We’re all looking ahead eagerly to pocketing those masks and getting back to social lives and places, and we ought to be able to do most of that as we get toward mid-year.
In the “ought to” lies a catch, which is this: We need to put in the effort to get it done.
It isn’t done yet. In Idaho, as this is written, of the 176,802 Covid-19 cases reported so far, most happened last year - but 14,120 of those have been reported just since January, a rate not far short of the virus explosion last spring, with significant recent spread around Idaho Falls and Boise.
The arrival and use of vaccines and effective tactics like masking give us the opportunity to arrest that growth in the season ahead.
But it’s just an opportunity. We can blow it. Even now, we can see new superspreader events spreading cases once again.
Just look at the Idaho Legislature, which seems more interested in stopping anything that might end the pandemic than it does in, well, ending it.
Last week as I tended to tasks around central Boise, I remarked to a few people that I would be avoiding virus hot spot locations like the Statehouse. It was only a half-joke then. It’s not a joke at all now.
The Idaho Statehouse really is high-risk: Seriously, you shouldn’t go there if you don’t have to.
The last week saw a string of Idaho House members catching the bug (the Senate has not been immune in recent months either). As this is written, four House members are staying away from the Statehouse (as they should) because of positive Covid-19 tests.
The Associated Press reported, “All four lawmakers out with the illness are Republicans who rarely or never wear masks.” To judge from streaming video, that assessment could apply to most Idaho legislators, who gather and talk in close quarters with many people, inside and outside the Statehouse, and then travel to and from their districts across the state on, frequently, a weekly basis.
That quote came before the report on Thursday about two more House members testing positive. One of them, the usually-masked James Ruchti, remarked, "It feels like it's getting out of control here. Which I guess is the definition of a pandemic, huh?"
This is a legislature where, as the AP also notes, “A major goal of GOP lawmakers in the Legislature this session has been curbing the emergency powers of the Republican governor to respond to things like pandemics.”
This is not how you get a pandemic under control; in fact, a better superspreader could hardly be devised. Legislative leaders would be wise to insist on Covid-19 testing of all members on a regular basis; while four House members are reported as ill, many more could be asymptomatic carriers. At least one of those four House members almost didn’t take a test, after a physician initially had diagnosed her coughing as resulting from seasonal allergies.
House leaders appear to have opened the possibility of calling a pause in the session; probably they’re hoping the session will end on its regular schedule without having to do that. It’s a high-stakes gamble.
Another question that ought to be put to Idaho’s legislators - all of them - is: Have you taken or scheduled your vaccination yet? They all should do so, immediately, because the risk to themselves and to others is significant, and they should be encouraging, in strong terms, their constituents to do the same thing. (Disclosure: I’ve taken my first shot and my second is scheduled.)
The sooner we do what we must get the pandemic past us, the sooner it in fact will be past us. The people most eager to pretend we don’t need to do that, are the people who will slow us down.
Remember that the next time you see your friendly local legislator, and be sure to ask whether they personally are part of the solution or part of the problem.