Local COVID management better for all

Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to make the metrics governing whether schools can operate advisory, rather than mandatory, is a good one, not only for state officials but for the people they serve.

How effective the “freeze” imposed nearly two months ago or other largely unilateral edicts from Salem have beeen in slowing the spread of the coronavirus is unclear, but what is clear is that they have had a lot of effects – on all of us.

We’ve heard from public officials about the rise in domestic violence rates; from teachers and coaches about students with vacant stares, who find it difficult to accept anyone’s word for anything anymore; we’ve seen people studiously observing the mask mandates and the 6-foot rule, who ended up getting this nasty bug; we’ve wondered what the long-term effects will be on 2-year-olds who rarely see a stranger in public whose facial features are not mostly obscured by a band of cloth.

We’ve seen gyms closed – both those on school campuses and those at which many of us would normally be exercising. We can’t go watch a movie because the Rio is closed. At the only restaurants where we don’t have to sit in a long line of vehicles, waiting for take-out service, we sit on a cold patio, hopefully under a canopy such as at The Point, with a heater, to dine out. Religious services are more sparsely attended than normal, only by those who feel safe enough, or spiritually starved enough, to risk infection by COVID. Christmas was muted for many of us.

All of this has been orchestrated by state officials whose experience has not, to this point, been in hand-on management of an ongoing crisis that has continued for nine months in Oregon – and across the world. Though their are plenty of debates about their motives, we’ll assume they are as stated: Nobody wants hospitals overflowing with dying patients, in particular our vulnerable residents. Of course, our officials also likely realize that the litigious, self-centered world we live in also strongly favors caution over carefree.

Has it been worth the collateral damage? We may never know for sure, and certainly this will be debated for years. Twenty-twenty vision, as we look back, may be clearer than seat-of-the-pants judgment calls, but there are a lot of variables – and a lot of opinion – mixed into this.

So now the governor has decided that decisions on opening schools can be made at the local level. This is wise because communities differ, circumstances differ and centralized directives do not always serve specific local situations and communities well.

For instance, if Sweet Home residents were to get a lid on local infections and the COVID metrics in the 97386 zip code were substantially lower than, say, Lebanon’s or Albany’s, then local schoolchildren should be allowed to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms. And it should be a local decision.

Frankly, as things play out, some of the directives from Salem increasingly appear to be more knee-jerk reactions rather than hard data-based policy decisions, despite the gravity and feeling with which they’ve been delivered by the elites in our leaderhsip.

For instance, what hard evidence mandates the closure of gyms, such as Sweet Home’s own Steelhead Strength and Fitness for the past six weeks?

Increasingly, studies suggest little to no correlation between exercise centers and transmission of the virus. A recent contact-tracing study in New York found that of 46,000 COVID-19 cases, only 0.06% could be traced back to a gym, and a study by the University of Oregon’s Oregon Consulting Group found no correlation between fitness facilities and positive COVID-19 cases.

Equipment at our Steelehead gym has been carefully situated at 6-foot-plus intervals for months, and members have been required to wear face shields at all times in the building, even in exercise classes.

But despite all that, the gym was summarily ordered closed during the most recent shutdown mandate imposed in mid-November.

Not only are these shutdowns financially devastating for the business owners, who must pay bills just like everybody else, but those who find themselves without a viable workout option – right in the dead of winter, often essential to physical and mental health, are victims as well of a policy that looks increasingly unsubstantiated.

Another example is the wholesale closing of restaurants, owners who are able to do so have tried to weather (no pun intended) the mid-November shutdown by setting up canopies and heaters outside to allow sit-down dining.

Diners sit at tables 6 feet apart, often with breezes wafting through, legally engaging in behavior that is banned indoors, where tables are spaced similarly and sometimes even separated by physical partitions.

Where’s the evidence that outside is better? And where’s the actual evidence that victims have contracted the virus while eating out, rather than, say, standing in line at the grocery store or the post office?

It certainly makes sense that transmission of the virus is more likely in a crowded bar or restaurant, but when occupancy has been reduced by 75 or 50 percent, as it was before the most recent crackdown, there’s a lot of room for debate – while businesses owners go bankrupt.

Then there was the requirement that travelers quarantine for 14 days just because they crossed a state line for the first part of the Nov. 13 freeze. At that time there were no publicly known variants in the virus; it was COVID-19 in Longview, Wash., or at the local grocery store; in both cases personal protection might be advisable. The Oregon Health Authority even called travelers who were literally still on the road heading home, to let they know Big Brother was watching.

Since Day 1 the state has grabbed the reins on this thing since Day 1, and local jurisdictions should be much more involved in making these calls.

That’s why we applaud this move by the state. It makes sense to allow officials who know their local culture and population, make decisions on what’s right for those people.

If the decisions on how to handle the coronavirus and the enforcement of mandates are carried out at the local level by local officials, we wonder if the local populace might take this better and find it easier to employ whatever means is necessary to cut the numbers.

Certainly, the answers aren’t going to be the same for everyone, as we’ve all learned by now. And we should respect the right of people to take the steps they deem necessary to ensure their safety. If that means isolating one’s self, so be it. COVID can be terrible, even fatal, as we all know.

If a business officials feel that mask-wearing should be a requirement for those choosing to enter their doors, we should comply or go elsewhere. What’s right is that it’s that business’s choice. What’s wrong is when the state mandates it, for months on end.

Making management of the coronavirus challenge a local decision is a step in the right direction, morally and economically.