Crucial Point in the Pandemic

As Jefferson County awaits and shifts part of its COVID-19 response to the arrival and distribution of long-awaited vaccines, KPTZ brings you an important message for your consideration regarding the state of our COVID-19 epidemic. 

This year, holiday gatherings present a challenge to our celebratory expectations. It’s so tempting to want to gather with friends and family during this holiday.  It’s what we expect and want to do this time of year….but we are faced with the fact that COVID-19 cases are being reported in greater numbers now than in the beginning of the pandemic.

Following warnings from government and public health officials, many Americans either stayed home or limited the size of their Thanksgiving gatherings. In nearly all counties, people had fewer contacts this Thanksgiving than they did last year…but cases are still rising. As one public health official stated, ”The fact is, many people took precautions and that helped towards slowing the steep increase in cases … but it’s not been enough. Many of our hospitals are close to running out of ICU beds and staff to care for really sick people.” The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has projected that our state will run out of ICU beds in early January 2021. The surge of COVID-19 cases is threatening the well-being of our medical professionals. as well as tragically having to consider rationing our medical care.

Every community sits at a crossroad. Our individual and collective behavior is crucial in determining whether coronavirus cases continue to rise over the next few months. Our efforts at masking, distancing, and hand-washing served us well when there was a low amount of virus circulating, but each surge has increased the level of circulating virus enough to make an impact now. We need to use every action and recommendation from public health professionals to dramatically shut down the continued spread of this virus.

Here is what we know works:
• Following public health recommendations reduces new COVID-19 cases. 
• Distancing provides the best protection from coming into contact with the virus.
• You get an added layer of protection when social distancing is paired with wearing a mask over your nose and mouth any time you step out your front door. 
• And handwashing is always a defense against spreading germs.

Your greatest risk for exposure to the virus is being inside a closed environment. The more time you spend inside, the more likelihood of exposure and infection. Our public health officer Dr. Tom Locke has stated that small gatherings with people who don’t currently live in our house currently drive the increase in cases in Jefferson County. Case investigation and contact tracing is critical to reduce the spread of any communicable disease. When the number of cases outpaces the local resources available, it becomes more difficult to quickly identify and quarantine infectious persons and their close contacts. Although it’s typical for viruses to mutate, a lower number of cases means fewer chances to mutate. 

The good news: here is what we can do going forward: 
• In November our Governor, upon the advice of health professionals, asked us to forgo the traditional family and friends gatherings we typically have this time of year. More of us need to keep this up until the cases go down to a manageable level.
• If you have any symptoms typical of COVID-19 infection, get tested. Don’t hesitate.
• Re-visit what you consider are your basic and indispensable needs. Dr. Locke has encouraged us not to skip routine or preventative medical and dental care, but cautions us to reduce travel to nearby counties that have a greater surge in new cases. 
• Staying home is still safest. To get essential supplies, keep it quick, keep your distance and wear a face covering. 
• Support local businesses. Many of our local merchants and restaurants have demonstrated their willingness to adapt their services with curbside pick-up. Supporting them makes it possible for them to survive this pandemic.

Nothing is more important than ensuring the health and safety of our communities, our workforce and our beloved businesses.