About a week ago, according to news reports, a family-and-friends get together was held somewhere around the vicinity of Weiser; the kind of ordinary social event no one else would ever know or care about. But in the week to come that little gathering — one report said it involved around 30-plus people — changed a lot of lives.
That is because, almost certainly unknown to anyone there, someone brought the coronavirus to the party. And the coronavirus, as it is wont to do, hitched a ride to new homes with several of the guests.
We don’t yet know how many guests carried the virus back home with them; health officials are trying to figure that out. We do know that several of the guests work at the Fry Foods plant at Weiser, at least one tested positive for COVID-19, and within days so did at least seven employees there.
Health researchers have been trying to corral the threads that have spun out since the social gathering, but the impact already has been significant. After a series of tests and careful cleaning and new procedures at the Fry Foods plant, the Southwest District Health Department okayed it for re-opening, but the plant’s owners declined, saying the “best interest” of the community and workers — and in truth, probably the company as well — would require keeping the plant closed until more testing is done. The choice was ethical and smart. But those executives must feel a little burned: How could a small, simple get-together have so much effect? How can their business, or any business, plan for the future under these conditions? (What might the company very reasonably require of workers for their off-duty hours?) Jobs are on hold because someone, or several someones, decided to go to a party. And the impact on Fry Foods may be only part of it; who knows where else the virus may have gone?
The Weiser story illustrates the point of the state shutdown and social distancing orders, aimed at clipping the lines of contagion before they spread too far. The orders by Governor Brad Little in Idaho, which are similar to orders imposed by governors (of both parties) in most states, are being eased, but gradually, and Little (again like most other governors) has said the lift could stop or reverse if contagion worsens.
Nationally and even internationally, and in Idaho too, most people appear to have recognized the problem, seen the need to avoid putting themselves or other people in COVID-19’s way, and have complied. Nobody likes it. But polling consistently shows that a large majority of people do see the need to keep the disease at least under some control. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that it takes very few people to have a big effect on a contagious disease.
The first really large American bloom of COVID-19 cases in a mid-sized community was in Albany, Georgia, triggered by a single person who visited two funerals in town. Hundreds of cases resulted and many deaths. Covid explosions nationwide have resulted from the actions of individuals.
Remember that … when you see stories about the brewpub in Kendrick that chose to violate the governor’s shutdown orders. Or about the sheriffs (such as those in Nez Perce and Clearwater) who decline to enforce them. Or the Idaho Falls restaurant “just exercising our constitutional rights.” Or the Nampa bar whose owners just decided to open up and said “we truly do not care if you disagree.” Or the elected officials in Boise County suggesting to local business owners — “this was all kind of hush-hush” — that, hey, go ahead and reopen, no one’s going to bother you.
You can never be sure about these things. Maybe we’ll all get lucky and dodge the bullet, and what these people are doing won’t have mattered.
Or maybe, like that social gathering somewhere around Weiser, one or more of these anti-shutdown activists will turn hundreds of lives and key businesses upside down.
Which is why, after Little mentioned the possibility of pulling business licenses for violators (and possibly other actions?), he might want to consider putting sharp teeth into his threat.