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Editors’ Expressions: Take One for Tootie

It’s Thanksgiving, and Tootie's gonna have a party.

She’s not supposed to, but that’s not the point. Tootie is a free woman in a free country, and she’s gonna be free. And if other people are the ones who end up footing the bill—healthcare workers, the medically vulnerable, neglected seniors dying of loneliness because their loved ones can’t visit—well, that’s the price (other) people have to pay for (Tootie’s) freedom.

Tootie is my new county commissioner. She likes attention, and she got plenty with her weekend Facebook announcement that she’d be flouting Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s latest round of restrictions aimed at restraining the wildfire spread of COVID-19.

Those restrictions included a cap of six people from two households at people’s Thanksgiving meals. Nuh-uh, says the freedom-loving Tootster: “My family will celebrate Thanksgiving with as many family and friends as I can find,” she huffed, sounding for all the world like a petulant preteen. “[Brown] ain’t the boss of us,” cheered one fan.

Both then presumably returned to wondering why those protesters downtown have so little respect for authority.

Fueling Brown’s move were the same numbers that are out of control everywhere. In the past two weeks, Oregon infections have doubled, and hospitalizations are up 56%. The county Tootie and I share has 4,600 cases, the tricounty urban area 25,000. Tootie said she didn’t know what local hospital bed capacity is running (because why would a local leader need to know that in a pandemic?), so let’s help her: In the Portland region today, ICU beds are 83% full, and other hospital beds are at 91% capacity.

Some of those people, one can imagine, took their own gambles with COVID and lost. But we know others didn’t. A certain percentage of COVID sufferers don’t know how they contracted it, and we’ve all seen reports of people who took good precautions but got sick anyway. Masks and distancing aren’t perfect—that’s why you still minimize other risks.

Lots of data now has chronicled that those hardest hit by the virus are the older, sicker, poorer, and nonwhite. Except for her age, that’s not Tootie, so perhaps it’s invisible to her. It might occur to you that things that come with costs to other people aren’t actually free, but for some reason people who understand this about healthcare and higher education don’t seem to see it with COVID. What Tootie and folks like her are actually doing is just cost-shifting to a lot of others less privileged than themselves.

That’s people like my mother, who died in a local facility in April, and the amazing family that runs that facility, for whom quarantine requirements following any external contact keep them just as isolated as their residents. Mom only had to live without visitors for three weeks, so I regard her as pretty fortunate. Others in her situation have now gone eight months without a hug from a loved one. What that can do to the people who raised and cared for us is awful. Tootie’s freedom isn’t free for them. 

All that said, though, while business restrictions should stifle the spread some, I can’t imagine any executive pleas for responsibility in personal gatherings having any effect at this point, unless Brown's goal is to get kidnapped by terrorists. Sure, she’s actually asking law enforcement to “encourage compliance” this time, but we saw how that worked last time around, and if you don’t have enforcement, you don’t have a policy.

It’s mostly just choir-preaching anyway. The responsible people know what to do and have been doing it since March. The others have been pretty adamant  they’re not going to start, no matter what price other people have to pay.

Note once again, though, EMS providers are squarely among those “other people.”

John Erich is the senior editor of EMS World.

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