Dick in a mask

In what has become a ridiculously politicized debate over whether to wear face masks to limit coronavirus transmission, former Vice President Dick Cheney is siding with science.

When fireworks are set off in dry dune grass, sometimes we luck out and nothing bad happens. More often, a fire starts but emergency responders get there fast and little damage is done. But the potential exists for a raging wildfire that scorches neighborhoods before anybody can do anything.

Sitting on the launching pad for a three-day July 4 weekend, coastal communities north and south of the Columbia River estuary must literally be prepared for fireworks danger. Even worse in this disease-blighted summer of 2020, we also must be ready for a coronavirus explosion.

Unlike Texas, Arizona and Florida where political incompetents never took covid-19 seriously enough and reopened their economies too quickly, Washington and Oregon have been appropriately cautious overall. In light of infection numbers and models that suggest increasing danger, both are taking it slow in moving back toward normal commercial and social interactions. Masks are required in public settings statewide in Washington and Oregon.

Considering these precautions, the viral sparks that alight in our coastal communities this weekend conceivably won’t set off a wildfire of local infections. However, it’s also possible that a surge of stir-crazy urban residents arriving on the coast will leave behind a contagious legacy of coronavirus.

Members of our large and vital tourist industry hope predictions of a robust return of traditional family beach vacations are accurate. To many city people, packing up the kids and heading for the coast will sound enticing — especially considering closed international borders, doubts about boarding airliners and cruise ships, and deep economic jitters. Anxious as we all are for normality, there’s also much local anxiety about the illness, death and resumed lockdown that might come from hosting too many people at one time in too small an area.

With inland heat predicted this weekend, municipal fireworks displays canceled but private sales going full blast, beaches open and many businesses begging for customers, the fuse has been lit for a big party on our beaches. Because the sea breeze wafts away viral exhalations, the beach itself will likely not be a horrible vector for coronavirus transmission. But what about before and after?

In an unfortunate departure from caution, officials have either gone along with or actively pursued a risky approach that will greatly depend on compliance with and enforcement of safety rules. There are governmental and personal actions we can take to try to limit the potential harm coming our way in the next few days.

On a government level, up until now there has been little stomach for policing things like social distancing and mask wearing — a strange reluctance considering avid ticket-writing for violating requirements for seat belts, car insurance and motorcycle helmets. If there ever is a good time to at least start writing warning citations for virus-safety violations, this weekend will be it.

Knowing ahead of time that official actions and inaction will result in tens of thousands of guests jamming into coastal zones, agencies including the Washington State Patrol, Oregon State Police, local law enforcement, state parks agencies and the Coast Guard must ensure “all hands on deck” to deal with the results. Revelry is inevitable, but calm and professional enforcement can perhaps keep the partying from spinning out of control. At the same time, it’s essential that all personnel watch out for their own health. The last thing we need is for our safety forces to catch covid.

On a personal level, our population skews older and sicker at the best of times. It would be wise for everyone with any obvious vulnerability to stock up and stay home, out of harm’s way, for the next several days.

“We know that covid-19 is in our communities,” Dean Sidelinger, M.D., Oregon state health officer, said. He offers this good advice: “Think hard about your choice of activities, especially as we get close to the Fourth of July holiday. Ask yourself: how can I reduce my risk and the risk I might pose to people around me?” Do what you can to suppress the virus: Stay 6 feet away from other people. Wear a mask. Avoid large gatherings, and if you are in a group setting — like a holiday barbecue — stay outside, keep your distance and use a face covering when you’re not eating. Wash your hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick.”

This holiday weekend is only the latest of many tests of our resolve against this new disease that has killed at least 126,000 of our fellow Americans. Covid-19 is not exaggerated, it’s not some liberal plot against President Trump, and it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s crucial that we follow the three Ws — wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance. Combined with the public-health strategies of aggressive testing, contact tracing and quarantining the ill, these commonplace behaviors can keep us and our loved ones well until a safe and effective vaccine is deployed.

One of our most conservative national politicians, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, last week tweeted a photo of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a face mask.

“Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK,” she wrote. She added the hashtag: #realmenwearmasks. This, surely, is something on which all Americans of every political persuasion should agree.

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