Pandemic 2021: Work the number, work together

(This guest column was originally published in The Chronicle

We’re surrounded by a sea of changing numbers around COVID: confirmed cases, hospitalizations, death rate, vaccinations, and more.

They’re all very sobering and keep us mindful of those who we have lost personally and as a nation, those who are at greatest risk from the virus as well as the economic downturn, and those who are working fearlessly and tirelessly on the front lines of treatment.

Encouragingly, on Monday, February 8, the U.S. reported fewer than 100,000 new cases for the previous day, and hospitalizations continued to decline. For the same Sunday, Oregon reported 305 new confirmed and presumptive cases and just one additional death – although our state sadly crossed the threshold of more than 2,000 deaths over the weekend. Mercifully, only three new infection cases were reported in Columbia County for Sunday.

The fact that our county has maintained relatively low new case count numbers over the past few days provides a small ray of hope, both medically and economically. We need to seize both the opportunity and responsibility that goes with it. There is significant community and personal interest at stake.

If we maintain low numbers throughout the next week to 10 days, Columbia County stands a decent chance of being moved from the Extreme Risk category to High Risk—which may not sound like much but means a lot.

First, it means fewer people are getting sick; that’s good. Second, it means there can be further easing of restrictions that will allow our businesses, especially gyms and restaurants, to operate differently and welcome some guests indoors. Any improvement in that

regard is a help to our entire community. What’s more important, though, is making sure they can stay more open, and not get whipsawed so our numbers go back up and they close down. Again.

For a county to make it (down) to the High Risk level there has to be a COVID-19 case count of less than 200 per 100,000 people, and a test positivity rate of less than 10%. Even Washington County is currently below the case count for the 14 day assessment cycle. Columbia County can do this.

What it will take is to keep on doing what we’re doing, and sustain it. Wear your mask or face covering. Keep your distance. Don’t hang out with anyone new. Wash your hands – a lot. Clean surfaces – your phone, your keys, your wallet, everything that may get exposed to the virus when you’re out. And keep being responsible.

Being responsible means what we’re doing here, apparently: avoiding outbreaks by avoiding crowds. And parties. And events.

Businesses are being responsible by testing, relentlessly cleaning, shielding, limiting customers and adapting in order to keep doing business. Things like self-serve carts and merchandising, take out, expanding web pages for online ordering and information – as well as e-commerce and Zoom customer service. They want to be working as much as you want them to be. And you’re helping make it work by being responsive and respectful. The honor-system at the flower cart is keeping that business alive, and brightening the days of people you care for.

The vaccines are slowly getting out there. As frustrating as they are, the systems seem to be improving. But it’s tough on many, especially those without reliable broadband (a lot of people here). Help your neighbors, especially seniors. Go online, figure out the sign-up and then register them for a shot. Throw on a mask and shield and drive them to it. The sooner front-liners, teachers, seniors and those with compromised health get vaccinated, the sooner the rest of us will too.

Remember back when we were talking about response, recovery and respect? We were also talking about a fourth R: Resilience. Resilience means doing everything we can to keep the numbers down, get businesses re-opened, and keep them re-opened. Give business owners the confidence to commit to the next steps toward normal by doing everything you can to reduce your own risk, and that of our county.

Let’s get to High Risk next week, and Low Risk by March. We can do this.

Paul Vogel

Executive Director of Columbia Economic Team

Previous Pandemic: Financial boost for local businesses, nonprofits