Looking for leaders as local COVID-19 numbers continue to climb

Clark County’s COVID-19 numbers continued to surge this week, bumping the county even further into the red “high activity” zone and shattering the hope that local students might return to their classrooms before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee, who deserves credit for implementing a cautious, research-based approach to reopening that has, so far, kept Washington state from becoming a COVID hot zone, recently loosened restrictions on everything from movie theaters and restaurants to libraries and museums. 

It remains to be seen if Clark County’s coronavirus numbers will continue to climb as we enter the late fall and winter months. But if the past two months are any indicator, we are not likely to trend in the right direction. 

In August, the county was in a much better position: the activity level was less than 75 new cases per 100,000 residents and school district leaders were planning to bring their youngest students back to the classroom for a hybrid of remote and in-person learning. 

By the second week of September, however, the numbers had begun to creep upward. By Sept. 28, the community activity rate had ballooned to 86.18 cases per 100,000 residents and transmission rates have been climbing ever since. As of this week, the community transmission rate was 115.05 cases per 100,000 residents, with 23 people hospitalized for COVID-19 and one new death.

The rising numbers are frustrating because we should all know by now what it takes to decrease our community transmission rates. As the Centers for Disease Control and public health experts worldwide have been shouting for months: “Wear a face covering. Wash your hands. Keep a safe distance.” 

Wearing a face covering — not a plastic shield, bandana, neck gaiter or mask with an exhalation valve, as these have been found to be ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 — correctly (i.e. fully covering your mouth and nose) every time we are around people who are not members of our household is the best way to prevent the spread of a disease that has not only killed 221,000 Americans in less than eight months but that has infected more than eight million people in the U.S. and for which the long-term effects are still not understood. 

Local officials, business owners and community leaders need to do everything they can to work against the messaging coming out of the White House. Instead of telling people “don’t be afraid,” we need leaders who can tell us the truth about COVID-19. And the truth is that, while this coronavirus may not be deadly to the vast majority of people, researchers are finding more evidence that COVID-19 may have severe health consequences, even for people who are young, healthy and only showed mild symptoms. 

Here is what the CDC has to say about possible long-term effects of COVID-19: “As the pandemic unfolds, we are learning that many organs besides the lungs are affected by COVID-19 and there are many ways the infection can affect someone’s health.”

Medical experts know that COVID-19 can cause heart damage, even in young and previously healthy people: “The risk of heart damage may not be limited to older and middle-aged adults. For example, young adults with COVID-19, including athletes, can also suffer from myocarditis,” according to the CDC. “Severe heart damage has occurred in young, healthy people, but is rare. There may be more cases of mild effects of COVID-19 on the heart that can be diagnosed with special imaging tests, including in younger people with mild or minimal symptoms; however, the long-term significance of these mild effects on the heart are unknown.”

Experts also know the novel coronavirus is impacting people’s brain health: “It is now clear that many patients suffering from COVID-19 exhibit neurological symptoms, from loss of smell, to delirium, to an increased risk of stroke. There are also longer-lasting consequences for the brain, including myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome and Guillain-Barre syndrome,” Natalie C. Tronson, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, wrote Aug. 7 in Discover magazine. “These effects may be caused by direct viral infection of brain tissue. But growing evidence suggests additional indirect actions triggered via the virus’s infection of epithelial cells and the cardiovascular system, or through the immune system and inflammation, contribute to lasting neurological changes after COVID-19.”

And, again, here is what the CDC says is the best way to prevent COVID-19 infection in youth and adults: “Wear a mask in public places, stay at least 6 feet away from other people, frequently wash your hands and avoid crowds and confined or poorly ventilated spaces.”

Unfortunately, we all know community members who believe the deadly lies our president is peddling and who firmly believe it is their “right” to forgo a face covering, even inside poorly ventilated indoor spaces where COVID-19 transmission flourishes. 

We need local leaders — public and private — who will stand up for public health and help enforce COVID-19 rules meant to protect the entire community. The evidence is clear: if we all can buckle down and stop flaunting the rules meant to protect our fellow citizens, we will all benefit from lowered COVID-19 transmission — students will return to schools, restaurants will likely see an increase in patrons and an even greater loosening of restrictions and, most importantly, we will have fewer people suffering from the loss of a loved one or long-term COVID ramifications in our community.

Do you know of someone from Camas-Washougal who is leading the charge when it comes to enforcing face coverings and other COVID-19 precautions in their business or public space? We would like to publicize their good work in our next Cheers & Jeers column. Email suggestions to Post-Record Managing Editor Kelly Moyer by 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, at kelly.moyer@camaspostrecord.com

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