As Nevada County’s Director of Health and Human Services, I am responsible for both the Public Health Department addressing COVID-19, and the safety net services that will be necessary in the pandemic’s aftermath. I am also a husband and father of three. As both of those things, I will tell you this: It is natural to be frightened by this unprecedented pandemic, and yet panic is not helpful.
In recent days we’ve seen a cascading series of extreme measures, from closing schools and limiting restaurants, to counties ordering non-essential activities to cease, to a statewide order to shelter in place. It’s important to have some context around why these actions are being taken. Early research indicates that the vast majority (80%) of people who get COVID-19 have mild, moderate or even no symptoms. While most people are at lower risk of COVID-19, if you are at higher risk, please make sure you’re aware of the guidance, which you can find at www.mynevadacounty.com/Coronavirus.
Given that the individual risk is low for most people, the extremity of the response can seem like an overreaction, but I feel a recent experience illustrates the necessity of a drastic response:
I was picking up breakfast from a local restaurant (take out is allowed!), and a man told the person behind the counter that all this COVID-19 stuff was a hoax designed to create hysteria and control people. He continued that more people die from car crashes and we don’t stop people from driving. He has a point; around 40,000 people die in car crashes every year in the US.
Is the remedy worse than the disease?
Imagine if all those annual accidents happened in one month instead of twelve, and imagine that happened everywhere, not just in our county. The healthcare system would be completely overwhelmed, and people with mild and moderate injuries who normally would recover with medical care would not be able to get that care. People who needed medical care for other reasons may not be able to get it, putting them at risk even if they hadn’t been in car crashes.
Even though the immediate risk to most people is low, the response is not an overreaction because it’s not about the immediate risk to most people. It’s about not overwhelming our healthcare system, and it’s about protecting those who are at high risk. The car crash example above is exactly what happened in Italy and other places with COVID-19.
We have an opportunity to act quickly.
A small number of confirmed cases doesn’t mean that we don’t already have community transmission of COVID-19 here, but it does mean that we have to act immediately before it’s too late. To make this manageable we have to blunt the curve and slow the transmission so that our healthcare system can handle this.
In Nevada County we have a population around 100,000, and we have 129 hospital beds. We also have a disproportionately elderly population, so the risk to our community is particularly significant. Although the risk to most people as individuals is lower, we must take strong action to ensure our system can handle COVID-19 for the sake of everyone in community.
Neither panic, nor dismissiveness are helpful reactions. Calm preparedness, accurate information, and following California’s Stay-at-Home Order are the best ways to protect ourselves, our families and our community.
Misinformation spreads faster than Novel Coronavirus. Get the word out about where to get accurate information. We are sharing confirmed cases as soon as we know about them. We are updating our www.mynevadacounty.com/coronavirus as the situation evolves. Connecting Point’s local call agents are available by dialing 211 (or 833-DIAL211 for those outside a 530 area code).
Familiarize yourself with the Stay-at-Home order and what it means. Our website has FAQs on the order, and links to other guidance and resources. Many activities are still allowed as long as you take precautions, including going to work in essential services. If you can’t work from home, take precautions while you work. If you are out of work due to COVID-19, new resources to help are also on our website.
Take the time to sit down and talk things through with your family. When I was personally struggling with the words to talk to my kids I found this guidance from the CDC particularly helpful: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html
Be the ambassadors of calm preparedness in your community and in your families. Stay home, stay healthy and save lives.