September Cheers & Jeers

We’re happy to kick off this month’s Cheers & Jeers column with a bit of good news. 

CHEERS to the fact that the cooling rains have returned, bringing some much needed relief to the months-long drought in the Pacific Northwest — the worst in nearly 130 years according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources — and hopefully putting an end to the devastating 2021 wildfire season that saw more than 1 million acres in Oregon and Washington go up in flames by mid-August.

Our second CHEERS is for the local teachers, healthcare workers and other public-facing workers who have done everything they can to help keep our community safe and healthy during this now 18-month-long COVID-19 pandemic — including lining up for COVID vaccines as soon as they were able and not complaining when they had to return to wearing face masks to help a new, much-more-contagious COVID variant at bay. 

Many of those workers are now facing compassion fatigue due to a segment of the population who seem to have made it their mission to keep this pandemic going as long as possible by refusing to listen to public health information, spreading disinformation about the COVID vaccine and acting like wearing a face covering is more horrible than being hooked up to a ventilator or having their blood pumped from their unconscious body by an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine in a last-ditch effort to save them from the ravages of COVID-19. 

CHEERS to the Washougal School District for realizing many of their teachers and staff members are currently suffering from compassion fatigue as we enter the second year of this pandemic. Earlier this month, the school district put a policy in place and partnered with the Health Care Authority and Kaiser Permanente to help support staff who have experienced this type of compassion fatigue. As the district’s assistant superintendent, Aaron Hansen, put it: “In order for (teachers and staff) to support our students, we need to be healthy and be our best selves. … In order to be your best self, you need to be healthy.”

On the flipside, our first JEERS goes out to those who continue to rail against proven public health measures during school board meetings and other school-related events. Earlier this week, a woman named Liz Rondeau showed up to the Camas School Board meeting — something she has done on numerous occasions during the pandemic — to again rail against the mask mandate and other COVID safety precautions. 

“I can hardly express how depressing it is to come in and see everyone continue to wear masks because our tyrant in Olympia continues to demand it,” Rondeau said, referring to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who has mandated students and staff in K-12 schools — public and private — continue to wear face coverings inside school buildings while the delta variant continues to surge and COVID-19 transmission rates, hospitalizations and deaths hit an all-time high in many Washington communities. 

Rondeau claimed “only 10 states require students and schools to wear masks,” and said “we are being abused under the excuse of COVID” before making fun of people wary of the virus that has killed nearly 700,000 Americans by saying, “Oh, no, COVID. It has a 99.9 percent survival rate. It’s nonsense. It’s not the bubonic plague. COVID is the flu. It hits the elderly. The obese. People with lung and heart conditions. It doesn’t hurt children. Young teachers aren’t harmed by COVID.”
JEERS to the fact that these types of lies are still circulating in our community and preventing us from getting past this pandemic. We know countering this type of disinformation with facts just seems to send people down conspiracy theory rabbit holes trying to prove their “research” is valid, but we would not be doing our jobs as journalists if we didn’t at least try to counter this type of dangerous disinformation with a few facts. So let’s take it one at a time:  

  • There are currently 16 states — including Washington, Oregon and California — plus the District of Columbia, that have mask mandates in their K-12 schools. Nevada has a mask mandate for schools in counties with more than 100,000 residents. Researchers have found that mask mandates make a difference, with far fewer COVID-19 outbreaks occurring in school districts that required students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings. 
  • The survival rate for COVID-19 is not 99.9 percent. According to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact, this claim is “false.” The Centers for Disease Control has not yet issued survival rate data for this coronavirus, and many public health experts believe COVID-19 deaths are being undercounted. If you calculate the known COVID-19 deaths by the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., the death rate is around 1.8 percent and, as Politifact points out, that would mean “if every American got COVID-19 there would be almost 6 million deaths.” 
  • It is true COVID-19 “is not the bubonic plague.” The plague (which still pops up sometimes, by the way — there were four diagnosed cases in New Mexico just last year) is rare and can be treated with antibiotics while COVID-19 cannot be cured with a round of antibiotics but does have several vaccines available (for free in the U.S. for those age 12 and older) that have been shown to dramatically reduce one’s chances of getting seriously ill or dying.
  • While it’s true that there are underlying conditions that make it more likely a person will have a severe case of COVID-19, it is heartless to suggest that these people are more expendable than those who don’t have the same underlying conditions. Are people with cancer worth less than those without? How about people with chronic kidney disease, another underlying condition that makes COVID-19 more dangerous and that impacts 37 million Americans? What about kids with moderate to severe asthma or cystic fibrosis? Are we OK with people who have diabetes becoming severely ill with COVID-19? Because that would include over 10 percent of our nation. (Not to mention the one-third of adult Americans who currently fall into the pre-diabetic stage.) What about the more than 16 million Americans with coronary heart disease? And let’s talk about those who qualify as “overweight or obese,” because we’re talking about nearly 74 percent of Americans over the age of 20. And then there is the underlying condition of pregnancy. Did you know pregnant people are far more likely to suffer severe cases of COVID-19? This often-repeated claim that COVID-19 doesn’t “hit” people unless they have some underlying condition (with the insinuation that these folks are somehow more expendable due not being a young, fit person. Or, worse, that they should be blamed for their severe COVID or death because they happened to have a heart condition or diabetes or cancer when a pandemic swept across the globe) is one of the darkest aspects of this entire pandemic and we wish we could shout JEERS every time someone brings it up online or in a public meeting. 
  • Let’s get this fact straight for hopefully the last time: Children are not immune from the damages of COVID-19. Hundreds of children in the U.S. have died from this virus. In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned mask mandates in schools, the number of pediatric COVID-19 deaths more than doubled after schools reopened in-person this summer, rising 140 percent from the end of July to the beginning of September, with four children under the age of 16 dying from COVID-19 the second week of September alone. Here is what a pediatric ICU nurse-manager in Florida told The Tampa Bay Times about the recent COVID surge: “The delta variant really kind of changed the game for us, because we weren’t seeing that many children — now we’re starting to see them in the ICU. Families are just reeling from this. These are normal healthy children who are suddenly just really struck down with this disease.”
  • Finally, it is false that “young teachers aren’t harmed by COVID.” More young people are being hospitalized with COVID-19 during the delta variant surge, including young (mostly unvaccinated) teachers. A 46-year-old middle school teacher in Estacada, Oregon, died in May, just one week after testing positive for COVID-19. Closer still, a fourth-grade teacher from Kelso, Washington, died from COVID-19 this week, reportedly just a few days after alerting parents that she had tested positive for the virus. Still not convinced? As of Sept. 24, according to Education Week, 1,145 educators and school district staffers have died of COVID-19, including at least 70 school personnel in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have died in just the last 10 weeks.