You could sense the collective gasp across Malheur County last week. The new state restrictions meant to save lives are likely to squeeze more of the economic life out of the county. There appears to be only one way out.

Gov. Kate Brown moved to close down parts of Oregon for at least the next two weeks. She’s banning dining. She’s closing gyms. She’s ready to call the cops if people gather for parties that violate state rules.

Anger emerged quickly. Business organizations, from the Oregon Farm Bureau to the Oregon Bankers Association, pleaded with Brown not to shut down business. Small business owners in Malheur County and across Oregon are asking themselves: Can we hang on? More layoffs surely are coming in Malheur County as operations shed costs to keep some pulse of business life going.

Brown’s approach has many flaws, but its intent is singular: To contain a virus that is spreading out of control. Those who doubt the virus is real or serious are deluding themselves and likely putting their families and friends at risk.

Look across the country. Brown wasn’t alone in clamping down. Just across the border, Idaho Gov. Brad Little took extraordinary steps, including limiting gatherings. North Dakota, which has gone for months without Covid restrictions, listened to its Republican governor impose a mandate for masks and scratch youth sports, among other steps.

Here in Oregon, the health experts at every level say this incredible surge in cases is largely due to people not listening. They have particularly ignored the pleadings, even from hospital executives and nurses, to avoid social gatherings. The coalition of business associations that last week criticized Brown also had pointed criticism for individuals. “Oregonians seem complacent,” said the group. Mind you, this was a statement that among others represents farmers, loggers and ranchers.

We are at what appears to be a critical junction in Malheur County and in Oregon. And it’s now the individual decision of every resident will determine the community’s path.

Too many people are still clinging to the fallacy that is it their right not to wear a mask and to hold large family gatherings. Every credible medical expert, from Dr. Anthony Fauci to our local hospital professionals, say the simple act of wearing a mask is now the single most important step we can all take.

Make no mistake about the coronavirus. It is highly contagious. Those who carry it often aren’t aware – they show no symptoms. But they are spreaders, passing along the virus to those who may be less able to withstand its impact. That’s why hospitals across the West are filling up. Those people now need critical care available only in an ICU.

Some point out that the death rate isn’t that high. That shouldn’t be the goal. The rate is low in part because medical professionals have adapted in the past months to better treat Covid. That doesn’t make the treatment any more pleasant. It takes more than an aspirin to overcome the virus impacts.

In Malheur County, we need a civic response to this emerging crisis. We need to react as if a wildfire is burning towards town, threatening every home. We need to act as if we’re being invaded by an enemy – which we are. No one should doubt the need to respond. And there is no time for political recriminations or shoulder shrugging.

More is at risk than ever before for our community – the wellbeing of our relatives and neighbors, the jobs that put food in the fridge, the resilience of business owners who have with scrappiness survived for months under daunting and changing circumstances. As a community, let’s focus together on repelling the boarders off our vessel. Let us to a person resolve to battle in common good to save what is at too grave a risk of being lost. – LZ

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