Mayor talks about lessons in a year where COVID started in the state

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CYNTHIANA, Ky. (WTVQ) – Since the first coronavirus case was confirmed on March 6, 2020 has been a year many people are glad to see end.

That first case was in Cynthiana, putting the small town on an unwanted map. WTVQ ABC 36 News sat down with Mayor James Smith to look back at the lessons learned and what the future holds for many communities.

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WTVQ: We talked a little bit earlier. What were your thoughts when you got that call on March the sixth saying that you had a coronavirus case in Cynthiana?

MAYOR SMITH: Well, I couldn’t believe it at first. The judge executive called me cause he had got a call directly from the governor that Friday night. I remember it very clearly. I’d been following it in the national news, but I expected us to have two months, three months before it hit small town Kentucky. And so the way I fell when the judge called me and said, “The governor wants us in his office the next morning to come up with a plan,” was like stepping into a rollercoaster the first time and strapping up, not knowing what to expect and not knowing how long the ride was going to take.

WTVQ: Has there been any stigma associated with it, you being the first case?

MAYOR SMITH: There was maybe that first week or two, some people tell me who live here in Cynthiana, but work in Paris or Georgetown or Lexington and say, when they went to work, all their coworkers would kind of joke with them, but they would also stand away from them and anytime they would call for sniffle, it was like they were lepers or something. But that shortly faded when it started popping up everywhere, and I don’t think there’s a community anywhere now that that treats us that way.

WTVQ: two months later, you had serious flooding in Cynthiana.

MAYOR SMITH: If the projections had been right on the money, it would have been the second highest flood in our history. And so we responded as if it was the second highest flood and we worked and worked and prepared and prepared. Luckily it didn’t get that bad, but yeah, we had a major flood during, during a pandemic.

WTVQ: And you being a minister, were you worried about sort of being tested by the biblical terms of plagues and floods?

MAYOR SMITH: Absolutely. It was kind of a joke there for a while. It was like, “Okay, what’s going to be next? The plague of frogs, or the plague of gnats, or boils or whatever.” We were going through the biblical Exodus story and just holding on. I kind of blamed myself because I kind of started the year studying out humility and asking God, “Okay, God, we’re having such success here in Cynthiana and Harrison County, don’t let me get prideful. Kind of keep me humble here.” And then the plagues started to come. So it’s all my fault.

WTVQ: You’ve had a lot of positives this year. Is that a credit to the people there?

MAYOR SMITH: Oh, absolutely. We considered ourselves a great city. We had a really good 2019 and we started the year with this high hopes and this really nice set of goals that we were going to accomplish. And what we found is that what makes a great city is not the events that you have or the activities that you have. What makes a great city is the community and how much they love and support one another. And our fabric of the community was really tested and pulled and stretched this year, and it proved that it was really strong and that we are a great city. And through it all I couldn’t be more proud of my community and Cynthiana and how we responded, because we kind of wrote the book on how small towns deal with the Coronavirus. For weeks and months, mayors were calling me saying, “Hey, we just got our first case here. What do we do?” And so we would send them our SOPs for the water plant, and fire department, and ambulance service.

WTVQ: Are you ready for 2020 to be over?

MAYOR SMITH: I am. For all the good things, and we have still had a good year, all that list of goals I talked about, we still met most of the goals that we set out for 2020. The virus doesn’t care that it’s the end of 2020 and the beginning of the 2021, so the challenges are going to keep coming. But I think that 2021 with the vaccine and the rollout and getting back to somewhat normal, we’re going to be able to build upon what we’ve shown in 2020 to have just a stellar 2021.

WTVQ: You sound like the poster child for other small towns. Is that sort of your message?

MAYOR SMITH: When this first started back in March, when we were the only community in Kentucky that had this, the Washington Post and New York Times and USA today, they were all coming here interviewing me and the judge and our local restaurant owners, that’s kind of stopped. We’re not special anymore, so to speak, but I think other communities can look at Cynthiana and see that there is hope. Rely on your people, love one another, take care of one another, and you’ll get through this.

As a sign of his optimism for the region, the mayor said Cynthiana didn’t lose any businesses in 2020 and added 12 new ones.