News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Pivoting toward recovery

West Coast states have agreed on a pact for a consistent, coordinated approach to pivot away from locking down to “flatten the curve” and toward recovering our economic and cultural life. This is good news. Central Oregon should craft a coordinated recovery plan as well.

For life cannot indefinitely be decoupled from making a living.

I am at pains to make myself clear here: I take this virus very seriously. I do not want to get it; I dread the very thought of my loved ones getting sick; and I understand the necessity of flattening the curve to stave off a collapse of red-zone health care systems. The world is in a terrible fix, with no good or easy options.

But we must recognize that the social treatment for this pandemic is toxic.

For, make no mistake, the economic fallout of this pandemic will blight and shorten lives as surely — albeit less dramatically — as shredded lungs. And the longer the near-shutdown continues, the deeper and more pervasive the damage will be.

We in the West have lost our understanding of the connection between livelihood and life. We are so incomprehensibly wealthy and have been so secure for so long in our wealth and comfort, that we no longer recognize the wolf when he comes to the door.

The wolf is about to make its presence known.

At some point we will have to move past this moment’s stasis. And that movement will entail risk and sacrifice.

World Health Organization (WHO) special envoy David Nabarro said recently:

“We think it is going to be a virus that stalks the human race for quite a long time to come until we can all have a vaccine that will protect us and that there will be small outbreaks that will emerge sporadically and they will break through our defenses.”

And what if we can’t develop a vaccine in short order? That’s a real possibility, one that our pill-for-every-ill mindset can scarcely comprehend and instinctively recoils against. Coronaviruses are not easy to vaccinate against, and we cannot count on swiftly conjuring one to save us. We’re going to have to learn to live with COVID-19.

We will not return quickly to pre-COVID normal — not until herd immunity reduces its virulence and we have a testing program that can gauge how pervasive the illness actually is. We must continue to isolate and protect the vulnerable to the degree possible. We must adapt our way of living and take ongoing personal precautions, including modifying social interaction.

But we must venture forth and live and work again.

Western culture has become so imbued with the myth of zero-defect and absolute safety that it will require a massive cultural shift to accept that we actually must live with risk and danger. The notion that any measure is morally imperative “if it saves just one life” will crumble in the face of a brutal reeducation in what is actually feasible in a world of limited resources.

Indian economist Sanjeev Sabhlok wrote in The Times of India on April 11:

“Most nations are behaving like ostriches with their head buried in sand – with febrile dreams about vaccines and treatments. They want to keep their society in suspended animation while reducing the loss of life from the virus. They are oblivious to the incomprehensible cost their society will pay for indefinite lockdowns. Steve Kates, an economist I admire, has estimated that the cost to society of saving a life in extreme, extended lockdowns could be in the range of $300 million. Good luck to Western nations with that.”

And, of course, Sabhlok recognizes that his own nation can’t even pretend to think that such a commitment is possible. Those who are living closer to the bone than Westerners have lived for generations understand something that we must re-learn. Some things can’t be fixed; the best we can do is mitigate — and learn to live again, as our ancestors did, in the valley of the shadow of death.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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