It was a clear and sunny July day on a Trindad, California, beach during our family’s vacation. We lucked out and had the entire shoreline to ourselves. My son and sister surf-fished for perch that we planned to beer-batter and fry that night for dinner. The grandkids, aunts and uncles flew kites and made sand castles. The rest of us chatted and enjoyed the idyllic scenery from beach towels, sheltered by pop-up enclosures that held wallets, jackets, cell phones, picnic lunches and toys.
There was no warning for what happened next. Suddenly, a massive low wave erupted from the ocean and came up and over us and our belongings with such fury, force and speed that we literally didn’t see it coming. It was terrifying pandemonium. So much screaming and grabbing and running and making sure everyone was OK.
To this day, my granddaughter, who’s now 7, tells the scary story about when she was 3, and how Noni swooped her up and ran with her to escape the frightening sneaker wave. I have no doubt that my granddaughter will repeat that story well into adulthood and old age.
That experience could have ended so much worse. Sneaker waves can be treacherous, racing upward of 70 miles per hour up and over beaches, catching people and pets unaware, dragging them out to sea. Some sneaker waves are killers.
The novel coronavirus is a sneaker wave of sorts. It’s quiet, it’s potentially lethal and it’s invisible to the naked eye. Most of us won’t truly take it seriously until it’s already upon us, or until it claims someone dear to us.
We do better when we know better. I now know better than to turn my back to the ocean. Therefore, I am no longer woefully ignorant about sneaker waves, which is why I’ll forever be that crazy lady on the beach imploring carefree young parents to not allow their little ones to wander too close to the water unattended.
Public Health departments are our country’s lifeguards. They warn us of potential sneaker waves and other public-safety risks, like Covid-19. They’re the designated party-poopers, admonishing, informing, educating and correcting the public. No, you cannot do that; no, you cannot go there; no, you cannot stand so close. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth. Wear a mask. Stay home if you don’t feel well. Get tested if you think you have Covid-19 symptoms.
Of course, there’s so much confusion. Do we listen to the pair of Bakersfield doctors who say we’re over-reacting and that we should re-open everything, immediately? If we are infected with the virus, will that provide us with immunity from Covid-19 the next time that virus comes calling? Is that one model correct that estimates California will be ready to re-open May 20?
So many questions about a virus that is truly so novel that it continues to confound some of the best and brightest scientific brains in the world.
One thing that does seem certain is that our obedience is paying off, and the proof is evident in Shasta County’s enviable Covid-19-related numbers. Our hospitals and morgues are not overrun with bodies. The Civic Auditorium’s field hospital sits empty. In fact, as I write here in Shasta County, we have just four deaths attributed to Covid-19, which is four too many, but we need only to glance toward places like New York and Italy to know that Covid-19 is a force to be reckoned with.
Meanwhile, the north state’s good news keeps coming, such as the fact that Shasta County was selected as one of 80 drive-by testing sites to begin this week at Shasta College.
(Watch for a story here soon on A News Cafe.com about the new testing site at Shasta College.)
This additional testing site will expand and prioritize the county’s ability to keep up with Covid-19 assessment for those who need it most, including healthcare workers, and those who work in congregant settings, such as group homes and assisted living facilities.
And at Mercy Hospital, discussions are underway to gradually, carefully transition to scenarios where patients could eventually have one visitor, once a day. And of the four tents that used to be outside the hospital, it now has two (though the other two remain on standby should they be needed).
Here in Shasta County, in beautiful Northern California, most of us have lived under our governor’s stay-at-home and social-distancing guidelines since March 19, the first day of spring. Only businesses deemed essential are open. Businesses deemed non-essential are closed. Is it frustrating? Hell, yes. Does anyone want to live like this? Hell, no.
Yet we’ve adhered to these guidelines to flatten the curve, to prevent massive infection delivered by asymptomatic vectors and confirmed infected cases alike. If we do this right, if we follow Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency’s plan, passed down from the governor, then our Covid-19 numbers will be so low that gravely ill people won’t overwhelm our healthcare system. Even more important is the promise of fewer deaths, which is a tricky thing to discern because it’s hard to know how many people would have become ill or died without the stay-at-home orders, and without complying with social distancing guidelines.
