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A Time to Howl


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While it may feel otherwise, it wasn't that long ago that Humboldt County's neighborhoods stirred nightly around 8 p.m., enlivened by howls and shrieks as people left their kitchen tables and couches to step outside onto their stoops and porches, into their yards and back alleys. While it was part of a worldwide ritual started to pay homage and give thanks to our healthcare workers — especially those toiling in overwhelmed intensive care units and crowded hospital hallways that felt a world away — it was also pure Humboldt.

It was a chance for a resilient, rural community kept physically apart to join voices with their neighbors in a primal moment of solidarity — a chance to hear and be heard while raising a collective voice: "We are Humboldt and no virus can break that."

It's sad to reflect on how — just a handful of months later — our neighborhoods have fallen silent as our case numbers spike. And with the county sitting awash in a pandemic fatigue that's now as plain in the faces of those in grocery store checkout lines as it is in the comments on social media, it's clear the two are intrinsically linked. And it's fair to wonder whether cases are soaring because the fabric that binds this community is fraying.

Now, we're not naïve. We've long known the Redwood Curtain was not some sterile shield that would protect Humboldt County from this virus. We knew it would come. We knew it would spread. We knew people would get sick. And we knew some would die. What we didn't know — or maybe what we were just naïve to — is that some of us would decide their neighbors weren't worth the ongoing hardship. That some of us would decide their desire for the company of loved ones mattered more than our collective health and safety. That some would choose that family vacation over the need to protect our elders. That some would choose social media falsehoods over clear science simply because it's easier in the moment.

But that's exactly where we are, seeing the exponential case growth that our health officials have repeatedly warned us about, growth driven by Halloween gatherings, travel, dinner parties and social get-togethers. And as we watch our case numbers hit record levels week after week after week, there's the chilling realization that we're only now beginning to see the impact of Thanksgiving. And Christmas looms.

Some of our neighbors — whether because they want to take that trip to see family or host that dinner party that promises a taste of normalcy, or are just desperately afraid of seeing their small business close or the arrival of another bill they can't pay — will say this is all overblown. They'll say Humboldt County, as of Dec. 8, had only seen 54 hospitalizations and nine deaths. But sadly, that's all about to change because we've kept those numbers low with collective sacrifice that has largely held our case numbers to a trickle. They're gushing now and it's only a matter of time before critical illness and death follow.

Studies show about 12 percent of COVID-19 patients will be hospitalized about two weeks after their diagnosis. On Nov. 23, Humboldt County reported 56 new COVID-19 cases; two weeks later, it reported five new hospitalizations — a 10-percent increase from the cumulative tally over the first 10 months of the pandemic. In the 14 days since that eye-popping 56, the county has confirmed 352 more cases. Hospitalizations will follow. So will deaths. And the numbers will simply keep climbing until we stop them.

Amid that backdrop, we bring you this week's cover story about two young sisters in Blue Lake who have continued howling as the rest of us have collectively fallen silent. May their voices rekindle our hope, stiffen our resolve and remind us of the community we take pride in being.

This is Humboldt County, the land of Native people who were subject to generational persecution and hardship but stand vibrantly before us today, working to reclaim what's been lost and lead us all to a more equitable and just future. This is the place where, when the flood of the century hit in 1964, laying waste to entire communities, National Guard helicopters flew in with supplies only to be told to find someone else over the hill who needed help more as people emptied their freezers to feed their neighbors. It's a place where bake sales and auctions are still the lifeblood of parent-teacher-organizations and volunteer fire departments.

Humboldt County is a land of resilience and we'd all do well to remember it in the weeks ahead, as comfort, normalcy and ease beckon in a moment that demands simple sacrifice. We know what we need to do: Stay home, wear a mask when out in public, wash our hands, stop traveling and gathering with people outside our households. And maybe we need to howl again to remind ourselves who we are, who our neighbors are and how much that means.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.



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