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Pandemic

“Are we there yet?” Most of us are used to hearing that hollered from the backseat of the car on a long trip. This trip is an even longer one and the answer, decidedly, is “No, we’re definitely not there yet.”

Which journey is that? The pandemic we’ve all been navigating for more than a year now. It’s been a long haul, we were starting to see some familiar surroundings – businesses opening, more relaxed health and safety guidelines…not “normal” but starting to feel a little closer to it. But that feeling was premature and maybe it felt a little too comfortable, because things have U-turned and we’re now to have to “turn this car right around” and go back where nearly to we started.

Too obscure?

What we’re talking about is our COVID-19 case count and, more specifically, the whiplash we’re all going to get when we get wrenched back into High Risk Level, or possibly Extreme Risk Level, which would be all that much worse.

Just a few weeks ago, Columbia County finally moved to Moderate Risk, because our daily and cumulative case county had impressively reduced…and stayed that way. We needed to get to an average of 5 or less per day, according to public health officials. And we did.

“Moderate Risk” meant several really impactful things: It doubled the number of people who could be in gyms, restaurants, bars or venues, even our homes. It doubled the percentage capacity in churches, increased by a third the capacity in retail stores. It even supported return to school and youth sports. That felt great, didn’t it? Even then, though, we encouraged the true meaning of “moderate”….don’t go crazy, continue to be careful, keep doing what we were doing that got us there.

Case count blowup

Appears we didn’t hear that, get that, let alone do that. Our case count has blown up, day after day after day. Just in the past weekend, 32 new cases is more than TEN TIMES the number we can have and expect to stay open. Now, instead of 5 or fewer per day, our public health officials report that we need to be nearer 2 ½ per day to salvage this situation. Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. We’re officially in a two-week “caution period” before the next Risk Level rating and move.

We didn’t keep doing the things that we were doing so well, the things that were benefiting us before. Even with more vaccinations occurring, if we don’t wear face-coverings, wash our hands, distance from people whenever and however, we give up the only control we actually have in this whole thing: how we behave; how we protect ourselves, our families and our friends.

Yes, we’re all really tired of the pandemic and the collision of impact it’s having. And we’re certainly saddened by the tragic deaths that are occurring. With new strains developing and vaccination proceeding slower than we’d like, this is

all taking tolls on us from many angles and dimensions. But we simply must put our heads down and keep driving forward. We’ve seen things improve dramatically when we do just that.

Columbia County isn’t the only place this is happening. The counties next door, across the nation and elsewhere. Reported today, Michigan is reeling from thousands of new cases per day, threatening to overwhelm hospitals again, something that as a nation we thought we had put in the rear view mirror.

Controlling factors

But Columbia County is where we are and its where we can truly control some of the factors. Whether it’s for our own health, our families’ or our friends and co-workers, there are many very personal reasons to hit the brakes, re-set and re-commit to the best safety factors.

There’s another reason, and it’s economic. Fundamentally, an economy is the flow and transfer of goods and services; it’s about supply and demand. Right now, that’s completely disrupted. We have businesses -- and neighbors who run them -- that can’t confidently even re-open because if we get pulled back and they’re forced to close again, they likely will never re-open. Even when we hit” Moderate”, many waited, uncertain. That means employees aren’t re-hired, products and supplies aren’t ordered, and those all-important rings of economic multiplier effect don’t occur. Our local economies need balance – all the sectors operating and feeding each other. Uncertainty undermines the economy. Stability, consistency and confidence help it grow again.

Turn this car around

We need to turn this car around, because it’s headed a cliff. It may not be just about you, but your actions make a difference in how this virus spreads, who avoids getting infected, and how our case count can be controlled. Controlling what we can will affect what we’re able to do, personally, as a community, and as an economy. Let’s get back behind the wheel, we’re not there yet.

Paul Vogel is the executive director of the Columbia County Economic Team. He may be reached at 503-410-1061.

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