COVID-19 has made its appearance in our area, and with a vaccine still a long way out on the horizon, it may be settling here for a while as an unwelcome guest. 

Ever since the virus found its way into our region, I’ve been concerned about our collective fate. I’m saddened to imagine this friendly, small-town community missing some of its familiar faces. And I’ve spoken to enough people here to know that I’m far from alone in the sentiment. No one wants to see helicopters flying in to transport our people to hospitals. 

Fortunately, that frightening image doesn’t have to become our reality. We have an amazing opportunity to halt the coronavirus in its tracks here in the Mountain Empire. What’s more, it won’t take a magic wand or a miracle to do it. It will require only one thing, and luckily, it is right in our wheelhouse: a cooperative voluntary effort will keep our community safe. 

Please volunteer to wear a mask or face covering, and practice social distancing while you are in the stores, the post offices, or other shared public spaces. If everyone participates and does so consistently, I have the utmost faith that we will succeed in keeping our community as safe as possible. 

If the purpose of wearing a cloth mask isn’t clear to you, I’m happy to clarify: wearing a cloth mask helps ensure that the wearer doesn’t infect others. It’s not for self-protection. Only N95 respirator masks offer real wearer-protection. And since it is possible to have the virus without symptoms, any one of us could have the virus at any given time and be spreading it to others unknowingly. According to the CDC, up to 25% of people infected with coronavirus experience no symptoms. That’s a lot of Silent Spreading. 

This helps explain how the virus has been spreading like wildfire across our globe. And this is why it’s vitally important to wear a mask when you’re out in the public spaces. Our ‘case’ numbers in Santa Cruz County only represent a sliver of the actual people here who are infected with the virus. The true number of virus-infected people is immeasurable and unknowable. 

So please wear a mask to protect the community – friends, neighbors and the essential workers who are keeping us rolling. If you value their well-being and their lives, wearing a mask is the best way to show it. 

If you don’t have a mask yet, please buy one, make one, or wear a makeshift face covering until you get a better one. And please start wearing it now, rather than waiting until the virus is engaged in an all-out battle here in our mountains, as it is in all of the current U.S. “hot spots.” It will be too late then; the horse will have left the barn. 

I’ve been wearing my mask now since early March, long before we even had a recorded ‘case.’ And I’ll continue to voluntarily wear my mask to be sure I don’t ‘silently spread’ the virus to someone who might be ill-equipped to fight it off. I’m simply not willing to play Russian roulette with someone else’s life. And the way I see it: if we lose even one person in our community to this virus, we will have lost one too many.