News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

My rights or yours?

On Friday, April 30, Deschutes County entered another COVID-19 lockdown. Restaurants closed to indoor dining, gyms are limited. Lives are disrupted.

Governor Kate Brown announced she was moving 15 Oregon Counties into the “extreme risk” category. Deschutes County made the list because of a rate of nearly 467 cases per 100,000 residents (from, above the 200 cases per 100,000 set as a cut-off by the governor.

If I’m doing the math right, the governor says that if more than .002 of the population gets COVID, we are all at “extreme risk.” Deschutes County is at about .005 (rounded). One could say “more than double the rate!” Or, one could say it’s only three more people per thousand.

Here’s the real dilemma: Many thousands of people will be hurt by the new restrictions. I’m not saying action is not required, but that policies based on aggregated numbers harm those who have nothing to do with the crisis.

Deschutes County had more than 200,000 residents in the 2019 census, certainly more today, which would indicate that there are about 1,000 new cases.

Who are they? Are we reluctant to identify them because we don’t want to discourage anyone from getting tested, or negatively impact those who contracted the disease through no fault of their own, or stigmatize “carriers,” or invade their privacy, or infringe upon personal rights?

What about the rights of those whose livelihood or health or well-being depend on open businesses and social interaction?

This is the “dilemma of the commons,” of living in “community.” Sometimes individual rights take a back seat to community welfare. At the very least, we deserve to know where the 1,000 people who caught COVID-19 contracted the disease.

The only information I could find was a recent update from Deschutes County Health Services that said:

Where are cases coming from?

• Extracurricular activities where safety measures are removed, like no masks during sports practice.

• Social gatherings outside of work hours without mask wearing and distancing.

• Travel-related exposures.

• Carpooling.

• Barbecues and outdoor events without mask and distancing.

Does that mean every “sports practice” in every school in the county, or only one or two? Does it mean every “social gathering” in the county, or only at some located in certain areas? It doesn’t take many to get to 1,000. Only about a thousand, in fact.

Seniors can’t go to a gym in Sisters because folks dancing at a bar in La Pine won’t wear masks? A waitress in Redmond is out of work because a coach in Bend or a vocal parent’s group doesn’t believe in COVID-19?

Shouldn’t we all pull together to end this scourge? Of course, but that isn’t the point, which is that irresponsible behavior on the part of some is having a devastating and unnecessary impact on everyone.

Perhaps identifying individual carriers or spreaders of COVID-19 in Deschutes County is too fraught with difficult questions. But why can’t we identify schools where COVID-19 is being spread at sports events or businesses where COVID-19 is being spread by staff or clientele, and urge them to change their procedures?

When we shy from difficult facts, we do more damage than good. And the fact is, the vast majority of Deschutes County citizens are not spreading COVID-19, but they will pay a difficult tab run up by those who are.


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