masked woman

Alex Schminke, of Wallowa, wears a mask while shopping at Safeway April 6th. “It’s just the smart thing to do,” she said.

A fully functioning COVID-19 response requires access to a full data set

Beginning last week, masked people began appearing on Wallowa County streets and in places of business. No law enforcement officer was called. And a lot of people were relieved.

Now that the CDC has recommended masks, and we have some guidelines for making effective ones (NOT just a bandana, please. At least wrap a double-thickness of coffee filter in it!), they are becoming a new statement if not of fashion, at least of caring about COVID-19. And no, those homemade masks won’t keep the masked person from contracting COVID-19. Instead, they lower the chance of the mask-wearer unwittingly transmitting coronavirus and COVID-19 to others. So thanks, everyone, for taking that extra step to wear a mask in a time of pandemic. And double thanks to the legion of community volunteers who are making them as a boost for medical providers’ masks and for the general public.

But like those who persist in believing that homemade masks prevent them for contracting the disease, or that wearing just the old-fashioned cowboy bandana will save you, there is a whole lot of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and vitriol circulating out there. It’s a disease in and of itself. It thrives on Facebook. And it damages our capacity to pull together and defeat this thing.

It doesn’t help us that real information can be hard to come by, and that for fear of inciting panic, bad news seems to sometimes be minimized. A less-than-transparent public information network does not help us cope with what may be a public health crisis. For example, the Oregon Health Authority reports the number of NEW, confirmed cases, number of fatalities and the number of cases tested statewide each day. What they do not report in that first blush of daily statistics is the rising TOTAL of cases, which now tops 1,000, or the percentage rise from day to day. (The total is reported on their website. But that requires an additional web excursion and it would be simple to include the total in the first page of the daily briefing.)

Similarly, OHA has reported one COVID-19 case in Wallowa County — which belongs to Union County, and trust here goes out the window.

Even more alarming here at home, OHA statistics, and information from Wallowa Memorial Hospital state that only 18 people in Wallowa County have actually been TESTED for COVID-19. EIGHTEEN. Providers here have not been able to obtain an adequate supply of test kits. What we don’t know, and what would be helpful to understand, is how many people have asked for tests and been turned down because they did not meet the high bar of a 104 degree fever, cough, overseas travel or contact with a known COVID-19 patient? How many of us would like to be tested or have a test available if we feel we need one? If we were in South Korea, India, or any number of other nations, we would be tested if we wished. When we are told that only 18 people have been tested and none of them are or were positive, why would we want to go to the trouble of running around in face masks to avoid infecting others? If we have no facts, no data or flawed data to base our concerns and actions on, the human tendency is to invent your own data and explanations, or find some from a potentially less reliable source. Which is not a really good thing.

We applaud WMH, the commission, and the Sheriff’s department for providing a weekly video update. But there is still more info that could be shared. Please, agencies and providers, put it ALL out there. It also is our own personal responsibilities to stay informed, to read things fully, to think, and to act rationally. Seriously, we won’t panic because we have too much information. We’ll don our face masks, continue social distancing, and hold the fort as best we can.

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