People are understandably concerned that the number of positive coronavirus cases in Cass County continues to rise. Cass is by far North Dakota’s coronavirus hotspot, accounting for well more than half of the state’s cases, even though it holds less than a quarter of the population.
It’s also concerning that the infection rate of those tested for the coronavirus in Cass, 8%, is more than double the statewide rate.
But we need to keep matters in perspective. The infection rate in Cass recently edged down. And that alarming 8% infection rate is significantly below the national average of 15%.
More importantly, there’s now a concerted and focused effort to drive down the coronavirus spread in Fargo-Moorhead. The Red River Valley COVID-19 Task Force is directing a testing and control effort that is both much more aggressive and much more targeted than earlier efforts.
Focused testing of those at high risk, guided by epidemiological science, will enable public health officials to identify those who are infected, track down their close contacts, and isolate them to halt the spread.
This is now being done on an ambitious scale — the state is allocating supplies to enable 5,000 to 7,000 tests here per week — that is the first crucial step toward driving the numbers down.
This effort must succeed because it’s absolutely necessary for us to restart the economy while at the same time working aggressively to control this pandemic.
We relentlessly track the rising number of confirmed cases and deaths, as we should. But we often overlook the rising number of coronavirus infection recoveries; the number of active cases is rising much more slowly than the number of new cases.
Let’s not forget that the vast majority of those who become ill from coronavirus infection recover, the vast majority of them at home.
It was appropriate to lock down as the pandemic first struck, a precaution to slow the spread of the virus to keep hospitals from becoming overrun. We’ve accomplished that, and ongoing aggressive testing, tracing and isolation will keep that crucial effort on track.
But there’s an urgent need to get the economy back on track as well. We can’t forget that the human toll from the pandemic is measured not only by infection rates and deaths but by unemployment rates and business shutterings.
We’re living in the midst of what very well could be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We’re seeing staggering, unprecedented jobless numbers — and they keep piling up.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic is resulting in very real human suffering. This pandemic will be with us a long time, so we have to work smartly to contain the spread while at the same time restoring the economy.
We have to protect livelihoods as well as lives.
Everyone has an important role in that effort. For this to work — and to prevent even worse suffering — everyone must do their part to contain the virus.
That means avoiding crowds. That means keeping your distance from others — at least six feet from anyone who isn’t in your household. That means wearing a mask when distancing isn’t possible. That means washing your hands thoroughly and frequently.
We value individual freedom in this country. Now it’s time to value personal responsibility. We need an aggressive public education and advertising campaign to drive these responsibility messages home. They need to become ingrained behaviors and not just slogans.
We cannot afford to let this economy — and the livelihoods that supports — become another casualty of the pandemic.