Thank you, public health officials, health care workers

As 2020 comes to a close, many of us are hoping for better days ahead, perhaps even breathing a sigh of relief that this year is nearly over.

The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot in situations where it perhaps doesn’t apply, but this year has certainly been just that — for all of us.

Here at the Herald, this year has been as challenging for us as it has been for many of you. We’ve learned to adapt to working from home and covering events from a distance if possible, trying to maintain our own health and that of our families, dealing with some of the same revenue issues as many other small businesses, while also providing our community with vital information. Never has our work felt more important.

We admit that sometimes it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, doing the best we can with a constantly changing situation. It’s somewhat comforting to know we’re not the only ones.

Whether it’s been teachers learning to teach via distance or in a masked and distanced classroom, restaurant owners figuring out how to adapt to take-out and curbside dining, service agencies finding new and creative ways to reach their clients, or any number of other situations, it’s been a struggle for all of us.

Sadly, it seems to us that as the year has progressed, some members of our community seem to have forgotten that we’re all struggling to do the best we can in an ever-changing and truly unprecedented situation and have begun taking their frustrations out on those who least deserve it — our healthcare workers and, particularly, public health staff and officials.

Those who were hailed as heroes in the spring are now being vilified and in some cases even threatened for doing nothing but their jobs. They’re using their expertise to try to keep all of us as safe as possible. It’s not an easy task.

What people seem to be forgetting is that the novel coronavirus is entirely new; hence, the term “novel.” Although there are other coronaviruses in existence, this is one we had never seen prior to its emergence in late 2019. When it first began to spread outside of China, public health experts based their recommendations on past pandemics.

At first, the guidance was as it always has been — wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick. As more information became available and the magnitude of the situation became clearer, the guidance changed to include staying home. Eventually, as it became clear the virus was primarily spreading through respiratory excretions, that guidance came to include things that have become the hallmarks of 2020 — social distancing and face masks.

We can argue the merits of these measures, probably endlessly, despite the substantial scientific evidence of their efficacy, but that would miss the point, which is that healthcare workers are trained to prioritize the physical and mental health of people — not the economy or politics or anything else.

Even so, State Health Officer Alexia Harrist, Uinta County Health Officer Dr. Mike Adams, and all public health officials are trying to balance these often-competing issues and needs, which is evident in their health orders.

If they were to draft orders focused on the single issue of containing the spread of the virus responsible for COVID-19 infections and fatalities, the solution is simple. Close everything — schools, retail business, restaurants, bars, pretty much everything except medical providers, first responders, grocery stores and pharmacies. Allow very few people to leave their homes.

However, that’s not what has been done in the United States and particularly in Wyoming. Health officials are trying to balance reducing the spread of the coronavirus while also recognizing the very real impacts — economic, health and otherwise — of what such closures would entail. They understand the importance of education for children and have therefore created health orders that allow students in Wyoming to attend school in person, provided distancing and masks are in place — which is not at all the case in many, many other areas.

They understand that people need to work to support themselves and have therefore created health orders that allow commerce to continue, albeit with some restrictions. Restaurants operating at reduced capacity represents a compromise, trying to find a middle path to help control the virus while still allowing businesses to remain open.

Such establishments are now ordered to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. — not because the virus stops circulating at those hours, as some social media posts sarcastically claim in an effort to discredit the orders, but because, based on knowledge and experience, those drafting the orders realize that people out in the late hours of the night and very early morning have often been drinking alcohol and therefore are more likely to shrug off safety precautions.

Here in Wyoming, we’ve even been able to have our kids participate in sports, plays and music concerts, and we’ve still been able to have parades and other community events over the past several months, because health orders have allowed to us to do so. Those writing them have obviously recognized the importance of these community and school events for our social and emotional well-being.

Our point is that people pointing to what they feel are portions of the health orders that don’t make any sense — to discredit both the orders and those drafting them — are pointing to the exact portions that were created to try to find a middle ground between a complete lockdown and a COVID free-for-all.

And more to the point is that denigrating people who have literally been working 10- to 12-hour days, seven days a week, for almost 10 months and counting, trying to protect our health and well-being, is really uncalled for.

It’s not the fault of anybody in Uinta County or Wyoming that the CDC and the World Health Organization have at times changed their guidance as new information becomes available, which is one of the hallmarks of science, by the way — learning and adapting to new information.

It’s not the fault of anybody in Uinta County or Wyoming or any healthcare workers anywhere that the hodgepodge handling of the pandemic, left up to the states with little guidance from the federal government, has resulted in confusion, lack of supplies, conflicting guidelines and more.

Public health officials, relying on significant expertise, knowledge and years of training, have made difficult decisions that nobody envies them having to make. Elected officials have at times trusted their judgment and at others openly criticized it. The fact is, however, that elected officials, for the most part, do not themselves have the expertise, knowledge or training to make such consequential healthcare decisions, which is, after all, presumably why they have appointed health officers in the first place.

We at the Herald extend our deepest gratitude and appreciation to healthcare workers everywhere — home health, medical clinics, long-term care agencies, hospitals and more. Although you obviously sought out careers in which you would devote yourselves to helping others, you certainly never signed up for risking your own lives, and those of your families, day in and day out in the midst of a global pandemic. Although we try, we truly can’t imagine what your days have been and are like.

To our local public health officials, we salute you, we recognize the work you’re doing, and we urge our community members to take a step back and think about the importance and necessity of the work you’re doing. What is often an unheralded and unnoticed job has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight, for better and for worse.

We hope you get a break soon. We hope you’re still willing to serve our communities after the pandemic has passed. We hope you remain healthy. And we hope those in our community, and in all communities, stop and think before placing anger and blame upon you, where it is least warranted.


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