A few years ago, a Post-Record reader graciously gifted us several copies of an early 20th century publication produced by the Camas paper mill – a roundup of news related to the mill, its employees and their families. One of the things that stood out almost immediately in the issues from 1918 and 1919 was the role the flu pandemic played in everyday life. This publication’s front page news was devoted to the flu, covering employees who had died, employees who were ill and tips for staying safe.
Likewise, the Post-Record’s pages in 1918 and 1919 were overflowing with flu stories. Our front pages from that time period published snippets of young lives lost, mourning parents and spouses and seemingly miraculous recoveries from the flu.
I think about these stories when I read through the latest batch of COVID-19 data and see that another dozen Clark County residents lost their lives this week or that our public health officials are doing away with things like indoor mask mandates – one of the last community-wide protections we had going for us in this worldwide fight against an airborne illness that has claimed nearly 1 million lives in the U.S. alone.
And everytime I think about those stories from the early 1900s, it hits me how silent we are about this current pandemic.
Sure, we can write about the numbers. We can tell you how many of your neighbors have died from COVID. We can update you on the latest public health advice (which is, by the way, to keep wearing high-quality masks indoors if you’re in a region with “high” levels of COVID transmission or when you have COVID symptoms).
We can tell you that dying from COVID is not the only worry you should have and that medical experts now say even a mild SARS-CoV-2 infection can cause “long COVID,” and that current estimates say between 10 percent and 30 percent of people infected by SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) may experience lingering symptoms like overwhelming fatigue, breathing difficulties or “brain fog.” We can tell you that doctors now say even young people who have had mild COVID infections are at an increased risk of stroke or heart attack for up to a year after their initial infection.
We can even tell you that we may soon be in for another surge of COVID infections thanks to the BA.2 form of the omicron variant that is causing infections and hospitalizations to spike again throughout European countries that have already been through the initial omicron surge and that are, in many cases, better protected than the U.S. due to higher vaccination rates.
But I question the impact of this information considering the fact that we are missing one very crucial element of our reporting.
Unlike the Post-Records and mill newsletters from 1918-19, we don’t feature the actual people in our community who are suffering from long COVID. We don’t even talk about those who have died over the past two years. That is partially our own failing – and if we had more than two people on our editorial staff right now, I would be pushing myself and my reporters to dig deeper for these personal stories – but some of the blame lies in the fact that right-leaning media like FOX News began pushing conspiracy theories and anti-mandate rhetoric early on, helping the pandemic become less of a public health issue that required all of us to pitch in to help our most community members and more of a middle school fight against “the other side” based on half-truths and blatant propaganda.
In the end, we all suffer from this lack of transparency. Personal stories connect us to the data and the facts. No one is going to feel empathy when they read a number or statistic. But if that number was the man who used to drive them to school on the bus or the neighbor down the street who used to grow the most beautiful roses or a nurse who helped them heal, the pictures in our minds change. And I truly believe we would have been less likely to politicize a public health emergency – and have a significant percentage of our population go unprotected by vaccines that have proven to be safe and effective at preventing severe illness and could possibly prevent severe “long COVID” (the research on that is ongoing).
We need to know about the people we’ve lost. We need to know about those who are still suffering possibly long-term health issues due to COVID because, with nearly 86,000 COVID cases in Clark County, that means, statistically, that between 8,600 and 28,000 local residents have experienced — or are still experiencing — long COVID. And we need to talk about how we can all – collectively – prevent more COVID deaths and infections during future surges.
Some publications have tried to collect these stories. The City, an independent newsroom in New York City, launched a project in June 2020 to record the stories of New Yorkers who have died from COVID-19. They have joined forces with Columbia Journalism School, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. And yet, even with dozens of writers and journalists helping their efforts, this published memorial to COVID’s NYC victims has only collected the stories of 2,626 out of nearly 40,000 dead.
“We have a long way to go to remember everyone,” The City staff writes on its project page.
So do we. But we need your help. We need to hear from Camas-Washougal area families who have lost loved ones to this disease. We need to hear from locals who are grappling with the impacts of long COVID. If you have a COVID story to share, please contact me at email@example.com and simply type “COVID” in the subject line. Thank you in advance for helping us fully record the impacts of this devastating pandemic.
~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor