For almost all of us around here, COVID-19 is surreal, something we see on television or the internet, and here lately, read a lot about in this newspaper.

When I wrote this, there were no positive cases reported in Dent or Phelps counties, though a woman who lives in Springfield has the virus and is staying with family in Rolla. So, some people claim it’s here, others argue it’s not, because technically she is counted as a Springfield case. People on social media have argued that point for the past week.

But other than the very real and devastating daily doses of closed businesses, take-out food only, staying six feet away from people you love and not always being able to get a haircut, the threat of COVID-19 has had a much bigger impact on us than the virus itself. As far as death is concerned, it just hasn’t hit home.

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We see the heartbreaking and frightening images from Italy, Spain and New York and are thankful that’s not us. We read the lists of celebrities who have tested positive. We watch Trump and Pelosi and Schumer and Schiff and other politicians continue to wage political war during a time they should be holding hands and helping the country. We see bodies in the street in Ecuador. But that’s not us. That’s not here.

At times, we even grumble that we are forced locally to lose money and freedoms because of something going on halfway across the world or our country. Those thoughts have crossed my mind lately, I admit. Maybe we will be spared. Maybe COVID-19 and its terror won’t ever cross the county line.

Pray that it won’t.

COVID-19, like a lot of disastrous things such as tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and school shootings, won’t touch us until it touches us.

Thursday evening, April 2, it touched me.

We got a WhatsApp message Thursday from Rosy, our adopted daughter in Mexico, that her sister Yaneri’s boyfriend, Jose Mendoza, 30, died. He thought he had a cold and was eventually admitted to a hospital Saturday, March 28, and died five days later.

We spend time in Mexico every winter, and our time there always includes visits with Rosy and her family. The past couple years those visits included Jose, who lives in Puerto Vallarta and had spent time in America. As part of the family, we approved of him, and that’s important in the Mexican culture, and ours, too.

While in the U.S., Jose fell in love with barbecue and smoked meats, which are also two of my favorite passions. We talked endlessly about pulled pork, grilled chicken, etc., and I have a picture on my phone of Yaneri, Rosy and Jose sitting down to a New York strip steak and baked potato dinner at our condominium in Mexico. Jose and I talked about one day opening a barbecue restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. With my expertise and Jose running the show, we figured it would be a huge success.

There is also a picture on my phone – a screen shot sent this week of a notice from the Puerto Vallarta municipal authorities – of a mug shot of Jose, asking that anyone who has had contact with him recently to immediately quarantine themselves for 14 days and, if you have symptoms, immediately contact authorities.

COVID-19 killed Jose. COVID-19 could hit me closer to home, but this is as close as I want it to get.

Every day seems to be the deadliest day yet. As of Sunday, when I wrote this column, there were 9,100 deaths in the U.S. and 67,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The COVID-19 numbers are certain to rise, though how high and for how long nobody knows. Will we get a grip on this virus or will it rival or surpass other pandemics through history? If the numbers stay relatively low compared to the yearly flu epidemics, will we give credit for the actions taken to limit it or hand out blame because we economically wrecked our world for something that was going to run its course anyway?

We have lots of questions and no answers, only opinions for now. But we do know the virus is real and the challenges are real, even here.

Governor Mike Parson issued a stay-at-home order for the state Friday evening, effective Monday. City and county officials have all issued warnings. The Salem News for the first time in 100 years will close to the public Monday, as will Phelps County Focus and Action Graphics Sign Company, two other businesses owned by Salem Publishing Company. (We will still publish in print and bring you news online). I’ve missed funerals and weddings, school plays and a Casting Crowns concert with the grandsons.

The streets in our community and many of its stores are nearly empty of people. We battle hoarders for toilet paper and sanitizer. The elderly are locked in and scared.

We don’t know how bad this will get, and it’s bad enough. But it got a lot more real to me Thursday evening, April 2, when my wife Felicia walked toward me with her cell phone in hand, saying, “Oh, no, oh no!”