Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Doug Mell has been working in multiple capacities to contain the virus. His take is a “spigot has opened.”
Since the earliest days of the pandemic, much of my working life has been devoted to addressing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I have spent hundreds of hours in meetings discussing the virus and its impact on the university where I work.
I have heard heart-wrenching stories as part of the Dunn County Community Recovery Team from healthcare providers and public health officials whose lives have been turned upside down by the explosion of cases in Dunn County.
But, in a very real sense, I processed all this in much the same way as I handled tragedy as a reporter and later as an editor at newspapers, including the Wisconsin State Journal and Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. I was trained to view tragic circumstances with a large degree of detachment: as an outside observer and never, ever as a participant.
Then, last week, the COVID-19 virus came knocking with a vengeance, and all sense of detachment evaporated over the course of 48 hours.
It started with a phone call from a good friend who told me that his sister had died overnight of complications of the virus, which she had been battling for some time. The anguish in his voice was heart-rending, especially since all I could offer was my sympathy and support.
The death was more tragic because she had gone downhill in 24 hours or less, and there was nothing hospital personnel could do to reverse the decline.
Then, just 24 hours later, I got a text from my best friend telling me he had the virus as well. Talk about a gut punch. I had seen him six days before, but we had engaged in good social distancing practices and were quasi-outside (in a garage with doors open).
I had seen him briefly two days after that to drop something off outside. I’m happy to say that my friend is on the mend, but as the previous story indicated, I take nothing for granted with this vicious disease and am eternally grateful I didn’t do something stupid in his presence, or I would have the disease as well.
Since then, it’s like a spigot opened.
Reports of people I know either having the disease or coming in close contact with someone who has tested positive have come every day. I remarked that if this continues, I will know more people who have had the virus than those who haven’t. As my wife says, it is closing in on us.
Luckily, and I’m knocking on a very large piece of wood right now. No one I know has died from this disease, which has taken nearly 240,000 Americans, including about 2,300 in Wisconsin and more than 30 in Eau Claire County where I live.
Healthcare providers are being strained both by contracting the disease and by having to hold the hands of those who are dying from it. Public health officers, who have been hamstrung by governmental resistance to address the pandemic, can do little but count the cases and contact trace if time permits.
And the death toll mounts.
So now it is left to us to do what we all know is an effective way to tamp down the spread of the disease: Wear your freakin’ mask, as Gov. Evers has said, maintain social distancing, practice good hygiene habits, avoid large gatherings, and get tested if you show any symptoms. Yes, this is a tall order; we all want to return to the days before the pandemic.
But, as I learned during those terrible 48 hours last week, the disease is right outside our door, doing pushups. We need to do whatever we can, make whatever sacrifices necessary, to keep it from barging in.
Doug Mell is special assistant to the chancellor at UW-Stout and a freelance writer based in Eau Claire. These views are his alone.