A time for vigilance

1

A business owner reached out to us on Wednesday, Nov. 11. He had just seen the latest report from Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Thirteen new cases of COVID-19, on top of four, on top of 20.

“Really, 13 new cases at the hospital testing site?” he texted. “Tell people to stop having friends over and parties, and ignoring this.”

Over this past weekend there were 31 more cases, a surge in cases that shows no signs of slowing down.

So here we are to tell you to stop having friends over, stop hosting gatherings, and stop ignoring this insidious disease.

Like health officials, we’re struggling to figure out how we came this far doing so well in keeping numbers of infections low, for so long, in this pandemic only to face an onslaught of cases. The past three weeks have accounted for more than 50 percent of the Island’s positive cases since the pandemic began in mid-March. From what we’re hearing and seeing, it seems like a mixture of COVID fatigue among those who had been vigilant and continued dismissal by those people who never embraced the threat in the first place. That’s a recipe for the community spread we’re in the midst of now.

It comes at a terrible time. School officials, working closely with the Island’s health and safety officials, had come up with plans to get more students into classrooms for in-person instruction. And while he seemed to be pushing ahead with plans despite a growing number of cases among the school population, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea has pulled the plug on those plans for now, and the high school has temporarily gone to fully remote learning. Those are good decisions, because we all need to be doing what we can to slow this community spread. It seemed like a bad idea to have more students traveling to and from school, some in school buses, and then going home to family while there is such a spike in cases on the Island.

We don’t want to go backward. But we can’t push forward recklessly.

We all need to do our part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We need to wear our masks in public, and we need to wear them when we’re with people other than our immediate families. 

In case anyone is under the mistaken belief that masks are ineffective, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just issued new guidance on mask use. The scientific brief states, “The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer.” To put that in clear terms, mask wearing helps protect you from getting the disease, and it helps prevent us from getting it from you.

It’s too bad that the early messaging when the pandemic hit had to be to avoid wearing masks because of a shortage of PPE, but since mid-March, the messaging has become clearer, and backed up by science. Masks are effective. Wear one. 

You should also limit the amount of time you stay inside with other people, at the grocery store, for instance, where air is circulating. This virus is so contagious that you can still catch it, even if you’re keeping your distance from others. 

Finally, we’re a week away from Thanksgiving. For a lot of us, it’s a favorite holiday. It’s a time to gather with friends and family without the pressure of gift giving. It’s a time to eat way too much, and reflect just enough, and be grateful. This year you’ll have to do that in much smaller groups and go back to what we were all doing early on in this pandemic — when Zoom and FaceTime became household words.

We’ll leave you with the words of Gov. Charlie Baker, who really has been an effective leader for the state during this crisis. He wants to keep the economy open. He doesn’t want to put any more restrictions on us. But he’s urging us, emphatically, to take responsibility and become part of the solution to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 “People need to change their behavior and get serious about who they spend time with, how they act, and why Massachusetts is at risk — primarily because of the things people do when they put down their guard. And this isn’t a guess or a warning; there’s a growing base of evidence across the country that a big part of what’s been driving the increase in cases and hospitalizations is in many respects what I would call the individual acts of many people engaged in familiar activity on a casual basis with people they’re familiar with,” Baker said at a press briefing last week. “If you’re not around members of your immediate family, and I mean immediate family, you should wear a mask — indoors and outdoors,” Baker said. “I know that sounds aggressive, but the simple truth is this expansion of people’s social circles and this desire to get back to something like normal is a big part of what’s driving case growth and ultimately hospitalizations.”

You can make a difference. You need to make a difference.