Last week, The Seattle Times reported that out of 48 Health Reporting Areas (HRAs) in King County, Vashon Island has reported the lowest rate — 1% — of positive tests for COVID-19 and that Vashon was the only HRA left on the list with no COVID-19 fatalities.
Perhaps that Seattle Times article was one reason we noticed an uptick of tourists on our island last weekend — with far too many of them strolling maskless down Vashon’s sidewalks in the center of town. The perception of Vashon being “safe” must be a powerful draw for some weary city-dwellers and suburbanites.
But the idea that this is a magical island, forever free of the virus, is false, of course.
And for residents who had essential business in town, it was disturbing to see the influx of out-of-towners, especially given that our downtown sidewalks are already difficult to manage.
At least two restaurants in the center of town have placed tables or benches on the narrow sidewalk, where passersby have no possible way to socially distance from unmasked diners. The only choice is to hold your breath beneath your mask and try not to bump into someone else or trip over one of the tables as you hurry by. Or dash out into the street, which is also not safe, of course.
The Seattle Times article, published on July 29, cited only seven positive cases on Vashon — a statistic that was already out of date at the time it was published. And by Monday, Aug. 2, Vashon had 11 confirmed cases.
The number still seems good, until you consider how much Vashon’s cases surged in July.
Fire Chief Charlie Krimmert, incident commander of the island’s pandemic response activation, reacted on Monday to the series of new COVID-19 cases on the island.
“In less than 30 days, we have added five cases,” he said. “In just one month, we equaled the number of cases in the entire first four months of our activation. That’s a very troubling trend.”
Chief Krimmert cautioned islanders that COVID-19 is all around us and this is no time to let down our guard.
“Nobody wants family or neighbors to get sick, especially when it is so easy to take the steps to stay safe,” he said. “We all know what to do by now. Keep your distance. Wash hands frequently. Wear a mask if you must go out.”
Dr. Jim Bristow, the chairperson of the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps testing project, also urged extreme caution on Friday, July 31.
“We are fortunate that our infection rate remains relatively low compared to the mainland but that will change if we become complacent,” Bristow said. “COVID-19 is here on Vashon. There will be more cases. Folks should assume that anyone they encounter may be capable of spreading the disease. Keep doing the proven things that keep you and those around you safe.”
He too urged everyone to wear a mask, social distance, wash their hands frequently, and stay at home to the extent possible.
Almost week after week, this editorial space in The Beachcomber has been filled with pleas to readers to do the same: Take care. Make good decisions. Stay home if you can.
The only problem is, some can’t stay home. Though Vashon is one of the wealthiest and whitest areas of King County — a factor explored in depth by the Seattle Times article — not everyone here shares in the privilege.
Some people, like the two Chase bank workers who are among Vashon’s newest cases, have to go to work in public-facing jobs.
These and other essential workers are among the people most at risk, which makes it maddening to see people who are privileged breaking the rules, or simply gathering with too many other people, at parties, family reunions, or even at church — all well-documented places where the coronavirus loves to lurk.
Vashon cannot forever remain separated and immune from the fact that our federal government has catastrophically failed to contain the coronavirus, and the people of this nation have failed to rise to the challenge, collectively, of behaving in the way they should.
The wreckage is all around us, with one of the saddest results imaginable about to unfold in a few weeks, right here at home, when there will be no back to school photos in front of island houses.
In the beginning, we were told we needed to be careful for weeks, not months. Not six months. Not a year.
But here we are, and the advice hasn’t changed. The sooner everyone finally listens, not just here on Vashon but throughout this country, the sooner this terrible ordeal will come to an end.