Recent protests in cities across the country — including in Olympia on Sunday — organized by conservative factions and attended by hundreds, displayed the sense of frustration shared by many affected by statewide lockdowns that have ground American commerce to a halt and imperiled the global economy.
Online commentators were quick to call out the demonstrations as dangerous and misinformed. Reporters interviewed attendees who said they did not believe there is a pandemic at all, and that the media has sensationalized the virus to undermine President Trump, or that COVID-19 is part of some other nefarious plot to wrestle freedom away from American citizens.
But many protesters also shared another refrain: That they are afraid of not being able to support themselves or provide for their families. On that, we can surely all agree, they are right to be worried — and they are not alone.
The damage wrought by the novel coronavirus pandemic is clear: More than 40,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19 by the time this issue of The Beachcomber is printed and delivered. This is a disease that made landfall in this country — first in this state — mere months ago and is already the leading cause of death in the United States.
Meanwhile, unemployment benefits for the more than 22 million people who have found themselves out of a job are held up by an overburdened system not designed to process so many claims at once. News reports that federal funds meant for small businesses have been depleted underscore the gravity of the situation. It is uncertain whether there will be a return to life before the virus, or how long it will take to recover. But without a doubt, our society has no reason yet to believe the worst is over, or that by now, in the third week of April, those who have appropriately practiced social distancing are somehow not susceptible to the virus, or cannot transmit it to others if they carry it.
And that is why it is distressing to see a line of traffic streaming through town on a Sunday afternoon when there is no reason for so many vehicles to be on the highway at once. For any prospective day-trippers from Seattle or Tacoma who may be reading, we must discourage you from visiting our island in the midst of this crisis. We will need you to help us support our business community when we can all enjoy the best of what this island has to offer. But this is not the time. Please stay home.
Moreover, for those of you who may not be aware, King County Parks closed its parks, trails and other facilities on Wednesday, March 25. That means that Island Center Forest, Neill Point, Maury Island Marine Park, Maury Island Natural Area and Dockton Park, all owned and managed by the county, are entirely off-limits — including to Vashon-Maury Island residents. Many Vashon Park District facilities are also closed. More information about that is available online at vashonparks.org.
So why all this? The closures of restaurants and theaters, schools and libraries, open trails and golf courses, are in place to curb transmission of a deadly virus. One that is far deadlier than the seasonal flu, and one that is a greater affront to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than anything we have seen in a generation. COVID-19 is not contained or defeated. We will only succeed in stopping the spread if we continue observing social distancing measures. It is imperative that we all work together on this.
We islanders have been incredibly fortunate so far in that, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County, we only have had four confirmed cases of infection, and no fatalities. We cannot become complacent now and jeopardize our own safety, and that of our community. Have patience, stay connected, and keep up the fight.