The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners made the right decision last week when it approved nearly $25,000 to pay for COVID-19-related billboards.
The elected board also approved a request from the Umatilla County Health Department to employ seven contract tracers permanently.
Those two decisions — while seemingly mundane — signal convincingly the COVID-19 crisis isn’t over. Recent health department statistics also show the COVID-19 emergency locally may becoming acute.
The health department recently reported 135 new COVID-19 cases, the highest weekly total since February. Less than 40% of county residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The county’s vaccination rate ranks sixth lowest in Oregon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What those statistics mean is funding for such items as billboards to advertise COVID-19 prevention remain crucial, and the overall message that vaccinations are critical to stopping the disease isn’t getting through.
It could be people have simply stopped listening, or they are reluctant to get a shot because they don’t trust the vaccine has been tested enough, or they subscribe to conspiracy theories that filter around the state and the nation.
No matter the reason, the bottom line remains the same: People who are not vaccinated are at risk from the delta variant of COVID-19 — now the predominant variety in Oregon — and some will catch the bug, get very sick and some will die.
It’s that simple.
Obviously everyone has a choice. In America now, it is vitally important the element of choice remains at the forefront of everything we do. No one can, nor should, be able to force a resident to get vaccinated if they do not want to.
The problem is the amount of information floating around about the vaccine is usually tainted, one-sided and designed to create mayhem and confusion. That doesn’t help solve a crisis.
The debate over vaccines has come at a crucial time, a period when the focus should be on how we stop the COVID-19 virus. Should we emphasize the vaccine more? Should we institute more restrictions? How do we convince those who do not trust the vaccine?
These questions should be at the forefront of our task now, not promoting the dissemination of bogus information or encouraging a false narrative.
The virus isn’t going away. Now a variant of the virus is rolling through the nation — a variant that is far more easily spread and presents a risk to all.
We must meet this challenge head on with science, not rhetoric.