OPINION: Nothing about this should feel ‘normal’

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category icon COVID-19 coverage, Editorials, Opinion

If you’ve been sacrificing to stay true to the social-distancing efforts epidemiologists have deemed critical to “flattening the curve,” not overwhelming our health care system and keeping COVID-19 deaths to a minimum, it might be hard to imagine others aren’t taking the pandemic quite so seriously. 

It may have surprised you, for instance, if you heard  Governor Jay Inslee’s speech last week, when he announced Washington would be under the “stay home” order for at least another month. In that speech, Inslee reprimanded folks who were still flocking to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon, Washington, despite the stay-at-home order and the fact that the festival is definitely not happening this year.

“I’ve heard that large numbers (of people) are still trying to visit, and that’s not safe,” Inslee said, adding: “The state parks closed for a reason — so people don’t congregate there and infect each other.” 

The tulip festival and parks, unfortunately, are not the only places Washingtonians have been gathering.

We’ve had reports at the Post-Record of everything from golfing buddies partying in parking lots or getting together to enjoy the nice weather near Lacamas Lake to people shoving past others at the grocery store.

Last week, this editor ventured into a Southwest Washington grocery store for the first time in three weeks to buy supplies that were not available for pickup or delivery. The store employees were mostly doing what they could to help keep things safe for shoppers: wiping down grocery carts with disinfectant, doling the carts out one at a time in front of a giant sign telling people to stand at least six feet from each other and keeping a safe distance inside the store while trying to stock the bulk bins and produce displays.

But shoppers were an entirely different story. One man pushed past me while I was waiting for a cart, nearly knocking me over in his attempt to get a cart before I could. A woman either didn’t realize or didn’t care that the reason I was stopped in the middle of the canned foods aisle was because I was trying to give an elderly couple standing about 10 feet in front of me some space, so she shoved her cart past me and slammed into my shoulder before coming within inches of the couple.

At the checkout counter, a young couple squeezed past me several times as I was trying to pay for my groceries despite the fact that the clerk and I were rather loudly talking about the need for physical distancing. Well, I was talking about it, anyway. The clerk was telling me that the recent rash of severe respiratory illnesses and related deaths are not caused by a coronavirus but are, in fact, a result of the 5G network — which is another “this is not normal” editorial for another, much less stressful time. 

The weekend after the governor issued his order to stay at home, I went to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge to get a few photos for the newspaper. I expected to find people walking a good distance from one another. Instead, I discovered a parking lot nearly bursting at the seams and a number of people who clearly did not care one bit about physical distancing. Some families allowed their young children to run ahead and come right up to strangers. Others sat on benches already occupied by people from what I could only assume were different households. One man coughed loudly throughout his entire walk and came within inches of others on the trail. 

Those things may have made me exclaim, “Are you kidding me?” more than a few times, but it’s not hard to understand why people want to pretend this pandemic isn’t as bad as health experts say it is; why they want to go to beautiful places in nature and let their children run free. We are all craving a return to normalcy. 

The problem is that nothing about this crisis is normal. Our actions should reflect that simple fact. Our lives should not feel normal right now. 

To get through this crisis, we need to think in terms of “we” not “me.” Because if COVID-19 has made one thing clear, it’s that we must all be willing to sacrifice for the good of the entire community. Even just a few of us deliberately flaunting the rules can have serious consequences for all of us.

A new British Medical Journal study says as many as 78 percent of people infected with COVID-19 may never show symptoms. And a Columbia University model shows that asymptomatic carriers likely infected up to 79 percent of all documented COVID-19 cases before Jan. 23. 

You can have this virus, not even know it, and still spread it just by talking to someone or touching a door handle. So please remember: Stay home, stay safe and do not try to get back to “normal” too soon.

People who witness violations of the governor’s “stay home” order should not call 911, but are urged to notify their local police department through a non-emergency number. Clark County residents can call 311 or 360-693-3111 to report violations.

~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor