Everything has changed. Again. 

Pierce County is failing to meet the goals for Phase 2 reopening. 

The desired 14-day average number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people should be under 25; that’s the number the state Department of Health defines as “low-disease activity.” Under 25 cases is manageable when combined with adequate and timely testing, plus contact tracing to alert others who may have been exposed.

Pierce County’s 14-day average July 26 was 134 cases. 

Casting blame, public shaming and denial are all forms of coping when things go wrong. But after the righteous indignation comes the awareness that who or what caused the problem doesn’t matter. 

In a situation report on COVID-19 transmission across Washington State from the Institute for Disease Modeling, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Microsoft and the DOH in mid-July, “Washington State is in the early stages of an exponential statewide outbreak that has zero chance of being reversed without changes to our collective behavior and policies to support that change.” 

The idea that Pierce County will be able to advance to Phase 3 is a cruel joke. Until it does, the doors to the Key Center Library will remain closed. The long awaited splashpad at Gateway Park? It’s ready for a grand opening blast of watery fun for kids and families, but the chance of that happening before summer’s end is slim.

“…the early stages of an exponential statewide outbreak that has zero chance of being reversed without changes to our collective behavior…”

Peninsula Schools will begin the school year with remote learning. The spread of COVID-19 presents unacceptable health risks to safely reopen classrooms this fall. We have more cases now than when schools closed in March.

The school board agonized over the impact on student health and the welfare of their families, but as the largest employer on the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas, it also had a duty to protect the health and welfare of the community. 

The district held small classes for groups of up to five special needs students for just a week in mid-July, until one participant at Peninsula High School tested positive for COVID-19. The school followed all

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction guidelines, but now this small group and their close contacts will need to quarantine for 14 days and be monitored for COVID-19 symptoms, the district said in a July 26 statement.

That classrooms will not reopen could hardly be more devastating to working parents, who like so many others in districts throughout Washington must scramble to manage or pay for basic childcare. 

Many parents have shared their fears and challenges after surviving last spring, juggling work and managing kids at home. Even when one parent is at home, supporting their children and helping them through this new way of learning is difficult. For others, it is untenable, literally forcing some to leave the workforce with the knowledge their job may not be waiting for them when they are able to return. 

The television news is not helpful with cameras focused on capturing the most dramatic images. It’s difficult not to fall into despair over now familiar scenes of city streets filled with mostly peaceful protestors for social justice, while others incite violence that undermines the cause.

After the last five months of operating in a relative state of shock and rolling waves of grief, we are all exhausted. I suppose it was little wonder that the easing of restrictions that began June 5 saw us so ready to be done with it all that we forgot all our social distancing measures. It is hard to break old habits. I may never stop extending my hand for a shake or beginning an embrace.  

Wearing masks has increased with the state mandate. In the early days of the pandemic, masks and even basic social distancing measures somehow became so politicized that compliance equaled capitulation for some, causing arguments and actual fights between ordinary people in ordinary places. Over a mask.

We cannot control external events, we cannot even control our own emotions, but we can control how we respond to them. Blaming and shaming others is not a survival strategy. Setting a goal and marching toward it, is. If that means wearing a mask everywhere, helping a family with children, or calling for social justice, reconciliation and solutions, that is what we must do. No disease or social ill was ever cured by treating the symptoms — it had to be stopped in its tracks.

We decide how this story will end.