The news of skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 infections across the United States is reminding us of the original meaning of the phrase “going viral.”

If you’re talking about a social media post going viral, that’s a good thing.

If you’re talking about an actual virus, like COVID-19, viral spread is greatly concerning.

We are seeing fear that hospitals across the Midwest will soon be overwhelmed by COVID patients, mostly due to the challenges of having enough healthy staff.

Shortages of nurses and other health care workers in North Dakota have led the governor to allow those with a positive COVID test but no symptoms to remain on the job (but yet he has not initiated a statewide mask mandate).

We don’t want this to happen in Oregon. Especially in rural Oregon, where hospitals are small, few and far between.

Viral means uncontrolled. It means aggressive. It means rapidly spreading.

We know what we need to do to slow the spread.

The CDC announced this week that not only do masks work to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, but that “increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion or about 5% of gross domestic product.”

We’re at the point where we should assume that many people around us are infected, and act accordingly. Wearing a multi-layer cloth mask, keeping your distance and limiting the time spent with other people indoors are all important.

News of the Pfizer vaccine achieving 90% of effectiveness in clinical trials is encouraging. However, there is a long road ahead. Assuming it gets FDA approval, there are significant logistical challenges that must be overcome before anyone in Eastern Oregon can be protected by the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be continuously stored at temperatures of -100 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, requiring an “ultra-cold” distribution chain that does not currently exist.

The vaccine is shipped in batches of 1,000. This could work well in urban areas, where it would be fairly easy to assemble that many people. Not so in rural America.

And it’s not a one-shot-and-you’re-immune kind of vaccine. Two shots are required, 21 days apart, and acquiring immunity takes some time after that point.

Health care providers, emergency personnel and other essential workers are likely to be put at the front of the line for the new vaccine, along with people at high risk for severe infection due to underlying medical conditions, and people 65 years and older.

So, we have many months ahead before a COVID vaccine will make a dramatic impact on the pandemic.

Our advice: Find a comfortable multi-layer cloth mask and hunker down.

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