EDITORIAL: What happens next? We're still waiting to see
A new school year. Finally back to five days per week of full in-person learning. A full football season.
It's all reason to be excited and hopeful about how far we've come since the coronavirus came to Oregon in February 2020. We are delighted to have students and teachers back in classrooms, student athletes back on the field and on the court, and parents relieved of the responsibility of educating and entertaining their children during the day in the middle of the work week.
While getting "back to normal" remains the goal, though, we're not quite there yet.
The recent closures of Lewis & Clark Elementary School and Columbia City Elementary School are unpleasant reminders that we are still in the midst of the worst public health emergency in 100 years. More than 700,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 over the past two years, and Oregon and Washington's hospital systems are still straining under the load of cases caused by the pandemic.
The pandemic's effects are wide-reaching.
Long warned about but little heeded, a growing shortage of commercial drivers to handle everything from delivering packages to dropping kids off at school has become a full-blown crisis this fall as the emergency wears on. The Scappoose School District has had to alternate which routes are served, leaving families to come up with their own workarounds when the bus can't get to them.
From our trips to the grocery store in 2020 and 2021, we've all become familiar with the strange idiosyncrasies and alarming fragility of global supply chains during the pandemic. For months, automakers have struggled to keep up with demand because of a chip shortage — a part few consumers even think about, but the lack of which has dramatically slowed down the production of new cars.
And as Oregon's residential moratorium has been extended again and again, it's hard to say who is more desperate: tenants who are wondering how they will pay their back rent once it expires at the end of the year, or landlords who have seen the can repeatedly kicked down the road as they wait to collect what is, for many, a vital source of income.
This is very much an ongoing problem — or, more aptly, a constellation of interconnected problems.
So, what can we do?
Well, we can't do as much as we would hope.
Back in the spring, it looked for a time like vaccines would lift us to herd immunity and the virus would just sort of fade away. But between the emergence of the more contagious delta variant and a disinformation campaign being waged by Fox News pundits and other prominent media conservatives, the vaccination target has risen higher even as vaccination rates have mostly flattened out.
Locking down isn't really an option, either. The pandemic dealt a body blow to the national economy in 2020, from which we're still recovering. The impact likely would have been much worse without trillions in federal relief, which were approved by bipartisan groups of lawmakers and signed into law by both President Donald Trump last year and President Joe Biden this year. But now, Congress is deadlocked and dysfunctional, unable to agree either on spending or whether to pay for what it's already spent. Another tranche of federal relief isn't even in the realm of debate.
Put simply, businesses can't afford to lose all their customers again, and workers can't afford to lose their paychecks. Uncle Sam won't have their backs this time.
The responsible thing to do is to get vaccinated, get your booster dose once you become eligible, and continue to mask up in public and avoid large, unmasked social gatherings. Unfortunately, while many Oregonians — including here in Columbia County — have been acting responsibly and following public health guidance for months on end, those who haven't gotten with the program yet aren't very likely to, unless they are compelled by local, state or federal mandates. We encourage all of our readers to choose to get vaccinated, whether you do it to protect yourself or others or to protect your livelihood.
But our main takeaway here is simple: Be patient.
While we don't know what comes next in the shaggy story of COVID-19, we know that it isn't over. It didn't end as quickly as we hoped it would, and it will last longer than we wish it will. We don't know whether this will be a school year interrupted by a weeklong closure here, a two-week closure there, from now through May. We don't know when there will be enough delivery drivers or car computer chips. We will wait and see, because we have no other option but to wait and see.
Practice grace in how you treat others and how you approach the world. We have made mistakes, both erring on the side of caution and not being careful enough, throughout the course of this pandemic. We will likely make more. The choices you make may not be the choices that others make.
Do the responsible thing. Be patient. Practice grace. It's all we've got.
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