The News opinion page will offer a wider range of viewpoints

Jeff Gerritt

Starting today, the New Castle News will publish a regular count of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, and the United States. The “COVID Count” will often appear at the top of the front page.

We’re not doing this to sell papers, scare people, or make some petty and partisan political point.

We’re doing it because, God knows, the nation is in a hell of a mess. We hope a regular dose of vital statistics will help readers monitor the pandemic and remind them they ignore it only at great peril.

Ten months after the first confirmed U.S. case of COVID-19, a resurgent coronavirus, fueled by school openings and holiday gatherings, threatens to again shut down the nation. On Tuesday, Lawrence County reported 50 new cases. Also on Tuesday, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced visitors to Pennsylvania will need to have a negative test, or quarantine for 14 days. Public health officials, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, are urging families to consider foregoing traditional Thanksgiving gatherings.

A big part of the problem is us — the people. We fail to mask-up and social distance. We disregard simple but effective preventive measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. We gather at bars and party at friends’ houses. We drop our guards with family members, as though they are any less likely to carry the coronavirus.

I’m no better. I occasionally fail to mask-up or give people their six feet. Despite having written several columns about families with COVID deaths, I still don’t take the pandemic seriously enough. In a column I wrote last March in Texas, “An epidemic of fear,” I casually compared COVID-19 to the flu. The nation, I argued, was getting too jacked up about it.

I’ve written, and said, a lot of dumb things in my career; no doubt, that was the dumbest. Eight months later, the nation recorded more than 11 million cases and nearly 250,000 deaths.

After the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was confirmed Jan. 20, President Donald Trump failed to deliver a focused and coordinated national response. Today, a sulking president is undermining President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to assemble such an effort by refusing to share information with him.

Trump does deserve credit for Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to accelerate the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Warp Speed will help deliver an effective vaccine to the market by early next year, months or even years early. Whether Trump did it for political reasons is irrelevant. Either way, Operation Warp Speed will save thousands of lives.

Despite the early development of a vaccine, however, months or a year will pass before it will become accessible to all Americans. Production, distribution, and delivery of the vaccine will pose enormous challenges.

Meantime, thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — will die or suffer horribly — unless Americans take rigorous steps to protect themselves and each other.

The New Castle News will happily stop running a COVID count when the virus is corralled. The sooner we all do our part, the sooner that day will come.

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