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The new series of Wieden+Kennedy ads on COVID-19 have been controversial. But it's a message we have to take to heart.

COURTESY GRAPHIC: STATE OF OREGON - A public service advertisement from Wieden+Kennedy, commissioned by the office of Gov. Kate Brown, doesn't beat around the bush.In general, we haven't been very impressed with Gov. Kate Brown's handling of the coronavirus crisis in Oregon.

But when it comes to the latest target for the slings and arrows from the usual anti-Brown crowd, we can't find much to criticize.

Late last week, the Brown administration rolled out an advertising campaign produced with Wieden+Kennedy, a Portland ad agency well known for such iconic commercial series as ESPN's "This is SportsCenter.," Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," Bud Light's "Dilly Dilly," and more Nike ads than can be counted.

"Don't accidentally kill someone," one of the new ads proclaims, in stark black lettering against a hazard-yellow background.

"Keep Portland ... alive," declares another.

Each of the ads ends with a simple slogan: "Stay home. Save lives."

The public information campaign has been polarizing. That's not surprising. It's blunt, deliberately provocative, an intentional eyesore.

On Twitter, the Oregon Republican Party called it an "irresponsible and unconscionable fear campaign." Conservative gadflies like ex-legislator Julie Parrish have criticized the ads, too.

As for us, we're reminded of an old adage about shooting the messenger.



The coronavirus pandemic defies hyperbole. The epidemiological projections are horrific. The stories from frontline medical professionals, patients and the bereaved, from Wuhan to Bergamo to Kirkland to Madrid to New York, are wrenching. We don't know what the next few weeks or months hold, but we should all be aware this will get worse — more than likely, much worse — before it gets better. And we need to know that because this is a very contagious virus that can spread asymptomatically — in other words, by carriers who might never know they were infected — it will be very difficult to contain, which means we're probably looking at a long, hard slog before life returns to what we'll eventually recognize as "normal."

Nobody wants to hear these truths. Nobody wants to believe this is our reality, now and for the foreseeable future. It's deeply sad, it's very hard and there's vanishingly little that any of us can do about it.

Except, that is, stay healthy.

More hard truths: Anyone can become sick with COVID-19. Most people will experience only mild symptoms, but a significant fraction will have a more serious illness. While data shows that people over 60 and those with preexisting medical conditions run a greater risk of complications that may lead to death, the virus can, has and will kill healthy 20- and 30-somethings, too. Children and teenagers seldom experience COVID-19 as much more than a nuisance, but even among these youngest demographics, there have been fatalities.

Like many other things about the coronavirus, the way that COVID-19 kills isn't fully understood. Medical professionals have reported deaths from asphyxiation, in which a patient's lungs fill with fluid and leave them unable to get enough oxygen into their bodies. There have also been deaths from organ failure and even cardiac arrest that have been attributed to the virus.

In all of these deaths, they share two things in common: A life is lost, and it's lost alone. The virus is so contagious, hospitals won't allow loved ones at its sufferers' bedsides.

And as the death toll rockets skyward, there is another grim conundrum. Where do we put the bodies? In New York City, hard-hit hospitals have brought in refrigerated trailers as their morgues fill up. In Madrid, an ice rink now houses the dead.

The death toll will climb higher. It will happen faster than we imagine. Already, more Americans have died of COVID-19 than died on Sept. 11, 2001. If Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, leaders of the federal government's coronavirus response, are correct in their assessment this past weekend, the death toll will eventually exceed the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War, on its way toward approximating or exceeding the American dead of World War I. And there's no guarantee it will stop there.

This is unthinkable, and yet it is happening.

Brown was days slower than we would have liked in shutting down non-essential businesses and ordering Oregonians to stay home. But that order has now been in place for more than a week. It's not clear how much longer it will be in effect. Experts say lockdowns like Oregon need widespread adherence to be effective — and they need to be in place for at least long enough for the epidemic wave to peak and recede. We don't know where the peak will be, but independent modeling and official modeling used by the state government and local hospitals alike show that lives will indeed be saved — hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands — if Oregonians practice this extreme social distancing at least through April.

Now, it might be longer than that. Nobody wants to hear that, either. We're some distance from the halfway point, and we're already restless, anxious, worried about our jobs, worried about our favorite shops and restaurants, worried about our children's education.

But the facts are clear: Staying home is saving lives. This disaster will get worse, but how much worse it gets depends on us.


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