A sign offers appreciation to those on the front line in the fight to contain the virus, health care workers. (The Enterprise/File)

Thanks to a combination of planning and political will, it looks like Malheur County will be open for business again on Friday.

Don’t get overly excited, though. There will be plenty of changes in how business is done, what people can do, and the risks ahead. Prepare to help your community get back on its feet but also be ready to adapt.

We got to this point because of hard work – by local officials, by health authorities and by responsible citizens who know a crisis when they see one. Malheur County has largely dodged the fate of larger communities. People here have been infected with COVID-19, but not one has needed to check into a hospital. Not one has died – remarkable when you consider the national toll is now over 70,000 dead from this disease.

Likely, the debate will go on endlessly. There are those who saw little reason for places like Malheur County to join the national “stay home” move. They’ll point to the low infection rates as evidence that this was more panic than pandemic. But there are those who will say that quick action here and across Oregon suppressed the disease. Argue as you want, but precautions were prudent.

Many have worked tirelessly to protect you and the community, and a few deserve a special call-out.

Sarah Poe, director of the Malheur County Health Department, has been relentless in her efforts to alert the community to risks and steps to mitigate those risks. She and her team at the agency have taken some heat for their warnings, but they rightly kept on going. Ken Hart, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, has proven nimble and determined in adapting not only the hospital to the pandemic but readying the community to go back to a more open status. And Rich Harriman, the county’s emergency services director, wasted no time in orchestrating a disaster response and effectively serving as the community’s quarter master in running down necessary and critical supplies.

That hard work means that as soon as Friday, you can go to dinner, have breakfast with pals, and get your hair cut or colored. But this is just a phase. We are nowhere near to a real “Open.” That won’t happen until it’s evident that people moving around more freely doesn’t result the virus moving around and more people getting infected.

So, citizens have twin tasks ahead of them. Both deserve equal attention and vigor.

The first task is to help get Malheur County’s economy going again. Many of you have received $1,200 payments from the federal government. Circulate some of that around the county. Find out what your favorite restaurant is doing about renewed service and give it a good start by booking a meal. Help local retailers, the folks who are the ones that keep 4H, FFA and other organizations going with support. Go buy something, and don’t worry too much about being a bargain hunter. A dollar staying in Malheur County is worth a lot more than a dollar disappearing into Amazon or some other corporate chain.

The second task is to be careful about health matters. Do what the experts say. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Wash them again. None of that will cost you a cent. But someone carrying the virus to the wrong place could cost a life. That’s not fear-mongering. That’s cold fact.

Don’t be one of those who proclaims personal freedom trumps any advice or requirement of government. We’re frankly worn out by the “don’t tell me what to do” crowd.

As a society, we look out for each other. We are free to use judgment about how to do that, but we also are free collectively to decide there are limits. That’s why personal freedom doesn’t allow people to drive when drunk. That’s why personal freedom doesn’t allow people to spit in someone’s face. That’s why personal freedom doesn’t allow people to abuse their children. Some conduct just isn’t acceptable.

So it is with COVID-19. Our community has earned the freedom to restore a bit of normalcy. But if we get reckless, if we disregard sane advice, we’re in for another bout of tighter restrictions. No one wants that. If anything, we want to manage this opening bell in such a way that even more freedom and less restraint comes. So, be a good neighbor, be a good citizen and act in ways that are best for all.      – LZ

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