Love In The Time of Corona
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA: Old habits die hard. The chafing political divisions that have characterized the last 40 years of public policy in Whatcom County have little relevance to the pandemic response in the face of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and have served mostly as irritants at the margins; nevertheless, Whatcom Council continues to split hairs along 4-3 divisions.
Whatcom County Council met again through teleconference this week as the County Board of Health to hear an update of the unified command strategies in response to COVID-19. Their tenor was improved and focused from earlier Health Board sessions that sought to find fault with—and thereby leverage through political motive—the evolving public reporting policies of county health officials.
Health officials had noted they were reluctant to report the name of a person who tested positive for COVID-19 or the location where the illness might have been contracted—in the first instance out of concern for the medical privacy of patients, and in the second, concern that such information would be irrelevant or lead to false, even dangerous conclusions about the vector of contagion.
This reluctance was seized by Council’s conservative trio as a “lack of transparency” akin to a cover-up. On the contrary, it was a reluctance to spread false, misleading or unhelpful information.
“Sometimes it feels like there’s a kind of ‘hide the ball’ mentality,” Council member Kathy Kershner complained at their March 26 teleconference. “I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe that all the information is coming to us but it doesn’t feel that way.”
Council’s tone was improved this week as they focused on the financial impacts of the virus, including a projected shortfall of county revenues that could arrive through a delay in property tax collection. Whatcom County Treasurer Steve Oliver issued an extension on property taxes though June 1 to aid those suffering loss of employment or income as result of the governor’s social distancing orders.
Council’s newest members ran last fall on platforms of limited government, critical of county policy direction and of seated Council members. But pathogens don’t care about limited government, or property rights or the unfettered hand of the free market. All of those issues are comatose as governments are closed to all but their most essential functions, and new Council additions have perhaps not yet tumbled to the full realization that as political gunslingers they have very little relevant to add to technical discussions of public health and safety, medicine or law.
As if to underscore the folly of political divisions, Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu has consulted his predecessor Jack Louws to help coordinate the unified command response to the pandemic. It was a canny decision, as Louws has experience and the respect of county departments.
A uniter and healer of divisions, Sidhu also delivered what he intended as an inspirational message to the people of Whatcom County, calling for reflection and resilience as the community faces the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“For a week now,” the executive noted in his address, “we have been adjusting to life under the governor’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ declaration. These are unprecedented and challenging times. Never in our lifetime have we been asked to give up our livelihoods, our mobility and our ability to personally connect with others,” he said.
“We are all experiencing great distress and anxiety caused both by the disease’s threat to our personal wellbeing and by the restrictive measures taken to stop the pandemic. Unfortunately, we know that even as we take these extraordinary steps to contain the virus, the number of those falling ill will increase over the next several weeks. This profound uncertainty only compounds our insecurity, but we must prepare ourselves for sheltering in place for an extended and still unknown period.
“I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the many blessings we have living here in Whatcom County, in the United States. Perhaps our greatest blessing right now is the thousands of community members fighting on the frontlines against COVID-19—your healthcare workers, first responders and medical support staff, your grocery and pharmacy clerks. These people are working diligently and even putting themselves at risk to help us get through this difficult period,” Sidhu said.
“If you want to express your gratitude to the tireless frontline workers, the best thing you can do is stay home and stay healthy. Help stop the spread so that we can save lives and return to normal. Also, please know that your government and emergency organizations at all levels—federal, state and local—are working to ensure your physical and economic wellbeing. I recognize that sometimes it may seem that things are not happening fast enough. However, this virus is not only invisible, but it came upon us suddenly and capriciously.
“Finally,” he said, “let’s take a moment to acknowledge the community members we’ve lost. To the grieving family and friends, please know you are not alone—we are with you and share your sorrow. I would suggest that we all take 15 minutes every morning and before bed and reflect on the fragility of life. Think of all the goodness that is in the world and the goodness inside you. Nothing is more powerful than your inner strength and resolve to persevere.
“I have no doubt we will pull through and emerge stronger together.
“Love is not what you do,” he said. “Love is who you are.”