I have written about community in the past. The word “community” is used in many ways to describe towns and cities, both large and small. It’s frequently and falsely equated to our living environment, buildings, institutions and just about our life in general.

In my realm, community has always been about people. It’s the people we interact with each day, the plans we make with them, the things we share in common and the socialization we become a part of that makes a community what it is. Like the chicken and egg dilemma, which comes first, community or a town? Obviously it is the people who create a community, not a town that creates it.

What has the COVID-19 virus done to our community and to our sense of community? Understand that the real verifiable meaning of “community” has been under assault for years. The mere fact that we live in a fast-paced society that leaves little time for rubbing shoulders with, sharing and doing for others has put the sense of community under a heavy burden. Since the 1960s, in my view, we’ve seen a more selfish individual, making less and less time for engaging in and shaping a community.

Community isn’t buildings, playgrounds, schools or local government. Community is all about people. People make towns, cities and counties what they are.

COVID-19 has further harmed communities across the nation. The virus — dangerous to be sure — caused for a time community to become nearly extinct. Because of government mandates, people were asked to stay home and go out only when necessary, and only then, with a mask on their face. Socialization was prohibited. Sharing with others was essentially prohibited. People were left without a real way to genuinely communicate with friends and family, the very thing so important to community.

COVID-19 prevented us from really having a common interest or goal, other than a hopeful refrain that the virus would move on, and quickly. Being able to sit with our friends and neighbors to talk about it intelligently was not to be. The virus essentially divorced us from people and from one another’s thoughts. Working relationships have been near impossible.

“Now wait a minute,” you may be saying to yourself about this time in your reading. “What about social media? We were able to talk with our family and friends on social platforms and our cellphones.” True, but although social media is a big part of our lives now, there’s nothing like sitting down looking a friend in the eyeballs and having a nice conversation. That builds community easier and quicker than mundane posts on social media and offhanded conversations on the phone. At least that’s my take on it at this point.

You see, I enjoy a face-to-face conversation over lunch with my friends and family much more so than a post on social media. In fact, I prefer a phone conversation over social media but that conversation doesn’t involve the interaction I enjoy with in-person meetings. I enjoy facial reactions during conversations because it is a simple way to understand where the other person is going with the points they are attempting to make.

Some may think going to the grocery store may serve as a means to have face-to-face meetings with others. Really? Do you recognize everyone you see with a mask on? Quite frankly, I have a hard time knowing who is behind a mask. It’s just so impersonal. I may remember the voice but I often do not recognize a person’s eyes. Trying to develop community from behind a mask is impossible. Besides, conversations in grocery stores don’t build community as much as intellectual, in-person conversation.

I have been saddened over the years that our once rural roots — where everyone wanted to help everyone in time of need — have disappeared. It was that community where people depended on one another, dreamed together, worked together and solved problems together. But in my view, the lockdown because of COVID-19 has further damaged our sense of community and I’m not sure it will come back.

That’s why I am proud that the Ayden Collard Festival has decided to put on a two-day event in September. In the meantime, people will meet in person and come up with common community goals. That should be exciting, and I hope other communities get their festivals up and running as well.

The same goes for units of government that continue to meet virtually. It’s time to shut down the cameras and meet in public facilities where members of the public can lay eyes on real human beings — the ones they elected to serve them. But maybe I will have more on that later.

I am not advocating that we ditch common sense protocols that protect us but I am advocating for more association between individuals that make the community an important part of our being. Let’s talk to one another!

Mitchell Oakley is the publisher emeritus of this newspaper.