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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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In Our View: Three years later, what has pandemic taught us?

The Columbian

On March 5, 2020, the headline on The Columbian’s editorial read: “Employ caution but don’t panic over COVID-19.” Ten deaths in Washington had been attributed to the virus at that point.

Six days later, the World Health Organization declared a COVID pandemic, and two days after that — three years and one day ago — Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the closing of schools throughout Washington in response to the outbreak.

In other words, it has been three years since a previously unknown virus upended lives and spurred divisions in American society. It has been a long three years.

But while debates about COVID and preventive measures continue today, this is not the time to rehash those arguments. Instead, it is instructive to examine what we have learned during the past three years.

One is that COVID is still with us — and likely will be forever. On Thursday, Clark County Public Health reported 195 new COVID cases and 10 new deaths in the county over the previous week. That is despite the fact that most infections go unreported these days, with many people opting to use at-home testing and isolation rather than visiting a medical facility.

Those numbers are not unique. As of late January, an average of five Washington deaths per day were being blamed on the disease. In our state and elsewhere, the vast majority of deaths have been people age 65 and older.

From the outset, Washington has ranked among the 10 states with the lowest COVID infection and mortality rates. Proponents will credit Inslee’s response to the pandemic for keeping those numbers relatively low, and such credit might be warranted. But the second lesson from the pandemic is that Washington must adjust state law regarding emergency orders.

In our state, the governor has unilateral powers for declaring and renewing emergency orders. That is necessary when an emergency arises; somebody needs to be in charge, especially when a situation is in flux. But once that situation stabilizes and additional information is available, the governor’s powers should be limited.

As The Columbian has written editorially: “Imagine, for a moment, if a governor decided that gun violence in the state is an emergency and declared an indefinite halt to all gun sales. Or if another governor decided that abortion was an emergency and closed reproductive health clinics. Either scenario is extreme and would invite numerous court challenges, but the absurd examples demonstrate the need to strengthen the checks and balances in state government. No governor of either party should have unfettered power.”

While common sense says the governor’s powers should be limited, the Democratic-led Legislature has been reluctant to take such action while a Democrat is in charge.

Meanwhile, the most important lesson from COVID has been the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. Operation Warp Speed — launched under legislation signed by President Donald Trump — quickly developed vaccines that have prevented countless deaths and allowed Americans to regain some semblance of normalcy in their daily lives.

Contrary to unfounded claims, COVID vaccines have not led to widespread side effects. Nor do they contain microchips.

More than 1 million American deaths have been blamed on COVID. That is a tragedy that reflects the unimaginable scope of the disease. To properly honor those deaths, Americans must learn the appropriate lessons the pandemic has provided for us.