 5:12pm
I have lived here over 40 years and I hear the cicadas every single year! Some years there are more of them than others but I always get to enjoy their musical concert every year. I always look forward to having them musically entertain me. Between them and the tree frogs our backyard can get quite loud but it is music to my ears.

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