Dear Fred, In my mother’s house hangs a poster of a group of ducks with the phrase “Lead, follow or get out of the way” on it. The poster has hung on the closet door in my parent’s den for as long as I can remember and was likely picked up during some school book sale by one of my siblings.
The lesson of the poster is one that has stuck with me and is closely tied to the advice my father gave me growing up that you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Those two bits of advice have been rattling around in my head the past few weeks as I have witnessed tensions rise under the COVID-19 safer at home orders and general interference it has caused in people’s lives.
Future reporter Fred, for the past several weeks, I have been writing to you there in the year 2120 as you work on the 100th anniversary story about how we here in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic reacted to it.
The good news is that of this week, there still haven’t been any cases reported of Taylor County residents despite more than 90 people having been tested. What a lot of people don’t realize about that number is how local numbers fit in as part of the overall totals.
As the county’s public health director, Patty Krug explains, if someone who has their official residence in Taylor County tests positive it is reported as a Taylor County positive, even if that person was in Madison, Milwaukee or New York City at the time. Unlike regional epidemics of the previous century, where a truly mindboggling amount of personal medical information was reported without a second thought, modern privacy laws limit what sort of specific information can be released. What this means is that you may never know if your neighbor’s cough is COVD-19 or just the result of seasonal allergies unless they tell you.
One of the major challenges people, especially in this area, are having is in how they perceive the threat of COVID-19. When you go outside, it feels like a typical Tuesday rather than a severe crisis. Without a large number of illnesses in this area, it is easy for many people to discount it or argue there is no real threat.
The perception of threat tends to be tied directly to if an individual or a loved one is in a high risk group due to age or pre-existing health condition and how much direct economic harm the governor’s safer at home orders are inflicting on them.
Unfortunately, in many cases this has led to “us” versus “them” entrenchment with a no-mans land between the two. As a local official pointed out to me the other day, people’s stand on COVID-19 has joined politics and religion as topics that are likely to lead to a fight.
At the same time, there are those who have latched on to trying to place the blame on someone for all of this. One a scientific level finding the first occurrence of this new illness is important to try and understand how it happened and what can be done to prevent future outbreaks. However, turning the blame game into a political obsession while people are dying and the economy is shut down, is the same as arguing over who left the boat’s paddles in the car as you are floating downstream toward a waterfall. That argument can take place after everyone is safely on shore.
The challenge as we muddle our way through all this is to figure out how we can be part of the solution, or at least stay out the way of those doing something to help.
One such way that people are helping out in the community is through a new task force created by Krug to come up with guidelines on how impacted businesses could safely reopen. The task force and the groups they represent includes: Gyms/personal trainers: Adam Rodman, Beauty shops/nail salons: Angie Apfelbeck, Tanning: Emily Balsis, Libraries: Pam Glidden, Medford Area Chamber of Commerce/Taylor County Tourism/ Medford Economic Development: Sue Emmerich, Gilman Village: Jane Destarcke, Rib Lake area: Bill Schriener or his representative, Florists/Friends of the Downtown: Naomi Hartl, Restaurants/bars: Terry and Julie Phillips, Churches: Josh Kohl, Crafters/retail: Marlene Doberstein and Tattoo artists: Dustin Rehbein.
I look forward to seeing the solutions this group comes up with.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.