reser stadium covid-19

Gov. Brown should address Covid-19 burnout

There's 33,000 cases but only 58 deaths among residents 59 and younger
By Cliff Pfenning,

As the Pac-12 Conference moves to within a week away from starting its football season, there’s an elephant in the room of public debate - actually several elephants - in regards to public welfare and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

These elephants relate to sports in numerous ways, including fans in attendance at events. They're very toxic topics to get into, and Gov. Kate Brown would do the public some great service by addressing them, especially if it were in a town hall format.

Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano would certainly love to have the mic first and ask about the denial to grant the University of Portland and Portland State basketball programs the ability to practice and play games regardless of having fans in attendance. She's full-on said "no" even though Canzano has promoted they're the only two Div. I programs in the entire nation that are not openly practicing and preparing for games.

Perhaps Merritt Paulson, owner of the Timbers and Thorns, could ask about the reality of Phase 3 conditions for having fans at games. Both of those teams have been hit hard by the pandemic, but they at least have some TV revenue to help them survive. The Portland Winterhawks do not, and without fans in attendance they will not play this season, and might simply fold as a business.

I'd jump in and get to the first elephant, which involves Phase 3. In order for teams to have an audience, there needs to be a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19. So, what if there isn't one and what we've been able to do as a state - still under 700 deaths after seven months, is as good as we can do?

The logic behind this question is simple.

The 1918 Spanish Flu that killed more than 600,000 Americans in about 18 months by most reports, did not have a cure. Or a vaccine. And, it killed more than 50 million people across the globe. But, around 1920, it just ended. That might read like something America’s worst-ever President might say or tweet, but if you search online for “spanish flu cure” that’s what you’ll find. There wasn’t one. It just stopped being a threat to daily life and the US went back to chasing bootleggers instead.

The second elephant involves the vaccine. What if it shows up, but nobody gets it? A survey of 1,000 residents produced for the state showed that only about 40 percent of Oregonians would definitely get the vaccine. Half the residents surveyed said they weren’t sure what they would do, which is what happens with the flu vaccine every year - everyone does not get it. 

The third involves prosperity and simple public burnout. When the virus truly arrived publicly as a serious threat - March 11 with the positive test of Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert, many leaders began immediate preparations for a tsunami of cases and deaths.

Gov. Brown personally took action to turn the state fairgrounds in Salem into a 250-bed facility to handle overflow patients because one estimate had the state with as many as 75,000 cases in just two months. That’s a tsunami of cases. After seven months, though, the total number of cases has just passed 40,000, and total deaths above 650.

One factor keeping both those numbers down definitely has to do with the significant reaction to the potential tsunami: instructing the public to stay indoors, and closing most non-essential businesses such as restaurants, canibus shops, bowling alleys, gyms, salons, etc. With less contact, the virus has largely been kept in check within the state. How long that needs to go on, though, moves right into public burnout, and a key for that is the fourth elephant - the virus impacts a particular part of the populace much more than the overall population: men and women older than 60.

Information from both the CDC and Oregon Health Administration shows that 91 percent of the deaths attributed to the virus in Oregon were among the 60-and-older age-group. 

According to the most recent weekly report released by the OHA Oct. 21, of the 39,794 cases reported, 33,289 were from among residents 59 and younger - 83 percent of positive tests. The number of deaths for that group was 58. For seven months. That’s from more than 750,000 tests.

Younger people are not affected as decisively by the virus. In closing all those small businesses, though, their opportunities for prosperity are.

The burnout from numbers like this is in the focus on the spread of the virus. Super-spreader is a term associated with how many people might get the virus from an event, such as a football game, even if the people least likely to catch the virus and die are the ones at the game. Avoiding the risk those fans might catch it and pass it along even without knowing they ever had it in some cases is currently worth keeping everyone away from the event in the first place. But, for how long?

And, there's a big question about the connection between published testing/case results and actual deaths, in that they are not connected. The number of residents who die from COVID-19 in the state is a hard fact not related to the number of tests conducted. Cases, meanwhile, is a soft fact related entirely to the number of tests conducted. As more tests are conducted, the number of positive results will increase, but the number of deaths is not related to the number of tests or positive tests in any way.

The number of positive tests and deaths would very likely go up were society to return to more of a pre-March 11 lifestyle, which leads to the fifth elephant - is the return to the more prosperous lifestyle worth the risk of an increase in deaths? 

Again, if this reads like something the President might say or tweet, ponder that even a con man might say something that follows data and logic even though they’re literally farting into the wind when they say it just to prove they can make the wind change at will, not realizing their assistant just turned their body so the flatulence would magically float away with the wind.

"The virus will just magically end."

But, that's what history actually says happened to the 1918 pandemic.

The herd immunity that gets brought up regularly, well, that’s what national news media is involved with as it avoids addressing any of these elephants. It just focuses on the number of cases and the number of deaths, two figures that have a lot of extra perspective about them that goes unnoticed. 

The sixth elephant, well, that might be the biggest one of all here - evictions. The moratorium on evictions has to expire at some point, and when it does, there's going to be a huge demand for media time to cover all the heartbreak being passed around just the Portland area. Without more access to a pre-outbreak lifestyle, evictions are going to hit the state much harder than the pandemic itself.

Gov. Brown would do the public well to address these elephants as demand for more lifestyle increases.

With football season about to return to the state and plenty of fans yearning for a seat at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. Or Reser Stadium in Corvallis, most fans would likely have no problem wearing a mask, except, maybe, when the Ducks or Beavers face third-and-two on their opponents’ 18.

The public should have a voice in reassessing Phase 3 requirements for larger gatherings, because there’s good logic to suggest those requirements may never get met.


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