It feels as though loss has come to surround us lately. Our children have lost the opportunity to go to school, tear through playgrounds, have playdates, finish their sports seasons, dance at prom and walk across a graduation stage. We adults have lost the ability to go out to dinner with a friend, have the neighbors over for a barbecue, catch that band coming to town, go to the gym and generally connect and socialize in the ways we're accustomed. Too many of us have also lost jobs and livelihoods, watched the businesses we spent years or even decades building up sit shuttered as rent payments fall past due. Some of us can no longer make ends meet.
And now, some of us have lost loved ones and we as a community have lost two elders to this disease. That's two lives cut short, two families unable to sit at the bedside as someone they loved transitioned out of this life and into whatever's next. We need to collectively take some time to acknowledge that loss, to feel it and to contemplate what it means for those most closely affected.
We also need to put this into the context of what comes next, the choices that each of us make in the weeks and months to come.
There are those who feel, because this disease is disproportionately devastating for seniors and those with underlying health issues, that what we need to do is simply keep those populations home so "the rest of us" can get back to our lives. But that's a fantasy scenario for coping with a virus that is deadly real.
Let's consider the case of Alder Bay Assisted Living, which has now seen five staff members and seven residents fall ill, including the two who died. From all official accounts, the facility was doing everything right: prohibiting visitors, screening employees for symptoms and vigilantly disinfecting. But according to Health Officer Teresa Frankovich, an employee contracted the virus somewhere out in the community and unwittingly carried it into the facility. Once there, it has spread like wildfire.
"Why aren't they testing employees?" some ask, inferring some gross negligence on the facility's part. The answer is simple: Due in part to a woefully inadequate federal response, tests that return instant results aren't widely available. So facilities do the best they can to monitor employees for symptoms and put safety protocols in place, knowing full well that people who contract COVID-19 are contagious before the onset of symptoms, while as many as 40 percent never develop any symptoms.
So to a huge degree, the ability of these facilities to keep COVID-19 outside their doors depends on the steps all of us take to keep it from circulating through the local community. The more virus that's out there being passed around at grocery stores, restaurants and gatherings, the more likely someone working at a skilled nursing facility will catch it. We're now seeing where that road leads.
In a particularly blunt assessment to the board of supervisors, Frankovich said: "We're going to have additional deaths. That is the cost of COVID."
There's no escaping that. More of us will die. Studies show it will be our elders, our frail neighbors and frontline workers that bear the brunt of illness and death. But it will surely touch others, too. And there's no way to wall off your choices from this horrible reality.
So if you refuse to wear your mask because it's inconvenient, decide to drive over to Redding for a sit-down dinner because you're tired of cooking, open your casino or throw a party because you feel this somehow won't affect you, you're contributing to the spread of this virus. You're increasing the chances that a staffer at a skilled nursing facility, someone who has dedicated their professional life to taking care of those unable to care for themselves, catches the virus while at a grocery store and sparks a deadly cluster like the one we're seeing at Alder Bay.
On the flip side, you can put on that mask, limit your outings, make sure your business is operating as safely as possible and look for ways to support and care for the vulnerable around you, knowing that you're saving lives in the process.
These are the choices we each face. The truth is COVID-19 is going to cost us each a lot. It need not, however, take our souls.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the Journal's arts and features editor and prefers she/her pronouns. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor and prefers he/him pronouns. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.