Clammer

A clammer sinks his gun into the sand in Long Beach.

On what would have ordinarily been Rod Run weekend, a crowd estimated to be about 40% smaller than usual turned out at the beach for an informal happy celebration of classic cars and pickups. Coupled with a busy Labor Day, how worried should we be about possible spread of out-of-town covid to our 10,000 or so year-round residents?

And what about the upcoming lengthy and warmly anticipated razor clam season?

It may be a little too soon to tell whether we’ll pay a viral price for hosting so many guests over Labor Day, and it will take another week or two for Rod Run-related coronavirus to raise its head. But there has been surprisingly little evidence so far this year that local infections have resulted from tourism.

Our county’s three deaths and around 80 confirmed cases certainly can’t be called “luck” — there is real suffering in these numbers. But thanks to a professional and fairly aggressive response on the state and local level, Washington as a whole has so far avoided the truly horrible impacts experienced elsewhere, despite being the first state to record a case back in late February. Nevertheless, this week sees loss of our 2,000th resident to the disease and total infections surpassing 80,000 — grim milestones, if ever there were.

Complacency in the face of this obvious evidence of an ongoing pandemic is a real danger, one that could sometimes be seen in the form of maskless people too close together the past two weekends. (It is particularly lamentable to hear of law officers going around without face coverings. There is hardly anyone more essential. One sick officer can take down a whole department.)

But as a general matter, several factors work in our favor: Our region’s relatively modest viral load; the number who do take precautions seriously by staying home and using common sense when out in public; and the fact that visitors spend most of their time outdoors. These factors have allowed many businesses at the beach to bounce back to something economically survivable. There are glimmers of a way forward as we await a hoped-for safe and effective vaccine.

Yes to clamming

So what about clam season?

There are few Washington coast traditions more cherished than digging razor clams. It is a time to spend family time on our spectacular seashore, combining the fun of the hunt with the reward of delicious meals. It is a treasured experience and memory for generations of coastal residents and visitors, one that injects millions into our local economy. At the same time, clams are a genuine staple food for many who live here. A good clam year provides abundant wintertime protein to hundreds of local families.

On the down side, some will argue that any activity that attracts potentially infected people to the coast shouldn’t be encouraged. Last spring, these worries were enough to scuttle the final digs of the 2019-20 season.

Based on current conditions, this fall and winter’s digs should go forward, but with a continuing eye toward caution and with an awareness that careless behavior can shut the whole thing down.

There usually could hardly be anywhere safer than our ocean beach when it comes to this illness mostly passed by what Ed Yong in The Atlantic describes as the “five P’s: people in prolonged, poorly ventilated, protection-free proximity.” Clammers from different groups aren’t together long, if at all, and there can be few places better ventilated than the beach. Should clammers also wear facial protection? Most won’t, and on vast expanse of open sand it probably won’t make any difference.

The enormous number of clams in Pacific County this year, and a correspondingly large number of digging days, should spread the clamming effort out. The opening weekend could bring a crush of diggers, but after that there shouldn’t be huge crowds.

The real issue now, as it was this spring, is how clammers behave before and after they are on the beach. To protect themselves and our local population, it will be essential to be aware of all five P’s. In addition, business operators will have to protect themselves, their employees, customers and our economy by doing a better job limiting numbers indoors at any one time and enforcing mask rules. Keeping doors and windows open whenever possible will also help, along with steps like keeping surfaces sanitized and maintaining furnace filters.

Only by being responsible will we be able to enjoy the benefits of clamming — and other aspects of ordinary life — without putting lives at risk.

Covid really kills and sickens

As a closing note, we should all pause and take notice of the fact that President Trump in a recorded conversation early this year acknowledged just how serious this infection is. As time has amply proven, it is far more deadly than seasonal influenza or even the pandemic varieties of flu that have occasionally struck the U.S. since the horrors of 1918-19.

If you are someone who doesn’t believe scientists, we hope you will believe the man who has spent much of the past year claiming covid is no big deal, while privately delivering a much more ominous message.

In addition, although some take comfort in the number of infected people who “recover” and don’t immediately die, there is increasingly strong evidence that immediate death is far from the only serious consequence from catching the coronavirus.

Writing in the Washington Post (tinyurl.com/Long-Term-Covid-Damage), two top health experts warn this week “The latest research suggests that this novel coronavirus does widespread damage to blood vessels far beyond the lungs — and is thus far more dangerous than previously thought.” This vascular damage may sicken covid survivors for the rest of their lives and must begin to be carefully understood.

“Public health officials need to exhort people to shore up the health of their blood vessels. This includes eating foods that can promote blood vessel health, and regular exercise,” the article advises. Add to this that it’s even more important than ever for each of us to avoid catching covid and passing it to others.

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