Our Opinion: It is not time to reopen yet
Emotions are running high right now in our country, and here in our county as well.
We understand the frustrations that so many feel. Oregon has among the lowest incidence rates of COVID-19 and among the fewest deaths in the United States, while it maintains some of the most stringent restrictions. Columbia County is grouped in with "extreme risk" counties even as it has seen markedly fewer cases per capita than neighboring Multnomah and Washington counties.
We've said it before, though, and days after a rally outside the Columbia County Courthouse demanding that businesses be allowed to reopen, we will say it again: We can't let up now.
By now, we are all tired of the coronavirus pandemic. We are tired of the word "COVID," and we are tired of the number "19." We are tired of the relentless math of exponential growth, and how a small fraction of a very large number can be a large number itself. We are tired of staying inside. We are tired of seeing our children struggle with learning from home. We are tired of not being able to get together with friends, we are tired of not being able to visit grandparents or grandchildren, and we are tired of having to wear a mask whenever we are around other people.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus is not tired of us.
The coronavirus does not care that we are bored, lonely or sad. It is not sensitive to the grief of loss or the pain of isolation. It has no concern for our lost income. It is not weary of attacking our bodies and ravaging our internal organs. It will not disappear one day soon, like a miracle.
To be clear: Our fight against the coronavirus is far from hopeless. Many healthcare workers, care facility residents and first responders have already been vaccinated. The vaccines will be available in the coming weeks to more and more people.
We're also far better equipped than we were at the start of this pandemic. We know now that face masks are effective in preventing viral transmission, and that worries of the virus spreading via surfaces were overblown. Our hospitals have become better at treating COVID-19 patients, something that is invaluable as many healthcare facilities around the country and overseas are inundated. Tests, nearly impossible to obtain last March, are now widely available, a transformation that should give us confidence the same will happen with vaccines this year.
However, because we know more about how the coronavirus transmits now, we also have reason to be more cautious.
More infectious strains of the virus have been detected, perhaps most notably a mutation that seems to have originated in the United Kingdom, which researchers fear may be half again as contagious as the "original" SARS-CoV-2 virus.
We also know that the virus can wreak havoc both through so-called super-spreader events, in which one or a small few infected people transmit the virus to many others at a large gathering, and through transmission chains, which occur when people transmit the virus to someone outside their household, who then transmits the virus to another household, and so on. The former may cause a much more acute shock to the system, but the latter is much harder to stamp out and can have a similar effect, given time.
We understand how hard this is for businesses. We're one of them.
Last spring, facing a sudden and dramatic drop in advertising revenue due to the pandemic, we cut employee hours and began encouraging employees to work from home whenever possible. Several longtime employees were let go. We continue to deal with these painful reductions and restrictions, as well as the undeniable impact of having far, far less in-person interaction with subscribers and sources alike.
We are eager for the vaccines to finally turn the tide against the coronavirus. We are eager for our advertisers to be able to return to business as usual. What is good for them is also good for us — both for the sake of our balance sheet and for the sake of this community, the health and livelihood of which has always been at the center of our mission.
But wishing something were here already does not make it so.
Oregon's low case and death rates owe, in large part, to the governor's restrictions and widespread adherence to both the rules and recommendations laid out by public health officials. If and when the British mutation becomes more prevalent in the United States, Oregon is poised to feel significantly less pain than many other states, because of the success we have had here in keeping case counts from exploding out of control to this point.
The problem is that past or present success — "success" being a relative term, of course — is no guarantee of future success. That's because the virus has no memory. The virus is not impressed or deterred by what we did yesterday to keep ourselves safe and healthy. The virus has no consideration for how much money our local businesses, from Fred Meyer to Dockside, have foregone over the past 10 months. The virus has no mercy for how long we've been waiting to reopen or how desperate we are to go back to living the way we used to.
We must reject Pied Pipers like Stan Pulliam, the reckless and irresponsible mayor of Sandy who traipsed out from the opposite end of the greater Portland metropolitan area to inflict his misguided and uninformed opinions on a small crowd in Old Town St. Helens last Saturday. Pulliam and his fellow travelers tell us what we want to hear: the governor's restrictions are unnecessary, the danger of the virus is overstated, and it's merely a matter of personal preference to risk infection by a highly contagious and sometimes fatal pathogen that has no known cure.
The truth is that our actions matter a great deal. The choices we make don't just protect us, they protect our loved ones — as well as the cashier at your grocery store, the handyman fixing your sink, the neighbor lending you his leaf blower, and anyone with whom anyone else you infect may come into contact, too. And if regulations are lifted now, the opportunities for us to infect more people multiply.
The pandemic isn't over just because we wish it were, and it doesn't skip over us just because we promise to be careful. This will end — but we have to continue to be patient, because the virus is patient, too.
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