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The Times Leader presents its annual progress edition

MARTINS FERRY — It can be hard to imagine life without the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic hanging over us, but there are many reasons we should be doing just that now and in the weeks and months ahead.

A year ago, few of us imagined how our lives were about to change. We never fathomed that our March 17 primary election would be canceled and transformed to an all mail-in vote. We couldn’t have guessed that our schools and “non-essential” businesses would be forced to close or that we would need to wear masks anytime we left our homes. We certainly didn’t suspect that we would have to celebrate the holidays and personal milestones either without our loved ones or “with” them only in a virtual format.

It seems, however, that we are now making significant progress in the fight against COVID-19. The number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are declining. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine lifted a curfew that aimed to slow the spread of the disease. Health care workers, the elderly and, now, school staff are being vaccinated against the virus.

We still have a long way to go before we can go about our daily lives without fear or contracting or spreading this potentially deadly illness. Even when we reach that point, the lessons learned from this pandemic will stick with us. Life may not return to what we considered “normal” as recently as 2019.

That is why we decided to look at ways people, businesses, schools and communities will forge ahead into an uncharted future when we selected the theme “Reimagining the Region” for our annual progress edition. These six special sections will be published over the course of three consecutive days, beginning today, and will offer readers a closer look at many aspects of life in Eastern Ohio and the Ohio Valley.

In today’s newspaper, we examine topics in the finance and manufacturing and technology sectors. Both topics continue to have a tremendous impact on our area, as they have for many decades. Tuesday’s focus is on education and health care, while on Wednesday we examine our local business sector and our communities.

In manufacturing and technology, for instance, we learned that the coal industry in Ohio has stabilized to some degree with electric co-ops taking over coal-fired generation plants that might otherwise have been closed. We also discovered in the realm of finance that, despite the economic challenges posed by the pandemic, investing sooner rather than later is the smart choice.

In the field of health care, we found out more about plans for the future of East Ohio Regional Hospital, which recently reopened under new ownership in Martins Ferry after being shuttered for more than a year. We also found that technology likely will remain a force in all aspects of education, from remote learning at the elementary and high school levels to online college courses and student teaching experiences.

In the world of retail, delivery and curbside pickup options are likely to remain popular even after COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat. And it has become apparent that community institutions such as libraries and museums have dozens of online options for making their resources available to people nearby and all around the world.

“It’s been a challenging year for all of us here in Eastern Ohio and around the world, so we are pleased to present you, our readers, with nearly 50 pages focused on the positive developments that have come out of this unprecedented period,” said Jennifer Compston-Strough, managing editor of The Times Leader. “Each year, our staff works hard to bring you information about how area residents are adapting to the changing times, and this year is no exception. We are thrilled to bring you stories about the many different ways that area leaders and residents are reimagining their futures and hope our annual progress edition will leave you better informed about the ways we can all move forward together.”

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