Just because trouble comes visiting doesn’t mean you have to offer it a place to sit down.

Good job, Blaine County. We suffered a sneak attack by viral interlopers aiming to stir up trouble, but we united like a cowboy posse to defend ourselves against a band of outlaws. Many communities continue to be divided on how to respond to this bizarre pestilence and they’ve turned on each other, fighting among themselves. Not us. When we found ourselves in a hole, we stopped digging. You’d have to search far and wide to find another county that repelled the bad guys like we did. Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than getting it back in, but we managed. We should be proud of ourselves.

However, the microscopic scoundrels still lurk among us. We must remain vigilant.

Like most people who strap planks to their feet and direct them down a snow-covered slope, I’m not cautious by nature. I initially thought people were overreacting to COVID-19 since SARS and Ebola were mostly duds. But then our town got clobbered at the same time northern Italy was being utterly devastated. That’s when I realized this was the real deal.

This year has been hard on all of us. It’s difficult to know the exact path forward because we’ve suffered from both the disease and efforts to avoid it. Too much caution can be as bad as sticking your head in the sand. The shutdown has hurt most of us economically. Mental illness and depression are on the rise. People need to work. Children need school and sports.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I have a few. Masks and social distancing have been shown to be very effective at halting the spread of the virus. Keep your distance, cowboy, and never let ’em see your face. That’s easy pickings compared to a shutdown and the best way to be a good neighbor, at least for the time being.

Here’s a few interesting things I’ve learned recently. Almost all illnesses affect older people disproportionally, but COVID-19 is exceptionally hard on the elderly. There is evidence that this is due to an increase in the number of ACE2 nasal receptors as we age. The coronavirus attaches to the ACE2 receptor to worm its way in, so older people get a significantly higher initial viral load. Weaker defenses plus more virus equals a much higher death rate.

The CDC says that about 15 minutes of close proximity to an infected person will often lead to contagion. Being outdoors is 20 times safer than indoors. The first reinfections in the world were documented recently, but today’s total is five reinfections out of 25 million cases. What matters is what happens with most people, not the exceptions. In my next opinion piece, I will discuss the hunt for a vaccine. I want to end this one on a personal note.

Social distancing can be achingly lonely, and I remember the loneliest time in my life, when my family moved to Mississippi. Alone on the elementary school playground, I wished I had just one friend. I began to dread recess because it was a reminder of how alone I felt.

I had a class with identical twins, Henrine and Earnestine. The inseparable girls were a force of nature: friendly, jovial and fierce. One day they asked me to play at recess, probably feeling sorry for me. I was overjoyed to finally have a couple of friends, popular ones at that. Our friendship gave me street cred and I vividly remember roaming the playground like we owned it. They taught me jump rope tricks that I used years later to impress coaches during football workouts. As we morphed into young adults, we remained friendly, joking with each other in the school hallways. I always felt a debt of gratitude to them, two black girls befriending a lonely white boy during a difficult childhood transition.

Last week COVID-19 took both of their lives, the awful virus stealing their children’s mamas and their mama’s children. May their deaths not be in vain. Let’s continue to be good neighbors, doing our best to keep this scourge at bay, as if our very lives depended on it.

Rest in peace, beautiful sisters.

Dr. Brent Russell is an emergency physician at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum. This is his fourth piece for the Idaho Mountain Express.

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