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Wendy Heaton: You are our last best hope

Other Voices
Wendy Heaton

The recent dustup over Ms. Senum’s opinion that a mandatory order to wear face masks is akin to government overreach reflects the pervasive divisiveness seen in our country today.

It is incomprehensible that, as a people, we can’t even agree on the nature of the public health crisis that threatens our lives, our livelihoods and the lives of people we love. It is even more disheartening that our elected officials are so polarized around ideology that communicating consistent messaging has become an impossible task, leaving “the people” to fend for themselves.

For example, in The Union’s July 1 article, “Nevada City mayor supports mask rule, but has skepticism,” Reinette Senum was quoted as saying: “I’m not telling you not to wear a mask. I’m telling you to do so at your own personal risk.” Instead of providing clear guidance, this kind of message communicates the notion that wearing a mask is maybe a good idea, or maybe not, because if a person chooses to wear a mask, perhaps it is dangerous to their own health.

This is like saying that if your house is burning down, maybe it’s a good idea to use a fire extinguisher, or maybe not, because people using a fire extinguisher should do so at their own risk. Or, wearing a safety belt is maybe a good idea, or maybe not, because the confining nature of safety belts could be dangerous, so do so at your own risk.

In the absence of clear leadership, what are we to do?

No wonder people are confused.

According to an article published on July 3 in The Economist, “The worst is to come. Based on research in 84 countries, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reckons that, for each recorded case, 12 go unrecorded and that for every two COVID-19 deaths counted, a third is misattributed to other causes. Without a medical breakthrough … the total number of cases will climb to 200 to 600 million by spring 2021. At that point, between 1.4 and 3.7 million people will have died. Even then, well over 90% of the world’s population will still be vulnerable to infection — more if immunity turns out to be transient.”

The actual outcome depends on the choices we make today. Epidemiologists agree that COVID-19 can be contained using three tactics: changes in behavior; testing, tracing and isolation; and if those fail, lockdowns. The worse a country is at testing, the more it has to fall back on the other two.

In the absence of clear leadership, what are we to do? Changing our behavior may be our best option, and each of you is our last best hope to make that happen. Now is the time to make the common sense changes needed to contain COVID-19. We may already be at the tipping point where this virus, like a wildfire burning out of control, makes its own weather that destroys everything in its path.

It’s been said that intelligence is the ability to learn from your mistakes, while wisdom is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. Ignorance can be understood as a condition remedied by the willingness to keep an open mind and to learn new things. By contrast, stupidity is characterized by indulging in behavior that works against one’s self-interest, and may also harm other people.

Our case numbers in Nevada County remained low during the shelter in place. Since the end of May when lockdowns eased, the number of positive test cases tripled (from 41 to 129, as of July 6, and now to 228 as of Tuesday morning).

As a community we made the sacrifice to stay at home, to flatten the curve and buy ourselves time. The recent surge indicates we let down our guard.

As wonderful and special as Nevada County may be, it does not possess unique immunity to a pandemic. To contain the virus, we all have to do our part to follow simple guidelines like wearing masks in public places, practicing social distancing, washing our hands, and staying out of crowded indoor spaces. Until a vaccine or treatment becomes available, this is the only way we can reduce transmission of a life-threatening virus while allowing our economy to get back on its feet.

You may have lost interest in the pandemic. It has not lost interest in you.

The cavalry is not coming to save us. You are the hero in this public health crisis.

Taking personal responsibility and wise action that serves your best interests and those of our community will contain this virus. You are our last best hope.

Wendy Heaton lives in Nevada City.


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