We’ll never know. Like the lifeguard on the beach, it’s hard to celebrate something that didn’t happen. But that’s exactly where we are at the moment, celebrating when nothing happens. Sometimes, no news really is good news.
The wonderful thing about lifeguards is that if they do their jobs correctly, there are no deaths to report, because they anticipated danger and did everything in their power to warn and educate the public to keep us safe. No deaths? Mission accomplished.
That’s why on Wednesday, during Shasta County’s HHSA’s weekly media briefing, Donnell Ewert, director of that agency – also an epidemiologist by training – congratulated the public for its compliance. He pointed out as an extreme example the contrast in numbers between Shasta County and Los Angeles County, where Shasta County’s rate of positive Covid-19 cases is about 20 per 100,000, while in Los Angeles County it’s more like 200 cases per 100,000 people.
Although he thanked the public for our patience, he also implored us to please maintain social distancing and stick with the stay-at-home efforts for a few more weeks as we head for Phase 2, and subsequent loosening of some restrictions.
Shasta County Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom, the north state’s equivalent of the White House’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, echoed Ewert’s request. She emphasized that as we ease into future, less-restrictive phases, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of practicing safety measures. She added that it’s critical to continue maintaining physical distancing, something that may become part of our everyday lives for months, and maybe as long as a year or more.
Even with all the stress and restrictions, there’s more good news besides the numbers. First, Shasta County has taken proactive steps with its new Roadmap to Recovery Advisory Committee to gradually re-open the county once the governor modifies his stay-at-home order.
At the rate we’re going, we’re on track to ease nicely into subsequent phases that will lead to the loosening of the most strict restrictions. But we’re not there yet. We need more time for further scientific assurances that it’s truly safe to re-open the north state. Until then, public health officials ask us to be patient, and to keep up the good-but-difficult work. That means no non-essential travel outside our home cities. It means people from other locations should not be coming to Shasta County for non-essential reasons, because they might bring with them infections from other regions.
However, we may lose precious ground with regard to the county’s glowing Covid-19 achievements if a group of restless citizens ignore public health mandates and decide now’s the time to return to pre-Covid-19 life. Ready or not. Legal or not.
Even some elected leaders – from the tip top of our country’s administration, down to some local county supervisors – are helping incite this unrest, beating the drum to re-open our country and counties sooner than what scientists recommend.
Case in point, here in Shasta County, a place that sees red when it comes to its political disdain for our Democrat governor, an angry head of steam is building in places like the Re-Open Shasta County Facebook page. You can see it on other Facebook pages, too, with memes pitting neighbor against neighbor, and business owner against business owner, such as in posts that feature Hitler.
Other messages mock and shame those who adhere to public health rules.
Worse yet are blatant campaigns to willfully ignore safety guidelines, like those who are rumored to follow through with a drag-strip event soon, and this Facebook message on a Redding resident’s page that designates May 1 as the date to openly ignore state-mandated regulations.
My prediction, if those people follow through with their plan, within the next week-and-a-half to two weeks, Shasta County will see a marked increase in its Covid-19 cases.
Sometimes, there’s only so much that public health officials can do to save the public from itself, despite the agency’s best efforts and intentions. Even after all the dire warnings and scientific information, there will always be those individuals who’ll thumb their noses at the experts and race blindly into the rolling surf, oblivious of any lurking sneaker waves.
The thing is, unlike running solo into a sneaker wave, wanton recklessness in the era of the Covid-19 crisis will claim more than the risk-takers’ lives. Their actions can also kill those around them, from family and friends to innocent strangers. Their behavior can put at risk the welfare of healthcare workers, and then, by extension, endanger the loved ones of those connected to front-line healthcare workers and EMT’s, doctors and nurses. And morticians.
“Give me liberty, or give me death!” As you wish. Just don’t except the rest of us to wade into the sneaker wave with you.