In some ways, it feels like an eternity has passed in the eight months since we first used these pages to urge Humboldt County residents to take the COVID-19 pandemic deadly serious. It seems like forever since we've been able to invite friends into our homes for a meal, travel to visit relatives, drop our kids off for a normal school day or even talk to our co-workers face to face. Pandemic fatigue is real and we're all exhausted, longing for the normalcy most of us used to take for granted, yearning for just a taste of what that felt like.
And that makes this week's news that, with caseload soaring to unprecedented levels, Humboldt County has been pushed ahead two tiers in California's risk assessment blueprint, ushering in a host of new restrictions on local business, all the more maddening and dismaying. There's the stomach-churning afternoon ritual of waiting for daily case counts from the county and the anxiety that builds while watching numbers slowly rise, realizing that each of those represents someone sick — potentially critically so — and a family in distress, as well as a possible new chain of transmission. There's also the painful recognition that each number in the positive column inches us further away from the return to normalcy we all crave.
But perhaps worst of all — because we've now had eight months to learn about this virus, to study it, to understand it — this daily ritual now comes with the undeniable fact that there's a portion of our population that just doesn't give a damn. Because they're selfish. Because it's "just the flu." Because something on Facebook distorted Centers for Disease Control numbers and convinced them they know better than virtually all the nation's scientists, health officials and doctors. Because our president and his surrogates mocked the media's focus on a deadly virus that has now killed some 250,000 Americans. Because they're exceptional.
It's of course not the flu and it treats no one as exceptional.
But let's take those one at a time. First, the flu. To date, about 70 Americans per 100,000 have died of COVID-19 (even with mask mandates and shelter-in-place orders), compared to the average of 16.6 that have died of flu and pneumonia annually since 2000. And while if you survive the flu you're fine, there's a mounting body of evidence to suggest many who survive COVID-19 will carry long-term damage to their heart, lungs or brain, with an increased propensity for heart attacks and strokes.
Now, exceptionalism. It's true no one is spared the ability to carry and transmit this deadly virus. But it's also true we now know plenty to say there are some more vulnerable to suffering its worst outcomes — namely seniors and those with compromised immune systems or underlying health problems. And we know certain populations are statistically more likely to get the virus: frontline and essential workers, people in crowded living situations, and generally the working poor. And there's simply no escaping the fact that the more virus there is circulating in our community, the more risk these people are exposed to.
So when you decide you're an exception and those public health orders don't apply to you, and choose to have that dinner party, take your kids to go visit their uncle in the Bay Area or refuse to put on your mask in a public space, those are the people you're risking. The odds might look pretty good from your end but each of these choices increases the risk for your neighbors, for the clerk at your local grocery store, your kids' teacher or childcare provider, the healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients at our hospitals. For them, those exceptions add up very quickly and inequitably.
Having watched Humboldt's case count climb out of control in recent weeks, we sat already resigned and resolved to spend a holiday season largely sheltering in place at home with those whom we live as we watched Health Officer Teresa Frankovich address the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 17. We watched as she pleaded with local residents to stay home for the holidays, to wear masks, to stop traveling and gathering socially. We know the tools needed to slow the virus' spread and we know they work, she said.
She is, of course, right. The science is clear on that. The trouble is it's up to each of us to put community over self if we're going to reverse this tide. And the cold truth is that too few of us seem to care, leaving us fearful of a grim holiday and a very dark winter.
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.