I get tested for COVID-19 every week at a Test Nebraska site. The test results offer some comfort as I work with officials across the state and combat the risk of spreading the virus.
It also gives some indication of whether or not the people I am around may be contagious. I have been in two settings where I later learned that I may have been exposed to the virus. In both cases, the COVID-positive individuals were in a hearing room in the state Capitol building.
In one case, I received an email on Oct. 24 about the possibility of a COVID-positive case and in the other case read reports in the news last week that Sen. Mike Groene likely had COVID during an Education Committee hearing on Oct. 27.
I was wearing a mask, as were most participants at that hearing. Senator Groene and some others were not wearing masks. I understand the risks and have to accept those risks in my profession.
But as I read about my possible exposure in the newspaper, it bothered me because it reminds me of just how much this virus is spreading in our community and that some citizens in this state are not taking the risks seriously.
Nebraska school leaders, teachers, coaches and staff have worked hard to create safe environments. The biggest threat to continuing education in person is the community spread outside of the school. That spread is now threatening the capacity of hospitals, nursing homes, businesses and schools.
As Nebraska continues to see cases grow, individual and collective health is susceptible. I want businesses to stay as open as long possible. There is no federal relief money left to keep businesses afloat. People may lose their jobs and their livelihoods if we are forced to lock down for an extended period of time.
The pressure on schools to stay open is part of the need for a functional, safe environment for children of employees, including health care professionals. That is something that is at risk right now. The cases of spread impact schools as we cannot keep up with the necessary contact tracing, the balance of remote and in-person instruction, and all the additional burdens that teachers, janitors, principals, paras and others have absorbed.
Like many Nebraskans, I’m suffering from COVID fatigue. I’m sick of restrictions. I’m tired of wearing masks, not seeing my family in person and having disputes with loved ones about the seriousness of this virus.
I’m tired of people saying, “the virus has less than a 1% death rate, so it is not that serious.” Let’s do the math on that statement. Out of the whole population of Nebraska, one half of 1% is about 10,000 people.
Further, as the virus continues to move into the older population, the percentage of deaths will rise. A very significant percentage of this population are slow to recover, and many will have a long-term disability. Perhaps you don’t think that is a problem, but I do.
We are fortunate to live in the United States. We are afforded the opportunity to have diverse points of view. But right now, the divide over the virus is deadly. Our hospitals will soon be overburdened. We will be unable to continue the level of care needed to keep our loved ones alive.
Hospitals will have less room for car accident victims and patients who need emergency surgeries. They will have less room for patients suffering heart attacks and strokes and those starting to feel the effects of other illnesses. They will have less room for end-of-life care, and they will be making difficult choices regarding whom to treat and whom to send home.
The odds are you know someone who has had a serious bout with COVID. By the end of the year, you will know more. If you gather with friends and family this holiday season the virus will spread and odds are we will have a hard time keeping businesses and schools open.
If you want to beat those odds you need to follow the advice of public health officials. Gov. Pete Ricketts has been consistent in sharing the need to avoid the three Cs: crowded places, confined spaces and close contacts.
Avoid gathering in groups where you cannot maintain 6 feet of distance from others. Wear a mask. Do the right things, right now. Be the heroes we need right now to stop the spread of the virus in our communities.
Matthew L. Blomstedt is Nebraska's commissioner of education.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.