This Thanksgiving, feel grateful for governors who have trusted science

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and public health officials urging all of us to cancel dinner plans with anyone not included in our immediate households, Thanksgiving is going to feel abnormal for a lot of families this year.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still give thanks for the many positives in this world.

One of the things we should all be grateful for this year is the fact that we live in the Pacific Northwest, where state leaders like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown took decisive steps early on in the COVID-19 pandemic to help prevent massive spread in this region.

Washington and Oregon are currently ranked the sixth and fifth best states, respectively, for lowest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. The only states with better records (at least this week) are New Hampshire, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont.

The most recent round of shutdowns, which banned indoor dining at restaurants and bars and again shuttered movie theaters and gyms — places where it is difficult or impossible to wear a face covering — were also designed to help us lower COVID-19 transmission rates and stem a recent surge in cases that has prompted health officials to sound the alarm across Washington.

Inslee said it was not an easy decision to make, but that he had little choice if Washingtonians wanted to keep the virus from overwhelming their state, as it has in many other areas, such as North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, where mask mandates are rare and most businesses have been allowed to remain open throughout the pandemic.

“There is scientific certainty that the way this virus is transmitted is by people talking closely for prolonged periods of time, inside, without wearing masks,” Inslee said at a Nov. 20 press conference. “No matter how good a job the restaurants do (with COVID-19 safety precautions), people can’t eat with a mask on.”

The governor said he timed the new round of shutdowns to avoid longer-term problems.

“One of the reasons we were successful at keeping the pandemic down to relatively low numbers is because we acted early and we’ve acted earlier than some states,” Inslee said. “This early action is what really saves lives and prevents us from turning into a raging situation like they’ve seen in El Paso (Texas).”

In many areas of the U.S., the spread of COVID-19 is not more than 10 times what it was in April, when most people agreed we needed to all shutdown to help “lower the curve” and protect our health care systems from being overwhelmed.

In Oregon this week, more than 774 doctors have signed a plea asking people in that state to follow the new COVID-19 restrictions and avoid gatherings with people outside their own homes this Thanksgiving, saying: “If the spread of COVID doesn’t slow, we won’t be able to provide the best care for anyone, whether they need chemo for cancer or even a safe place to deliver a baby.”

Public health officials are hopeful that the new round of shutdowns will help get Washington and Oregon back on a good track and “lower the curve” so we can remain in a good place for a few months until there is widespread vaccine distribution.

But this will only work if people follow the rules.

Clark County’s public health officials have been warning that this area is poised for hard times if residents do not take the disease and the public health restrictions meant to stop its spread seriously. Dr. Alan Melnick, the county’s director of public health, told KOIN reporters this week that COVID-19 cases in Clark County are not just “on the rise,” but are exploding.

“I mean, a surge may be an understatement,” Melnick said. “I’m calling it an exponential growth or as I’ve been quoted as using, the explosion.”

A quick glance at the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard shows that Melnick is not crying wolf or being overly dramatic — the county’s COVID activity levels, which are calculated using weekly new cases, have been increasing at a rapid pace, climbing from 115 cases per 100,000 residents in mid-October to 359 cases per 100,000 residents this week, and are now more than five times the rate (fewer than 70 cases per 100,000) local school district leaders have said they need to see for three weeks straight before bringing students back to the classroom for a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.

Many of the anti-maskers and folks who deny or downplay the severity of COVID-19 continue to say that the disease is not that deadly. This is a myth promoted by the outgoing president and his loyal followers. Health experts now say COVID-19 is five times deadlier than the flu and warn that even those who have recovered from the disease — even those who were previously healthy and strong — often face alarming, possibly long-term health issues.

And the death rate is not going down. In fact, the U.S. this week saw its highest daily death count since May, with nearly 2,100 new deaths recorded on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

In Clark County, 91 people have died from COVID-19, including seven people under the age of 60 and two people in their 30s.

Many top Republicans, including Donald Trump, have long downplayed the seriousness of this disease. Many Republican governors refused to employ the types of sweeping mask mandates and shutdowns known to effectively tamp down the virus. In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has said the choice to wear a mask should be up to the individual. She has refused to believe evidence that masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and has, instead, allowed her state — along with North Dakota, where Republican Gov. Doug Burgum only recently implemented shutdowns and a mask mandate — to become the worst in the world for COVID-19 transmission rates.

As essential employees of a locally owned small business that depends on other small businesses’ advertisements to pay our bills, we understand how tough the past eight months have been, both economically and mentally/emotionally, but we are still grateful for state leaders who are willing to make tough choices and implement unpopular restrictions to help save lives and to prevent more Washingtonians and Oregonians from contracting a virus that could have even more devastating health consequences down the line.

Now it is our turn to make tough choices to protect others in our community.

We know canceling Thanksgiving plans is rough, and that people are desperate to spend some quality time with their loved ones after what has been a pretty brutal year.

But as anyone who has ever had to work on a major holiday (shout out to all those who have jobs in the restaurant, first responder, health care, hospitality, utility, transportation or media industries) will tell you: missing one holiday dinner with your family and friends will not kill you.

In fact, this year, canceling that family Thanksgiving gathering with people outside your immediate household is the safest and most generous thing you can do for your family, friends and community.