OPINION: Ringing in the new year with cheers and jeers

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Happy New Year’s Eve! Are you ready for 2021? 

We certainly are … but, first, let’s remember a few ups and downs of December 2020 with our final Cheers & Jeers column of the year. 

The first CHEERS is for the health care workers and other folks on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic who have risked their own lives for nearly a year taking care of critically ill patients, providing what comfort they can to dying patients who may have to say goodbye to their family on a screen instead of in person, and constantly trying to warn the rest of us — including those who still, despite all evidence to the contrary, insist the whole thing is overblown — that we need to take this coronavirus seriously or suffer the consequences. 

Not only should we be thanking these doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other medical professionals every chance we get, we should be pushing our federal, state and regional officials to do everything they can to help protect these health care workers and their families by providing hazard pay, getting them proper protective equipment, making sure they have access to the first available vaccines, continuing to implement control measures such as mask mandates and crowd-restrictions that are known to halt community spread of COVID-19 and enforcing actual consequences for those who willingly and purposefully go against these public health measures. 

The first JEERS, then, is for the fact that no county in Washington state, including Clark and Skamania counties, is currently meeting the state goal of having fewer than 25 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. The state’s total shows 439.8 newly diagnosed cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. In Clark County, that number is slowly shrinking (CHEERS to that), but we still had 1,865 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks, for a rate of 381.8 cases per 100,000 residents. In nearby Skamania County, the rate is at 281.9 new cases per 100,000 residents with 34 cases diagnosed in the last two weeks. 

A second JEERS is for the “we refuse to live in fear” crowd who like to shout from any available pulpit, street corner or email to their local newspaper editor that “99 percent of people survive” COVID-19 and continue to insist, nine months into a pandemic that they somehow know more than the thousands of public health experts and medical professionals, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said of the pandemic in October: “The numbers throughout the globe have been stunning — making this already the most disastrous pandemic that we have experienced in our civilization, in over 102 years back to the 1918 now infamous so-called Spanish flu.” We aren’t sure how anyone can still believe this pandemic is a hoax or overblown, especially considering that 3,369 Washingtonians have died from COVID-19 in just nine months and that another 14,445 have had cases severe enough for hospitalization. In Clark County, we have lost 143 people to this virus. We know COVID-19’s death rate is around 1 percent. There are 495,000 people in Clark County. Are we really willing to risk losing nearly 5,000 of our neighbors, coworkers, family and friends to this illness? Because that is what the uncontrolled spread of a virus with a 1 percent death rate would look like in our neck of the woods. 

But there is hope on the horizon. Which is why our greatest CHEERS is reserved for what may be the best news of December 2020 — the fact that we have several safe, effective vaccines in this battle against COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Washington state on Dec. 14, the state ordered nearly 130,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 21, and more vaccine trials are underway in the U.S., including Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which would only require one shot instead of two for full protection.

There are a couple of JEERS related to the vaccine news, though, including the fact that the ineffective “leaders” in the Trump administration have mucked up the country’s vaccine rollout despite having nearly a year to get ready for this moment in time. In mid-December, we learned that millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine were simply sitting around in warehouses instead of being shipped to states because the federal government hadn’t told the vaccine maker where to ship the COVID-19 vaccines. Washington was one of several states, including Illinois, California, Hawaii and Nevada, that received only half of the doses they’d ordered thanks to the Trump administration’s screw ups. The federal government has effectively turned its back on the vaccine rollout, saying it’s up to state leaders to take care of getting vaccines to Americans. This week, President-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration’s ineffective vaccine rollout, which he said would, at its current pace, “take months if not years to vaccinate the American people,” and said he will “move heaven and Earth to get us going in the right direction” once he takes office next month. CHEERS to that.