The summer of COVID-19
It undoubtedly came as a quite a shock to a lot of people last week when it was announced that Colby Cheese Days was being cancelled this year — disrupting a run of over 50 years in a row. The organizers of Dorchester Days are taking a different direction, dispensing with festival mainstays like the carnival rides and parade, but keeping the core of tractor pulls and live music.
Meanwhile, the Clark County Health Department is doing what it can to discourage large public gatherings as it continues to collect information about the number of active COVID-19 cases in the area. Our public health officials have the unenviable task of telling people what they don’t want to hear: it may not be totally safe to go back to normal. The work they are doing is crucial but largely thankless. They deserve kudos for doing the work that, in many ways, should be done by state lawmakers who have essentially thrown up their hands after the May 13 State Supreme Court ruling that eliminated the Safer at Home order.
Still, we understand people’s deep-seated reluctance to forfeit their summer traditions, even for one year. How can it feel like summer in Central Wisconsin when you can’t order up some cheese curds and watch your kids enjoy a ride on a tilt-owhirl? It’s also depressing to walk by a ball field and not see any baseball or softball teams gathered for a tournament. Even the parades that normally stroll down our streets have been silenced.
It’s especially difficult to accept all this when you consider all the mixed messages coming from state and national government institutions. Last month’s Supreme Court ruling seemed like a green light for Wisconsinites to reopen everything and go about their lives as if the COVID-19 crisis was essentially over. At the same, federal health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci continue to warn of a resurgence in the virus numbers if we as a nation don’t reopen slowly and incrementally.
The reality is, where you live often has a major impact on how seriously you take the coronavirus outbreak. The number of people wearing masks in public seems to increase exponentially based on the size of the city you’re in. This is noticeable even between Colby and Wausau. For those of us in low-population areas, it can seem like all of these event cancellations and other precautions are an overreaction — even when new cases are reported in our local communities.
Of course, there will be plenty of time to debate whether the response to COVID-19 was too little, too late or too much, too late. There’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus, and even though it appears to be less deadly than originally believed as more test results come in, it has still claimed over 100,000 American lives. We’ve done far more as a nation to combat far less deadly phenomena.
Shared sacrifice is something that is often lost on this generation, which has not had to contend with a major world war or a sustained economic depression. We forget how many times our grandparents and great-grandparents had to forgo the simple pleasures of life in the United States — like going to a parade or attending a concert — because they were serving their country overseas or working 18 hours a day just to put food on the table.
In that context, giving up one year of Cheese Days seems a lot more reasonable. It still stinks — and it can have real impacts on businesses and vendors that rely on summer recreation — but we need to take the long view. If we can prevent further outbreaks and save lives, we will one day look back at this summer and realize it wasn’t that bad.
Our advice is to continue all of the summer traditions that allow for social distancing: fishing, hiking, biking, cookouts, and small gatherings of friends and families. It may feel like a lot is missing, but summer will still go on.
The Tribune-Phonograph editorial board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Kevin O’Brien