"Honestly, that's what we've got. We've got each other."
David Cobb was talking to the Journal about Cooperation Humboldt, the nonprofit he co-founded, and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's true of all of us. In ways that have never been so plain, community resilience is vital. And it will likely be further tested in the weeks and months to come.
As this edition of the Journal went to press, Humboldt County had been fed a string of seemingly reassuring news, going nearly a week without a positive COVID-19 test and just two since April 7. On April 20, Humboldt County Public Health also announced that all but five of the local residents diagnosed with COVID-19 have since recovered, meaning they have met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria and are no longer in isolation.
But this good news bears the risk of complacency. While Humboldt County hasn't seen any of the "liberation" protests cropping up in Sacramento and elsewhere, with the president's apparent support, similar sentiments have bubbled up on local social media. Even Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn quipped in a Facebook post, "Would I like an easing of the restrictions sure I think you folks have earned it." Some, it seems, view this pandemic as somehow behind us or overblown or something we can decide is over, like a punishment. It is not. A million times, it is not.
Earlier this week, we reported Butte County Public Health Officer Andy Miller's disease model, which he said was "endorsed" by the state. It included a median projection — falling between best- and worst-case scenarios — in which Humboldt County could see 40 COVID-19 deaths before June. Some charged simply reporting on this was fear mongering or sensationalist. But we think readers should know this is the projection state and local officials are using to plan for a potential reality.
As you'll read in this week's story on infectious disease modeling, models aren't crystal-ball predictions peering into an already decided future. They're informed best guesses aimed at guiding public policy decisions. If we as a community practice aggressive social distancing and abide by the spirit and intent of shelter in place, we change the assumptions behind these models and bend the projections down. If we cluster together to protest public officials' prioritizing community health, we bend those projections upward. Then we may find ourselves thinking wistfully of that time the state thought just 40 of us would die over the next five weeks.
This isn't to say sheltering in place, leaving businesses shuttered, savings accounts depleted and bills unpaid while trying to homeschool our children isn't hardship. It is. But it's also a communal sacrifice — as in wartime — that experts have deemed necessary to minimize the number of Humboldt families who have to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
What has buoyed our spirits throughout recent weeks — and gives us tremendous hope that we can navigate whatever lies ahead — are locals who have seen this as a chance to be our best selves, to swallow fear and angst, and help someone. Last week, we profiled two organizations stepping up in big ways to meet community needs. Peninsula Union School, one of Humboldt County's smallest, has morphed into an outreach organization not only feeding and educating its students, but delivering supplies to vulnerable community members and connecting them with services. Cooperation Humboldt, meanwhile, has launched a vast countywide online registry where people can ask for help or join the ranks of a fleet of able-bodied volunteers assisting neighbors they've never met.
We will be navigating this for a long time, whether or not we see temporary or partial reprieves from shelter-in-place orders. COVID-19 is not going to disappear and we are likely at least months away from the the kind of testing infrastructure needed to get a handle on the virus and its spread. But even amid so much uncertainty, we have each other.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Pearl Buck wrote: "Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members."
This is the test that COVID-19 — a disease that cruelly preys on seniors and those already sick or frail — lays bare. And the measure of who we are will not show in what reopened when but how we protected those who needed it. We'd all do well to follow the lead of groups like Peninsula Union School and Cooperation Humboldt, to set up systems to help those most vulnerable among us stay home and limit their exposure, and to keep them emotionally connected.
And to those of us over the age of 65 and/or with underlying illnesses or compromised immune systems: Please lean on your neighbors. They worry about you and want to help.
Honestly, that's what we've got. We've got each other.