We have it good here — until we don’t. That’s the problem with a stealthy virus that has many asymptomatic carriers and a several week delay before the full outcome of today’s situation is actually seen.

With the daily number of new coronavirus cases reaching all-time highs in Oregon and other Western states, here are some things to consider if you think the virus is unlikely to affect Wallowa County in a significant way.

It may be a surprise to many that on the Wallowa County case rate (standardized for size of population) ranks as 16th highest among Oregon’s 36 counties as of July 1. In other words, more than half the counties are doing better than us even though we consider ourselves quite geographically isolated — it just feels better than that because our case count is low.

Oregon’s average positivity rate more than doubled the last two weeks of June (4.3%) compared to the last two weeks of May (1.8%). Comparing the same two time periods, Oregon’s average number of daily COVID hospitalizations nearly doubled.

It’s true, the severity of illness within Oregon’s reported cases declined in June. This is due to a greater fraction of the cases occurring in younger age groups, with younger people being less likely to require hospitalization or die from COVID. But the fact has problematic long-term consequences.

First, over time, these younger people will absolutely transmit the virus to the older more vulnerable population.

Second, with their generally higher sociability and mobility, younger people are accelerating the spread and seeding the virus in a more geographically comprehensive way into Oregon’s towns and rural areas. This means towns and rural areas are likely to experience much-higher case counts this fall/winter when the virus is inactivated more slowly and people spend more time indoors.

There is a very clear consensus among public officials nationally that a major problem is poor compliance and lack of vigilance by some of the citizenry. These problems in our neighbor Union County have led to 342 known cases, although luckily only one death so far. Wallowa County has 10 known cases. But could our fate this fall/winter be similar to Union County’s current numbers?

What can be done to lower our future numbers? There is only one answer: greater individual responsibility.

If not doing so already, employ multiple protections to reduce your chance of exposure and to reduce your dose of virus if you are exposed. How large a dose a person receives affects the chance of becoming ill and the severity of illness. If you decide not to do some protections, strongly consider doing the others. The five primary protections are: outside of your household reduce the number and duration of contacts, use a mask in public and wash it regularly, increase social distance, increase household/business ventilation with outdoor air to dilute any virus present in the space and wash hands regularly and keep hands from airways.

Masks help protect both you and others. Medical professionals have known this for generations and the knowledge has been reaffirmed in new studies. Unfortunately, this long-known truth was complicated by dire mask shortages and excuses.

Some people say COVID isn’t that much more of a risk than flu. Not true. After adjusting for differences in how deaths from each disease are counted — and thus providing a better apples-to-apples comparison — COVID deaths in the U.S. during April’s peak week were found to be 20 times greater than during the peak week of flu deaths (recent seven-year average), according to an article published May 14 in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal.

When that number is adjusted for each disease’s prevalence throughout a year, COVID is roughly 100-times deadlier.

Economists say there won’t be an economic recovery anywhere until the virus is brought under much better control and public confidence improves. If helping protect our family’s, friend’s and local community’s health doesn’t ring true, does helping the recovery of our local and state economy ring true?

Expanding to the global level and integrating multiple key COVID metrics, only one country has, so far, done worse than the U.S. in controlling the coronavirus. It seems our nation should be able to do much better than next to last.

———

Fred Brockman lives in Lostine and is a retired research microbiologist.

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