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Forget COVID-19 Tests; Assume Infection

One of the most sobering pieces of information delivered during Wednesday’s Shasta County Health and Human Services media briefing was the fact that Shasta County Public Health currently has the capability to test somewhere in the mid-40-person range. That’s it.

Because of this serious test-kit shortage, until the north state receives more help and more testing supplies — especially extraction kits, which are on back order — public health is carefully prioritizing its few remaining kits, saving them for urgent situations, such as if a COVID-19 outbreak occurred at the Shasta County Jail, for example.

We can wish there were enough tests for every single citizen. But why? So we’d know for certain? Am I infected? Are you? Is that cute little kid a potentially lethal asymptomatic virus-vector, spreading disease wherever he roams?

There is no cure, so even if we do contract COVID-19, the only treatment is to self-quarantine, and then, we hope and pray we’re among the majority of infected people who only experience mild symptoms and recover sans medical intervention.

Here’s the deal. Forget about the tests. Forget about the numbers. Low numbers of confirmed cases only give us a false sense of comfort and security. Low numbers lull us into thinking that COVID-19 is rare here in Shasta County, because we’re not New York or Italy or China. Consider that our current low numbers could also correlate with the fact that we have limited tests. Limited tests equals limited results, limited results means “limited confirmed cases” – which is not the same as saying there are actual limited cases, if that makes sense. If we can’t test, we can’t know.

So for now, we are completely in the dark with regard to exactly how many people are actually infected. We do know that the precious few available Shasta County tests are being reserved for the very sickest individuals among us. My guess is that if everyone were tested, we’d be shocked to see how many of us are already infected, or have been infected and have fully recovered.

Going forward, I’m assuming you’re infected, and that I’m infected. I’m assuming that letting down my guard could mean the difference between living and dying. I vow to behave accordingly.

The more I sit in on Shasta County Health and Human Services media briefings, the more I have an appreciation for our local public health professionals’ challenge: maintain public health safety by providing information. With COVID-19, ignorance is the antithesis of bliss.

Lest you think I’m holier than thou, I’ll admit that I’ve slipped up, especially earlier in March. I’ve had moments when I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been, mainly with regard to my two local grandchildren more than a week ago for what I justified as “special circumstances” – a family member’s ER visit (warning, pressure washers are dangerous), and then, that same weekend, gosh, as long as we’d already been together because of the kid hand-off during the emergency, we had dinner at my house with my two sons, two grandchildren and daughter-in-law for her birthday. The plan was to have it outside in the gravel, but it rained, so we brought it inside.

The morning after, I felt regret, not for the time we’d spent together – because that was so lovely, especially considering that was probably the last family event I’ll have for a long time, but for the risk we’d all taken.

Since this isn’t a full confessional, I’ll stop there, but suffice to say I’m no coronavirus angel of righteousness, and for that, I feel ashamed.

But with each passing day I adhere more strictly to California’s stay-home order. I have groceries delivered, either to my home, or for curbside pickup, even when it means it might be days before they arrive. The only two places I actually go in person are weekly post office visits (I have a post office box because mail is stolen from neighborhood mailboxes), and drive-up bank windows, only when necessary. When I do go to those places, I wear gloves and a scarf around my face, bandit style. It’s not pretty, but it’s practical.  I sometimes order take-out food from my favorite restaurants (hello La Cabana).

I go for daily walks with my twin, keeping about 8-feet apart.

If it’s not raining, my twin and I walk every day in one of our neighborhoods, but we stay far apart from each other. (See Shelly in the far right hand corner of the photo.)

And weather-permitting I’ve met for coffee, tea, wine or cocktails a few times with loved ones outside, talking from opposite ends of my front porch. One friend even brings his own folding chair, and his own adult beverage.

I’m not perfect, but I am taking this stay-home order as serious as a COVID-19 virus, for the sake of myself and others.

I know. Isolation sucks. It sucked to miss my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday party and resort to mailing her kitty-cat birthday cake to another county.

It sucked to cancel my annual April trip to Amador County with dear women friends, two of whom we see just once a year, when they fly in especially for this special retreat from Montana and Arizona.

It sucked to miss my daughter-in-law’s girls’ weekend birthday celebration at an Airbnb in McCloud.

It sucks to not see my grandchildren, except via spotty internet for conversations and trying to read aloud from “Little House on the Prairie” books, which seems to bore my oldest granddaughter because the book has no pictures.

It sucks to hear my granddaughter, during one of those video calls, ask how we’re going to make her Frozen 2 birthday cake for her upcoming 7th birthday party, something we’ve been planning for months, and what about all the tea cups and saucers and decorations? I explain that her party won’t be cancelled, just postponed. I don’t think she’s buying it.

It sucks to not meet with and hug friends and family.

It sucks that our family’s annual Easter get-together at my son and daughter-in-law’s wonderful country home will not happen.

It sucks to have a small collection of un-redeemed gift cards for beloved local businesses that may never open again.

It sucks for people to have to attend virtual funerals.

It sucks for the 2020 graduating classes to miss all the traditional pomp and circumstances.

It sucks for kids to miss out on all the things they’ve trained and practiced so diligently for, like sports, musicals and competitions.

It sucks for all the people who are facing financial disaster because of unemployment and business closures.

It sucks for all the people who’ve cancelled weddings, baby showers, bridal showers, retirement parties, vacations, conferences, and non-elective surgeries.

It sucks for hospitalized people to be there without the comfort and support of family and friends.

It sucks for assisted-living residents to not have visitors, even for things like special occasions, like 91st birthdays.

You know what sucks worse than all of those things? Death. Death sucks.

We know what to do. We’ve got this. We can do it. Yes, we’ll do what we must while remaining physically isolated from one another, but we can do it together in love, resolve, spirit and courage.

To quote Doug Craig’s recent article, “Life is tough, but so are you.” 

And when we do come through the other side of this pandemic, we can celebrate together, with joy and gratitude, never taking so many seemingly simple things for granted again.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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