It’s hard to believe that we are already over four weeks into our COVID-19 lifestyle. Tremendous sacrifices have been made across the board. We just celebrated Easter without large family gatherings or in-person church services. Small business owners and those who are laid off are watching their bank accounts dwindle and wondering how they’re going to keep the lights on. Young peoples’ education has been slowed and their activities put on hold. A full list of the things folks have had to endure would be beyond the scope of this essay. The sacrifices are many, and they just keep getting deeper the longer this goes on.
At the same time, we look around Grant County and see that our hospital is not overwhelmed and wonder if this perhaps all a little over the top. Or could we at least start to relax a bit?
Initial models showed that Oregon would be overwhelmed by mid-April if business as usual was maintained. This is why we undertook social distancing so early and so aggressively here in Oregon. If you look across the country to New York City, you will see that they are digging mass graves for the dead from COVID. The reason isn’t that they’re so big, or so dense, or that so many people came in from abroad. The reason is that they didn’t start social distancing as early in their curve as we did here in Oregon. It’s as simple as that. Thanks to our aggressive social distancing, our curve of infections here in Oregon looks more like a plateau. Even better news, we may already be near the top of the plateau. If we keep doing what we’re doing, things may never get much worse, and we will start to see real improvement by mid-May.
Now that things look so good and we’ve already been doing all this social distancing for so long, it’s only natural to want to let up a little bit. Many of us are thinking about sneaking in a play date here or a visit to grandma there. Oregon Health Authority has models out at this point that show that, if we were to return to moderate social distancing, we would run out of ICU beds in Oregon by April 28. All of the sacrifices you made thus far will have been nullified by then if we give up too soon.
Before we can start relaxing social distancing, we need to see new cases in the state get to near zero for an extended period of time. We also need a plan for increased testing and contact tracing capacity. This isn’t the last of COVID-19. Moving forward, we need to plan on widespread testing and thorough contract tracing and targeted isolation of individuals and communities with positive tests. This kind of targeted approach just isn’t possible yet, and it isn’t feasible at a time when the nation as a whole is still adding tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases each week.
All of which is to say that we deserve a moment to feel proud of our efforts and relieved at the improved outlook. We deserve a moment to grieve for our sacrifices and the loved ones already lost to this disease. We deserve a moment to look forward to a time when we can hug a friend and go to the park. After these moments, we need to look ahead with steady resolve. We’re winning this first battle against COVID-19, but it’s too soon to declare victory, and the war is just beginning. So please, continue to stay home and safe to flatten the curve.