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A case can be made that as a community and nation we’ve been in a weird situation since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place in mid-March.

But there is no denying there is an extra element of oddness locally and nationally right now.

Americans understandably are fed up with COVID-19 and recommended restrictions on personal and professional behavior. That is entirely understandable. Our economy, or any economy, was not built to survive under these types of restrictions on movement and commerce. People are losing jobs and income and businesses are failing. That’s a real hardship that extends into homes and families and the overall community.

We know that the COVID-19 virus is present in the community and, as of right now, there is no vaccine. People will argue about the health risk that poses. In the era of internet access, everyone is an expert, but you can look at the data and see risks for certain groups (much age and underlying conditions related). There is an unknown element about long-term complications and people will come down on both sides of willingness to accept risk.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a manageable crisis. There is no vaccine and fatality rate among the elderly makes it scary, but the steps to slow its spread are fairly simple — wear a mask, physically distance six feet and wash your hands frequently.

This nation has faced far starker challenges, with needs for greater personal sacrifices, and met them, but not this time. Our lack of unity and sense of common cause as a nation has proven detrimental in this situation.

At the initial press conference in mid-March when county officials stood together and explained what would be done to combat the spread of the virus, Kittitas County Sheriff Clay Myers clearly stated that “enforcement” would be through education not arrests.

That is not to say that the recommended restrictions have not been limiting — mainly on commerce. Individuals have not been confined to their homes, in fact one of the few COVID-friendly activities is to get out of your home on walks or other forms of outdoor recreation.

In essence, this county and most others have counted on voluntary compliance. What happens when a person or business does not comply? Some people do get upset but that’s been the extent of the consequences.

Selah is a good example. As a city it opted to not comply with COVID-19 restrictions. In Selah today a person is far more likely to face legal repercussions for writing statements in support of Black Lives Matter in chalk on the street in front of their home than they are for not following COVID recommendations. Make of that what you will.

How are we moving forward in Kittitas County? At the start of September the county’s Incident Management Team, which has managed this crisis, took Kittitas County Health Officer Mark Larson out of the role as lead.

Larson continues to be employed full-time as health officer (he was part-time prior to the outbreak) so he continues to do his job. But the last Facebook question and answer session he did was Sept. 1. The Kittitas County Health Department put out a release this month relating to COVID-19 (specifically in regard to allowing some youth sports this fall), but for the majority of the outbreak it had been putting out multiple releases every week, analyzing the data and encouraging people to comply with recommendations.

What that has meant is during probably the most critical period of the outbreak for this county — the return of Central Washington University students to campus — the county Health Department has been relatively silent. This has been by design, in compliance with the wishes of Kittitas County elected officials. The health department does continue to update the Kittitas County Community Impact Dashboard on a daily basis and provide links to relevant state websites.

If you look at the numbers, the rate of COVID-19 in the county is going up. An assumption could be made that this is tied to the return of Central students. On the plus side, the rate is up but Ellensburg has not gone Pullman with a massive spike. Our active case numbers remain in the upper 20s, less than it was during outbreaks tied to Twin City Foods or the assisted-living facilities.

The infection rate matters if the Ellensburg School Board remains committed to not having students return to classroom instruction if the rate exceeds the state goal for Phase 3 counties. Or, the Ellensburg School Board could decide, as the Kittitas School Board did, that the rate does not matter as much as its desire (and parents desire) for students to return to the classroom. In other words, it matters if someone decides it matters.

Should we be cheered or concerned by the rate of infection since Central students returned? Like much of everything else related to COVID-19 in this county, ultimately that is up to you to decide.


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