For a short while, the isolated Methow Valley was a haven from the COVID-19 anxiety that has paralyzed the Seattle area. Winter recreationists and second-home owners escaped the west side for the serenity of the valley. Their business kept us occupied and perhaps a little naïve about what might be coming.
But the signs have been there, if anyone was paying attention to legitimate news sources. Tentative recommendations for dealing with the disease escalated into harsh restrictions that then rapidly morphed (like a rogue virus) into extreme measures. The people who actually know what they’re talking about have made it clear that “extreme” is the only kind of action that will make an appreciable difference. Otherwise, a lot more people will get sick, and a lot more people will die, and some of them will be deniers who still think the whole thing is a hoax or a conspiracy (I’m not sure how it could be both).
Now that initial west side actions to confront the virus have become more-aggressive statewide actions, we can foresee with brutal clarity what to expect. And it’s going to hurt. Not like when the doctor says, “this is going to hurt a little” before the needle goes in. A lot. For a long time. With some irreversible consequences.
If we look at it from the long-range view of saving lives and preserving what we’ve worked so hard to achieve, the coming privations may one day be seen as the determined sacrifices that saved us from exponentially worse outcomes.
But today, with the state’s latest round of countermeasures taking effect, the coronavirus looks more like the thing that could decimate the valley’s fragile, tourism-based economy.
We’re all going to feel it. Many businesses are closed indefinitely, notably those serving the tourism trade. “Shoulder season” will only do so much to mitigate that. Nonprofits, arts organizations and other community groups are basically hibernating. Government services will be curtailed and harder to come by. Shuttered schools will cause problems for parents. Many people will be out of work with few — if any — options. All of those things will have a cascading effect that will touch every corner of the valley. Personal and institutional resources will be strained past the breaking point at a time they are most needed.
So here’s where I stop being so gloomy. Because if we have to endure all this, thank God we’re in the Methow.
Already, this necessarily self-dependent community is mobilizing on many fronts with a common cause: to help each other. We like to think of ourselves as resilient, resourceful and action-oriented. The coronavirus threat will severely test those traits — as did our devastating wildfires in recent years. I see many signs that we are up to the challenge.
I think we’re in for a rough couple of weeks before we start figuring out what might be the next “new normal.” I also think we will, as best we can, soon begin defining what that means for the Methow Valley, now and in the future. We are blessed with smart, determined and generous people who will rise to the occasion, along with a deep reservoir of community pride to draw on.
We could argue about the nature of the threat and how it ever got so far out of control. That would be a waste of time that we don’t have. Whatever politics got us to this point are just soapy water under the bridge. Around the country, state and local governments are taking up the fight where the federal government has lagged.
However global the issue might be, here in the valley it’s going to be personal. Embrace that. Ask a family member, friend or neighbor how you can help. Get involved with some of the supportive efforts that are taking form. Think innovatively about how we might fill some of the gaps that are coming in the next couple of months. Be sympathetic toward people who are hit especially hard. The Methow Valley has well over a century of accumulated survival skills to call on. We need them — and each of you — now more than ever.