Wearing protective gear, Creswell Food Pantry manager Susan Blachnik helps loads boxes into cars during the Pantry’s “new normal” of drive-thru pick-up service and increasing need. MARTHA MCREYNOLDS JR./PHOTO
After weeks of being in quarantine, and with COVID-19 recorded infections slowing down in Lane County, people are itching for life to get back to normal. But health officials insist on not scratching that itch just yet.
Lane County is not out of the woods, and won’t be anytime soon if the public does not continue to adhere to the stay-at-home order, said Jason Davis, public information officer at Lane County Public Health.
“We are sitting in a very vulnerable spot, but in a confident spot — a good spot considering the rest of the country, but we can still have an outbreak here and be the next Seattle if people don’t adhere to the restrictions now,” Davis said. “We do not have a high degree of immunity to this thing as a community.”
After May 25, relaxing social distancing might be possible in Oregon with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation and limiting gathering size, according to projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Davis said he understands that the containment strategies can be hard to accept because people cannot physically see the danger.
“Everyone is being told to alter their daily lives but can’t see why,” Davis said. “That is especially true as cases have dropped off. In the last few days the county hasn’t reported a new case. It is getting harder and harder for people to see rationale to get on the other side of this.”
But the more relaxed on the restrictions people become during quarantine, the greater risk of prolonging the pandemic, Davis said. Davis said last weekend, the county was given a B- grade on social distancing. The worst weekend so far was Easter weekend, and Davis attributes the uptick in gatherings to holiday celebration and exceptionally nice weather.
The county’s public health officials are gauging social distance, which is compared by several years of data, Davis said, and is collected several different ways, from monitoring social media for events and gatherings to road usage reports. He is anticipating what case numbers will look like around April 26, the two-week incubation period for COVID-19 following the busy holiday weekend.
“We’re looking 14 days out from Easter to see if there is a cluster of new cases,” Daivs said, noting that this week there seemed to be more traffic and people gathering.
Automobile traffic reportedly has been down in Springfield in recent weeks.
According to the Springfield Traffic Section of the Operations Division, the traffic volume from the January baseline had dropped 20% by March 18; 39% by March 25; 35% by April 1; 33% by April 8; and 27% by April 15.
Springfield public information officer Amber Fossen said that while these numbers are not a cumulative reduction, and that there were fewer count locations in April than in March, “Overall it’s a good basic assessment of the response by community members to public health guidance around COVID-19 and the state’s stay-home order.”
Creswell City Manager Michelle Amberg said that she is observing good behavior in Creswell, too. “I am seeing more and more people wearing masks around Creswell especially when shopping,” she said. “It shows tremendous consideration for others.”
Davis said that “If people are serious about not having this virus take hold in Lane County then we will be okay. We can reap the rewards long-term if we (follow the restrictions) right now. We can get back to work and limit financial impacts sooner if we do everything we can now to stall the spread and get us back on track.”
Amberg agreed. “The better we are at showing that we can go out and not spread the virus, the quicker we can open businesses that are closed,” she said. “That matters quite a lot in a small town like ours. We owe it to the vulnerable and to our local business owners to take care and follow the Center for Disease Control precautions.”
Getting life back on track will happen soon only if we cut off the supply chain for the virus — “us,” Davis said.
“You can recognize opposition and feel strongly about different topics and still understand that this is a real threat, regardless of how the virus came here, regardless of who the president is,” Davis said. “The virus doesn’t care about politics or gender; it wants to infect as many people as possible. We have a pointed need to slow the spread and keep it from spreading in our community.”
He said that the disruption of life and financial hardship are valid struggles, but not reasons to do the opposite of the stay-at-home order. “You can disagree with the tactics and the government and still understand this virus is a real thing, that it is not a hoax,” Davis said. “You can see it happening all around you.”
Even if you are not high risk, having COVID-19 is a terrible experience, Davis said.
Davis said he’s looked at nearly all reported 48 cases in Lane County, and said that “mild cases are not that mild. If you have COVID you’re going to be very miserable, sick for a long time and will have to miss work. Several teens and people in their 20s were hit really hard and were down and were miserable with body aches and chills.”
It is in everyone’s best interest to slow the spread by continuing to stay at home, Davis said. ”A lot of people in our community will need hospitalization if they get this,” Davis said.
“Those people deserve to be protected through our diligence. To deal with inconvenience and to suffer some financial hardship in order to save lives, it’s worth it,” he said.