I felt a strong sense of déjà vu last week when I had to scramble to post information about a sudden, late-night announcement from Gov. Kate Brown about Umatilla County being sent back to the “stay home” phase of the pandemic.
It felt like March, when we had a constant parade of new restrictions to announce. I don’t think anyone suspected that five months later we would be back to square one, but here we are.
In many ways, we’re actually in a worse position now, with more people sick and no rush of sudden financial help from Congress for closed businesses and laid-off workers. The Hermiston Herald survived the plunge in advertising revenues last time by cutting four of our seven remaining positions. I worry about what the future holds in this newest round of shutdowns, but I know many of our advertisers and readers are in an even worse position as “nonessential” businesses. We are working on plans to help with that, including free listings for businesses impacted by the shutdown.
Like most people, I have complaints about how some elected officials, from the governor to county commissioners, have handled aspects of this. It was frustrating to see week after week of troubling numbers for Hermiston with little real action to proportionately step up the response, only to slam the brakes on our economy overnight.
Whatever people’s opinions on whether a shutdown is the right action, however, this is the reality we live in. We were told if we didn’t handle reopening responsibly and our numbers started increasing too fast that reopening would be reversed. That’s exactly what has happened.
We also know what will come next: Three weeks from the shutdown date, officials will evaluate a wide range of metrics for our county, such as the percent of COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive (this keeps counties from trying to cheat the system by testing fewer people). If our numbers have improved enough, we get to move back to Phase 1. If not, restrictions stay in place.
No amount of venting on Facebook about how much you hate the governor will help reopen a single business or school in Umatilla and Morrow counties. The only thing we can control is our own actions in helping us get to a place where businesses can legally reopen and customers will feel it is safe to return.
Do whatever you think will help to get us there. Keep your interactions with people not living in your household to a minimum, and outdoors where possible. Work from home if you’re able. Wear a mask and keep it securely on the whole time you’re in contact with others. Be vigilant about hygiene and cleaning. Get tested if you think you might have COVID-19, and quarantine until the results are back. Cooperate with contact tracers. Commit to being a patient voice of reason and a good example.
I’ve lived in Hermiston seven years as of next month, and I’ve stayed so long because I’ve enjoyed my time here. Overall, this is a good community with good people in it. But our continued position as the coronavirus capital of Oregon is an embarrassment. No one in the rest of the state is talking about Hermiston’s generosity or our can-do attitude. They’re speculating why we have been particularly bad at protecting our nursing home residents and essential workers, and calling us ignorant.
Other former COVID-19 hot spots have reformed. New York City, once the face of COVID-19 for the United States, got the virus under control and is seeing a fraction of the cases they were this spring. The same is true of Italy.
We can do this. But we can’t expect to keep going exactly as we have been and somehow see a different outcome.