Opinion: Pretending this pandemic is over won’t make it go away
Larger counties in Washington face the distinct possibility of having social distancing measures continue into June. If we face resistance to these restrictions, we could be in for a long summer.
“Counties that continue to have large numbers of people with COVID-19 are not in a position to open up stores, restaurants, and services safely yet,” the state Department of Health warned over the long holiday weekend.
That means places like King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties might not enter directly into Phase 2 at the start of June like some had hoped. And while Gov. Jay Inslee works to “figure out what the next steps will be,” we need to get comfortable with that reality.
It’s worth noting: King County has made significant progress in recent days. At the peak of its outbreak in early April, daily cases in the county topped out at 219. That number has been under 100 since early May and has continued to fall.
Both Pierce and Snohomish Counties have made similarly positive steps, with daily cases in each region dipping below 30 since early- to mid-May. In layman’s terms, we’re close, but not quite there yet.
Meanwhile, more and more smaller counties are becoming eligible for a waiver to enter into Phase 2 of reopening. That’s all great news, but it also means patience will be more critical now than ever.
People are getting antsy, and understandably so. Thousands in Washington have been forced into unemployment, and we’re all anxious to get back to our previous lives. That anxiety has in turn led to some differing philosophies on how to safely achieve that return.
Some have pushed for allowing the general public who aren’t in the at-risk portion of the population to resume life as usual while we isolate the sick and elderly, a system with more questions than answers.
In a scenario where we give that a shot, how do we ensure that children returning to school don’t pass the virus on to their parents? What do we do with older teachers? What about multi-generational households where grandparents live with their families, or workers at assisted living facilities? How do we even enforce such a system? Short of locking our elderly population away in a room and pushing their meals through a slot in the door, it’s a system that, in practice, poses a logistical nightmare.
As for the alternative argument that would have us hastily reopen and pray for the best? Suffice it to say, pretending we’re not in the middle of a health crisis will not only fail to make it go away — it’ll make it worse.
So, that means we need to exercise patience in the near-term as we approach summer. That means ensuring that our testing and tracing infrastructure is ready to handle any flare-ups that might occur once we lift restrictions. That means putting stock in the advice of doctors and scientists who have devoted their entire lives to studying how infectious diseases are spread.
More than that, it means letting cooler heads prevail. Some say we’re living in fear by continuing lockdowns. Personally, I worry more about the fear that’s pushing people to end them too early.