The shifting guidelines and headlines have left many of us numb. A year in, pandemic fatigue is real. Once a habitual, borderline addiction on my part, I haven’t checked our county COVID data in weeks. Now, thanks to the new Reopening Plan, it might not matter.
If you’ve been numbed to new COVID information coming out and turned a blind eye, you might have missed the governor’s new two-phased reopening plan issued last week called “Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Recovery.” The criteria for moving through phases includes case rates/100,000, trends in hospital admissions, percentage of ICU occupied, and percentage of positive tests. With only two phases it’s supposed to be simpler to follow and doesn’t require counties to apply to the next phase.
In my opinion, there are two fatal flaws for us here in the valley: the regional approach and the family number restrictions. In contrast to the old plan based on county data, the new plan is based on regional data. From the halls of Olympia this probably made sense: group counties into regions and track public health information. But from my perspective in Twisp, this is lousy. It was hard enough for the Methow Valley to be lumped together with all of Okanogan County in the number counts, and now our path to normalcy relies upon the trends occurring in Chelan, Douglas and Grant Counties. In almost all metrics, these counties are doing worse than Okanogan County. And if you watch the Methow Valley case data with a fine-toothed comb, we are generally doing better than the county as a whole.
The upshot is that our region is currently meeting two of the qualifying metrics for moving to Phase 2. Our ICU occupancy and number of cases. Therefore, if our testing rates retreat and our hospitalizations decline, we may be headed to Phase 2. New 14-day data will be released on Feb. 12. Currently, the Puget Sound and West Regions qualify for Phase 2. They can begin to enjoy indoor dining at 25% capacity, sports competitions even for high-risk sports, and indoor home gatherings of two families (not to exceed 15 people). The more I look into these guidelines, the more I question the arbitrary restrictiveness of the numbers.
Here in Phase 1, we are still restricted to hanging out outside, which lately has been quite lovely, but our numbers are restricted to 10 people outside our household, but only two households. OK, but how many 10-person households are out there? I guess for college kids who cram into rentals, this is great — no wonder that demographic keeps contracting it!
There are a few things we are allowed to do indoors, but only as a small family unit, unless of course you go to church. We could reserve a bowling alley, theater, or go to a museum on a private tour. But, oh, if you are a family of seven, you are out of luck because the state is restricting family size to six for private indoor entertainment. I guess if you are the fifth child (like I was), you have to stay home, even if your parents reserved and paid for the entire bowling alley. Presumably, the restrictive numbers are based on statistical models — but clearly the numbers don’t make common sense. Here’s a scenario why the rules are getting bent.
Dad says, “Hey kids, how about we go to the zoo and see gorillas for Billy’s birthday this weekend?”
Mom says, “We can’t because they only allow six per family and since we had Baby Rose we are seven. Besides, gorillas can get COVID, so we better just have an outdoor party with the Johnsons next door.”
“But MOM, we always hang out with Johnsons in the back yard! I don’t even like Timmy anymore, he’s such a brat. I want to see my other friends on my birthday or DO something!”
Dad: “Well, Billy, your mom is right. The state says we can only have one other family over.”
It doesn’t take too much thought see the irony. While churches are restricted to 25% capacity, some of the mega-churches can hold hundreds. Meanwhile theaters are restricted to families of six. Billy can’t have more than one kid over for an outside birthday party.
While I applaud the state for trying to strike a balance between the spiritual needs and safety, if the purpose is to safely reopen, the capacity limit should be consistent for all indoor gatherings and for goodness sake, households larger than seven should be allowed to go bowling together. Is it too much to ask to rethink this one more time?