Navigating Through the Pandemic

We’ve seen this movie before, let’s script a better ending.

A killer virus sweeps across the country, like nothing we’ve experienced for more than a century. We must learn about it on the fly; there are no vaccines and no known cures. There’s no choice but to shut everything down and quarantine in our homes. Only essential workers punch the clock each day and hours get very long for the relative few who can, or must, show up and keep basic services – like hospitals running.

Economic crisis mounts

What’s even more disorienting today is that the sequel to that movie started before the first one ended. The virus is still here but now there are vaccines; we know how to stop it. Anyone who wants them has FREE access except the youngest (and most resilient). The plot thickens: people aren’t getting the vaccines and the virus is mutating – more aggressively infectious and even sickening some who’ve had their shots – or the virus.

Just last week, Oregon reported 7,196 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, and 31 more deaths. Columbia County alone reported 82 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases.

We were just leaving the theatre thinking the movie was ending, but it’s becoming a double feature because we haven’t wiped out the virus. We haven’t adequately protected our society by inoculating enough people to keep it at bay or cause it to fizzle out. Economic disruption begins anew. People are frustrated, scared or dismissive, a horrendous combination. Just last week the Washington Post ran this insightful piece: The delta variant arrived at just the right time to break our spirits.

Side effects of the pandemic are in full play. Resistance to getting inoculated. Resistance to protecting ourselves, our families, our co-workers. Even just plain uncertainty and indecision are creating a paralysis of progress with the vaccine that’s as debilitating as the virus itself.

Last year’s scenes were bad: Businesses were shut tight; bills couldn’t be paid. Family and friends isolated, hundreds of thousands dying alone. Entire factories shut down by outbreaks, manufacturing and supply chains interrupted or broken. Health systems and hospitals overloaded to the breaking point. Mandatory masking that nobody likes though scientifically makes a difference.

Oregonians were so focused on when the mask mandate would be lifted, they didn’t give thought to whether that requirement might come back. Maybe we all got a little lazy, or numb. But the need for masks is back, indoors at least, and that’s a movie scene that foreshadows more bad things happening. We’re going backwards.

What happened? Just like in a movie, the sun rose the next day. Vaccines were developed at record pace. People got protected and fewer were getting sick and dying. Businesses re-opened. The arguments over whether to mask seem to diffuse even if they still confused. We got better.

But we didn’t get well. Not by a long shot. Now the virus is mutating. There’s delta and lambda, and more and more people are getting sick; not surprisingly -- the unvaccinated. Of concern, some who’ve been vaccinated are getting sick too, so booster shots are almost certainly on the horizon. More disruption, resistance, and indecision. There are some serious reasons for concern about this acknowledged and predictable new wave.

Some are global in scope; others are local and there are actions in play to help address them.

Hospital impact

The new variant is starting to max hospitals to the breaking point. Let’s all remind ourselves: we don’t have a hospital here. If those in our “region” -- which means the Portland area -- get overloaded – our families, our friends, ourselves…. where do we go? Health care workers are quitting in droves. We’ve run them into the ground over the past year… and yet we refuse to help ourselves avoid having to go to the hospital. Would you stay and work? Hospital-less Columbia County is in trouble if “our” hospitals start turning people away. What we need to do: stay healthy.

Coming in the Aug. 20 edition of The Chief, what Columbia County businesses can do to move forward.

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

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