Opinion: ‘A small glimmer of light is beginning to peek through the dark clouds of the stay-at-home orders’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares his current thoughts on the coronavirus and plans to re-open the economy and other aspects of life impacted by stay-at-home orders

I live on a street that dead ends into a cul-de-sac that connects with a paved path that is popular among runners, walkers and even bicyclists. So, on nice days like those we’ve been blessed with recently, there is often a stream of folks heading up or down my street in their pursuit of those outdoor activities.

Recently, I pulled my car up to my neighborhood postal box. As I got out to get my mail, a walker or runner appeared on the sidewalk near where I was struggling to collect the mail that had accumulated in my box, the result of several days without a visit from me. The man on the sidewalk paused about 30 feet away from me, offering me plenty of social distancing as a courtesy. I tried to return the favor by hurrying to complete the retrieval of my mail, so as not to interrupt his walk/run anymore than I already had.

As I got back into my car with my handful of prescriptions, junk mail, etc., I thanked the man through my open window and encouraged him to “have a great day!’’ I thought to myself, “yep, this is our new normal.’’

As I have shared with you in this space recently, my social interaction over the past six weeks has been reduced dramatically. I’m blessed with the ability to work from home, for the most part. Like most of you, I have a myriad of options when it comes to shopping for groceries and other household items so I haven’t stepped foot into a grocery store in how long I can’t even recall. And, I have no desire to do so.

My lone indulgence, if you will, is an occasional drive in my car to enjoy some fresh air and to witness the world I’ve recently departed from, the frequency of which becoming ever-increasing. In the past six weeks, I’ve driven through virtually all parts of Clark County and beyond. My head is always on a swivel, trying to gather as much of a flavor of how the rest of you are living right now as I can.

I’ve driven by the same high school twice in the last week, and the parking lot is at least 20-25 percent full of cars, driven there by folks who are enjoying some fitness or athletic activities on the track and fields at the site. Each time, there was a pickup soccer game taking place on the main field in front of the grandstands.

I drive by trailheads with multiple cars parked in the limited space provided, occasionally seeing folks beginning or ending their recreation. I drive by a dog park near my home often and there are always too many people and their pets to count. I could go on and on about what I spy with my little eye, but I think you get the picture.

I don’t know what you think when you witness scenes like the ones I’ve just described, but what goes through my mind is that there is absolutely no reason life can’t go on during this pandemic. And, just like the man who paused to allow me time and space to get my mail, we don’t need Big Brother to tell us exactly how to protect ourselves or each other.

The mounting pressure to open back up

It’s been almost two weeks since President Donald Trump announced the three-phased plan, devised by members of his task force, to re-open the country. And, thankfully, a small glimmer of light is beginning to peek through the dark clouds of the stay-at-home orders.

Here, in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee announced late last week that the residential and commercial construction industry can go back to work, as long as it adheres to social distancing guidelines. Just yesterday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it will allow some recreational fishing and hunting next week and that department and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission announced they will re-open state-managed lands next week for day-use only recreation.

For many of us, we’re eager to see the dark clouds swept away with a much greater urgency. Since this pandemic began, I’ve attempted to stay in my lane. I don’t argue about science because I’m not a scientist. I’m not a healthcare official, so I’ve obeyed what those who are have told me to do. But, I will say, there are things that I just don’t understand.

I don’t understand what I perceive to be irrational fear about life returning closer to normal. Just like was the case with 9/11, I don’t think our lives will ever return exactly to normal. I believe incidents like the one I experienced the other day while getting my mail will be a regular part of our everyday lives moving forward. I believe we will continue to protect ourselves. I’ve shared with you before, I consider myself among the vulnerable in our society because of my age and health, so I’m taking the necessary measures to protect myself. 

In recent days, social media has been flooded with the video of the two doctors from Bakersfield, CA who offered their interpretation of what biological science and COVID-19 statistics tells about our ability, and even need, to re-open society. They’ve both been held up as brave geniuses and mad, evil scientists, depending on which side of the debate one resides. I watched the hour-long video (which can be found all over social media, YouTube, etc.) and they didn’t say a single thing that scared me about re-opening our world. And, I can’t help but wonder if those who were terrified by what the doctors had to say aren’t the ones who are exposing themselves to great risks of infection by waiting in line every morning at WinCo and Costco to grab yet another precious package of toilet paper and disinfectant.

I also don’t understand the need for so many to have to be told to do the right thing by our elected officials and government leaders. Folks like myself get scoffed at and ridiculed when we throw around such ridiculous ideals like freedom, and rights, and a silly little thing like the U.S. Constitution.

Collateral damage

Another thing that I just don’t understand about this pandemic and its impact on our lives is the collateral damage. We like to measure everything these days. The number of cases, test results and even deaths related to COVID-19. What about everything that isn’t being measured?

The Bakersfield doctors referred to the anecdotal evidence that they have witnessed, and that has been shared with them, when it comes to impacts of the stay-at-home orders. Things like the deterioration of mental, emotional and physical health, and increase in cases of abuse and even suicides. We are quick to attach COVID-19 as a cause to deaths if there is any possible link, but we’re not attaching the stay-at-home orders as a cause for many of those other tragedies. And, you can’t convince me an increase doesn’t exist.

What about the economic casualties of the stay-at-home orders and how that will impact our lives going forward? I hear so many people who are almost giddy at the notion of receiving stimulus checks from the government. I know of people who are making more in state and federal unemployment benefits than they were making when they were working. Others are trying to create scenarios where they shouldn’t be required to pay their rent or mortgage during the pandemic. I know I’m not the only one who is concerned about what is waiting for us on the other side of all this economic calamity?

I’m not suggesting we re-open the country in one fell swoop. The three-phased plan devised by President Trump and his task force was created with plenty of safeguards and checkpoints along the way to protect us. I’m comfortable that the stay-at-home orders were put in place. They obviously have done their job “flattening the curve’’ as they say. This pandemic was gaining speed and momentum and we were scrambling to gain a full understanding of it. But, as of Monday, there there were 14 people hospitalized in Clark County with confirmed COVID-19 cases, including four people in intensive care. I don’t live in New York, Los Angeles or even Seattle. I live in Clark County!

And, I for one, am feeling more and more comfortable assuming my right to continue making my own decisions on how to protect myself while watching this country attempt to minimize the other very real impacts created by this pandemic.