Mask Up

We're heading for a rough winter as everything that doctors and public-health experts warned us about is happening

By Myers Reece

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: without a correction in the curve, we’re heading for a rough winter.

Public-health officials and doctors have warned for months that without adherence to precautions, especially mask wearing and avoiding gatherings, schools would shut down, businesses would be short-staffed or forced to close, risk would increase for vulnerable residents, the virus would seep into nursing homes, sickness and death would rise.

They weren’t lying. It’s all happening.

Amid a prolonged surge, health departments and hospitals statewide are overwhelmed, and Flathead County, a COVID-19 hotspot, is reaching a tipping point as more people head indoors with the cold weather and upcoming holidays.

If experts’ pleas continue to fall on too many deaf ears, the outlook will only worsen.

Judging by comments I read and hear, I worry that, beyond conspiracy theories and entrenched mask denial, there’s an undercurrent of misunderstanding among even those who aren’t as hardened in their opposition to public-health precautions but don’t fully grasp the multifaceted ripple effects of community spread.

For instance, in the event of an outbreak at a facility such as the current one at Brendan House, there’s inevitable discussion about point-of-entry blame that misses the bigger point: our collective role in allowing the virus to creep into all corners of our community.

Spread leads to exponentially increased risk, which is to say the more cases we have in the community, the better chance the virus has of entering nursing homes, schools, businesses and homes. And the harder it is for the dedicated health-care workers to keep the virus away from the most vulnerable populations.

One can imagine how disheartening it is for a health-care worker to tirelessly work all day to shield a nursing home from the virus or treat patients stricken with the disease in a hospital, only to see people actively undermining their efforts or mocking health precautions online.

Whether due to misinformation or negligence or other factors, anything that decreases adherence to precautions has a multiplier effect on sickness and closures, i.e. the essential health and functioning of our community.

At this pace, it’s inevitable that schools beyond Columbia Falls Junior High School will temporarily close their doors or at least continue experiencing widespread COVID-related absences that cause significant disruption to family structures and the economy.

School officials point out that the virus isn’t spreading in the classroom setting, which leads them to two conclusions: mask wearing and distancing are working inside schools, but kids are bringing in the disease from a less-diligent community.

Another misconception is that only deaths and hospitalizations matter. Research is finding all sorts of other serious, lingering consequences of the virus, including vital organ damage and lasting health problems even among people who were asymptomatic, and there’s still plenty we’ve yet to discover about this novel virus.

Face coverings aren’t bulletproof, just as hand hygiene and other practices can’t ensure zero virus spread. But power in numbers produces powerful results. A University of Washington model found that 600 lives could be saved in Montana in the coming months if everybody follows the state’s mask directive.

We listen to doctors when we go in for surgery. Let’s listen to them now and salvage the winter. Mask up.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.