Avoiding a rollback of coronavirus restrictions in Clark County is up to us. All of us. Collectively. As a community watching out for our health and that of our neighbors.
That requires the wearing of masks in public, avoiding close contact with others, frequently washing hands, and staying home when possible. The alternative is a persistent COVID-19 outbreak that could lead to renewed shutdown orders for businesses, prevent schools from opening in the fall and result in overwhelmed health care facilities.
As a partial reopening of the economy in recent weeks has demonstrated, the coronavirus pandemic is not going to magically disappear. Keeping it check requires diligence and common sense.
Thus far, the results in Clark County have been mixed. Infections have increased, which is to be expected with the loosening of restrictions. But Washington’s fifth-most populous county ranks only eighth in terms of coronavirus cases in the state — a promising sign.
Still, the county’s infection rate — the number of new cases over a two-week period per 100,000 population — was at 54.5 on Monday. That is more than double the level allowed for the state to relax restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus. Clark County is in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase “Safe Start” program and will be fortunate to stay there.
On Monday, state Secretary of Health John Wiesman reported that he is returning all “Safe Start” applications, including Clark County’s, in the wake of a statewide surge of cases. On July 17, the state released a report that said the current growth rate is “explosive,” with an accelerated spread across most areas and an increased infection rate in all age groups, including children and teens.
“Washington state is in the early stages of an exponential statewide outbreak that has zero chance of being reversed without changes to our collective behavior and policies to support that change,” the report said. “If current trends continue, we expect that schools will not be able to reopen safely in the fall. Further transmission control will require enhanced compliance with masking and distancing policies and further restricting gatherings that likely fuel virus spread.”
From the start, Washington was at the forefront of disease response in the United States. It was the first to report a case of the virus, which originated in China and has become a pandemic. It was the first to report a COVID-19 death. Washington also was the first state to implement strict measures for combating the virus, with stay-at-home orders proving effective in limiting its spread. The state ranks 29th per capita in deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Now, we appear to be at a crossroads as other states that haphazardly reopened businesses are reporting huge spikes in infections and overwhelmed medical facilities.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee warned that renewed restrictions are possible. “If these trends continue, we would have to look at the things that are least problematic for people’s daily survival, least essential for our economy, and most dangerous by bringing people together in social settings,” he said. “Clearly, those would involve bars. Those would involve indoor dining at restaurants. The things that were the last things to come out of shutdown would be the first things we’d have to go back on.”
That would be a worst-case scenario, thrusting a dagger into an already teetering economy. Avoiding it is up to all of us.