By this time, two years ago, the coronavirus had arrived in the Seattle area and had yet to show up in Spokane.
We were still more than a week away from Governor Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation, and a deluge of closures — annual events, restaurants and businesses, and schools — was about to fall.
It’s hard to remember what it felt like then, but I don’t think anyone had a good idea of what was to come. I remember a lot of hopeful conversations about the pandemic — maybe, if we were lucky — ending in the fall.
Since then, through the waves of spikes in cases, the arrival of vaccines and the various politicized battles over everything, the reopenings and mandates of masks, the upheavals in schools and the continuous tests of patience for even the most cautiously, there has been this one basic reality that, strangely, often falls completely outside of public debates about how we should respond to the pandemic.
A massive number of people died. A huge wave of death and heartbreak unfolded as so many argued childishly over the alleged tragedy of wearing a mask.
As we approach what looks like – once again – a time when the end is in sight, we have lost more than 931,000 Americans to COVID-19.
This is 386 times the number of American military deaths in 20 years in the war in Afghanistan.
Three hundred and nine times the death toll of September 11, 2001.
Twenty-four times the number of deaths in road accidents in 2020.
Only heart disease and cancer killed more people than COVID-19 last year.
In this context, it seems that the greatest measure by which to judge a state’s response should be the quality of its work in keeping people alive.
Few governors have done it as well as Inslee.
This state was ground zero for the pandemic in America, but we are on the downward slope of Omicron’s push with one of the lowest death rates in the country.
For every 100,000 people in Washington, 149 have died from COVID-19.
That’s a lot of people, and it could have been a lot less, given what is known of the ravages of the disease in the unvaccinated.
But it’s the sixth-lowest COVID-19 death rate in the country, and it’s far lower than most states where governors have taken the opposite route — no masks, no vaccine mandates, no closures, nothing.
Next door in Idaho, for example, the death rate was 255 per 100,000.
If we had their rate, we would have lost an additional 8,071 Washingtonians.
A whole Sequim – gone.
In Florida, where Ron DeSantis became a conservative hero by avoiding almost all public health considerations, the death rate was more than double ours, at 315 per 100,000.
If we had had that rate here, that would have translated into 12,640 additional deaths.
At Liberty Lake – gone.
And, while there are many people who have lost their jobs and businesses that have suffered, and while there are high-mortality states with stronger GDPs, Washington’s economic recovery has been strong.
Last year, the state recorded one of the highest job growth rates as a percentage of employment before the pandemic (4.8%) and recovered a higher percentage of lost jobs initially during the pandemic (81%) than the national average (78%), according to the University of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 Economic Crisis Project.
If you want to look for a more pronounced downside, it’s not hard to find in education. Test scores have plummeted after the year of home learning, although there are a lot of grains of salt to be taken with those numbers at this point.
The greatest crisis exists among the students we have lost – thousands upon thousands of students who have fallen off the radar of their local school districts. A Seattle Times report put the number at 29,000 statewide. This is a crisis in children who were already on the verge of crisis, and the consequences will be lasting.
But it’s simplistic to see the burdens of the pandemic as just the burdens of school closures – as if it were magically possible to create a perfectly undisturbed educational world during a pandemic. Despite all the mystifying cries about schools reopening, remember that our schools here were opened this year. They stayed open as the omicron grew, with a few daily exceptions, even as districts struggled to find enough replacements to cover classes for all the sick teachers and seemingly every kid in town had caught the virus.
It’s clear at this point that not everyone puts saving lives at the top of their priority list. From day one, many people have minimized the death toll by minimizing the value of those who died.
They were just old, you see. Just sick. Just fat or ashmatic or diabetic.
Many people just wanted to throw them into the volcano to appease the economic gods.
The response to the pandemic involved many compromises, and that’s not to say Inslee did a perfect job or that there weren’t costly compromises. Many people are furious with him, believing it is time for the masks to drop; this impatience is understandable. When the time comes, I’ll tear mine off with flying colors.
But if protecting human life is at the top of your priority list, and if you understand the difference between the downsides of masking and the Holocaust, then give the governor credit: he kept thousands of Washingtonians out of this. volcano.