Editorial: January is the cruelest month

We hope that things on Vashon don’t get worse before they get better. Last week was bad enough.

What a week we’ve just had on Vashon — complete with skyrocketing cases of COVID in our community, record-setting high tides, soaking rains, mudslides and to top it all off, problems with mail delivery exacerbated by our December snowstorm.

It’s raining again as we go to press on Tuesday, with the possibility of more mudslides.

These are tough times, indeed, and we hope for better days soon for those who have been sick this week or adversely affected by rising water, slipping hillsides, or worries about their prescription medicines not showing up in the mail.

This week’s newspaper brings news we all have a stake in.

The leaders of our Medical Reserve Corps — a group of local doctors with 100 combined years of expertise and experience in internal medicine, pediatrics, infectious disease, immunology and molecular diagnostics — have stated that they now believe that disproportionately high counts of cases in school-age children are driving Vashon’s exploding case rate (see page 1).

Vashon Island School District Superintendent Slade McSheehy, however, has remained characteristically upbeat throughout the recent outbreaks in his district, and resolute in his decision to largely follow the more relaxed COVID safety guidelines of the Washington Department of Health (DOH) and Public Health Seattle King County (PHSKC) rather than the more conservative approach advocated by the MRC.

Last week, McSheehy told The Beachcomber, “To not follow those guidelines would be a change for us. The community and families can count on the fact that the district follows those guidelines.”

But is counting on that a good thing? It seems to us, sadly, that DOH and PHSKC guidance for schools has devolved, at this point, to be the bare minimum we could expect. Surely, with Vashon’s population demographic of older and therefore more vulnerable citizens, it seems reasonable to expect more.

McSheehy also said that he has no plans to return to remote education, which he states — and we agree — caused great harm to students and families.

But what about the harm that is being caused now, as students must not only navigate all the normal rigors of the classroom but must also worry about bringing disease home to their families?

We hope the school board — now about to appoint another new member (see page 3) — will press the superintendent to consider other options, including weekly testing for all students and more rigorous requirements on returning to school after exposures and infections.

To do so would be for the good of our entire community — which both financially supports the district and is now directly affected by the public health decisions made by its administration.

We fear the consequences of increased cases in the schools, which could include a diminished workforce not only in the district but on businesses throughout Vashon.

Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, who leads Public Health Seattle King County, said in a news briefing on Jan. 7, “We all need to plan for large numbers of people being ill in a short time frame, resulting in absenteeism in workplaces and its effect on operations.”

Duchin also discussed how exploding case counts have stressed the healthcare system in King County, stating that 400 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in King County hospitals as of Jan 7.

According to Duchin, this is the highest number of hospitalizations PHSKC has seen to date, resulting in worsening staff shortages in healthcare settings, too.

“Omicron is challenging us in new ways,” said Duchin. “Things are likely to get more difficult before they get better.”

We hope — after last week on Vashon — that things around here don’t get worse before they get better.

Because last week was bad enough.