COVID-19 is not ‘just a flu,’ and we must help protect each other

And just like that, life as we knew it has completely shifted.

Social distancing measures — enacted to keep COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by a novel coronavirus — have shut down our schools and entertainment venues, forced restaurants to stop all in-person dining services, and canceled longstanding events that bring people together as a community such as Camas’ First Friday and the annual Crown Park Easter egg hunt.

Instead of celebrating together, we are asked to keep our distance from other people as much as possible in an attempt to keep this new virus — a virus thought to have jumped from a bat to a human as early as mid-November in China; a virus to which no human has developed an immunity; a virus with no vaccine or known course of treatment; a virus that has been killing older people and those with underlying health conditions at a rate 10 times greater than any seasonal flu — from spreading so rapidly it overwhelms our healthcare system.

I am writing this editorial from Vero Beach, Florida. My daughter and I flew into the Sunshine State to visit relatives. When we left, the guidelines from the federal and most state health officials were still concentrating on at-risk populations, cautioning older people older than the age of 60 to avoid travel and large gatherings.

Two days after we landed in Florida, schools shut down for six weeks in Washington state. Two days after that, President Trump — who had been poo-pooing the coronavirus for weeks, telling people it was all under control, that it wasn’t as dangerous as the flu and that it would go away by April — was finally backing public health experts, who warned this virus was extremely deadly and fast-moving and likely to overwhelm our hospitals and healthcare workers if we didn’t heed social-distancing measures immediately.

Still, we’ve had family members tell us they think the coronavirus is no big deal. “It’s just a flu,” they say. “This is all being overblown.”

Many of us may have had similar thoughts back in February, but we should all know better now. COVID-19 is deadly. It is fast-moving. Those who don’t even show symptoms can infect others. And we don’t have the resources or healthcare system in place to deal with tens of thousands of critically ill people. The time to act is yesterday, and we should all feel grateful that Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, acted as soon as he did to help protect more vulnerable populations.

For those who still think the shutdowns and cancellations are an over-reaction, I would ask you to watch the videos coming out of Italy, in which Italian citizens tell themselves what they wish they had known just 10 days prior, before COVID-19 began to have devastating consequences with more than 30,000 people infected and more than 2,000 deaths in a little less than two weeks.

And for anyone who is still comparing the new coronavirus to the flu, I suggest reading ProPublica’s excellent coverage at propublica.org. The investigative journalism group has shown that COVID-19 is not like any virus we’ve known in our lifetime; is 10 times deadlier than the flu; and that, without social distancing, COVID-19 cases could easily overwhelm our hospitals, especially those in rural areas.

In an article published March 15, ProPublica warns that “mixed messaging from all levels of government is putting Americans at risk and will speed the spread of the coronavirus. No matter what politicians say, public health experts agree. Stay home, even if you feel fine.”

There is no doubt this will be extremely difficult for some people, particularly those who live paycheck to paycheck and will face an inability to pay their housing, utility and food bills if they miss even more than one pay period.

We are all still figuring this out, but we will need to stick together — virtually, of course — to get through this. If you can, support locally owned small businesses by buying gift cards you intend to use later; or by picking up takeout food from a local restaurant. As we noted in today’s A1 story on COVID-19’s impact on the community, the Downtown Camas Association has excellent resources listed on its Facebook site for everyone hoping to support Camas’ businesses during the next few weeks.

Our employers at the Columbian have given us the resources we need to work remotely and to continue to cover this rapidly shifting story. Visit the Post-Record online to see updates on closures, postponed events and local officials and residents’ responses during the pandemic.

If you would like to share your own story about how COVID-19 has impacted you, your family or your business, please email kelly.moyer@camaspostrecord.com.

~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor

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