The total number of COVID-19 cases in Blaine Country as of Sunday, April 19, was 469, but only 50 were considered “active and infectious.” The number of new cases peaked on April 2, more than two weeks ago. Since then, the daily average number of new cases is four. Our “curve” of total cases is nearly flat.
But are we far enough down the curve to fully open businesses? Or, should we wait until everyone is tested and virus-free?
Waiting for a virus-free community is unrealistic. Think about it—what if everyone in the valley was tested and virus free for three months. Then in July, a person infected with the virus (but doesn’t know it) visits town and infects 15 people who have no immunity. With 15 new cases, and the potential for more, will we shut down all the businesses again and reinstate shelter-in-place measures until our new-cases curve flattens to zero again?
Testing, tracking and treatments are forthcoming, but we might not see a vaccine for a year. Even then, a vaccine may not guarantee virus-free immunity.
COVID-19 will be with us for many months, maybe even into next year, and until a person has antibodies for the virus, they run the risk of getting the virus no matter how flat our curve is.
For all we know, many more residents may have been infected than we think. Last week, Stanford published a study that showed that the number of people infected by the virus in Santa Clara County may be 50-85 times greater than the confirmed cases. Based on the number of 469 confirmed cases in the county, that would mean that nearly everyone here has been infected. That is unlikely, but the study (though not yet peer reviewed) is worth noting and is raising a lot of eyebrows in the medical community.
Since it appears there might be some level of infected people in the valley for quite some time, and the number of new cases is so low at this time, does it make sense to keep businesses semi-closed and hamstrung for another two weeks?
It may be a prudent tactic, but at what cost? Businesses in the valley are losing millions of dollars a week. And what about the societal cost to the community? What impact is unemployment having on substance abuse? Family abuse? Stress? Depression? Hunger? We don’t know how high the societal cost is right now, but we do know that it’s getting costlier by the day.
The number of new cases has been steadily declining for two weeks. It appears we are already at a “safe” point to fully open businesses to reboot our economy and reinvigorate valley residents.
This is not to say we should prioritize business and money over health and safety. Absolutely not. We can keep mitigation measures in place. We must also keep the health of the most vulnerable front and center during this crisis and spend the money and provide the resources to protect the elderly, those with preexisting conditions and those afraid of contracting the virus until proven treatments and vaccines are developed.
Let us balance the risks and rewards based on facts and wise counsel. That said, it’s time to display our courage and hope for the future by turning on our lights, bringing back our employees and proudly hanging signs that say, “Open for business!”
Ketchum resident Tom Iselin is the founder of The Hunger Coalition and Higher Ground.