By Aisha Sander & Marion Vendituoli
April 30, 2020
Social Distancing, Artwork by Paula Wittner

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it, but even as it brings the world together against an invisible enemy it reveals the differences in how we experience it. “I heard that we are all in the same boat,” a facebook user posted recently. “but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.” Our worldview depends on the seaworthiness of the metaphorical boat we find ourselves in, and it colors our perception of the news we consume and how we react to authority and government restrictions. 

As your local news source, we do not take lightly responsibility for accurate reporting. In times like these local news matters more than ever before. We have been chastised for including the County’s updates on the number of confirmed cases on our website, even as others thank us for this information. We understand that there are residents for whom the reporting of positive tests by zip code in Santa Cruz County is disconcerting. They feel threatened when confronted with evidence that COVID-19 exists in our community, and there are those for whom the test shows how little we know about how widespread it may really be. There are also those who, when we reported that the County’s Health Director confirmed that the one reported case in the 85624 zip code had recovered, felt that all danger had passed and we could relax the restrictions about wearing masks and social distancing. 

Rumors abound during this time of uncertainty. The lack of hard information has led to speculation that quickly becomes ‘fact’ after being repeated a few times. Local businesses, who are dependent on community support, are affected. 

One small business owner has seen a marked decrease in clients after a rumor spread that a family member had tested positive. A local shop was reportedly besieged by calls from customers demanding that a resident, whom they feared was ill, not be allowed in the store. Both these examples demonstrate a response to the fear of wanting to make sense of this invisible virus. ‘If I think I know who is sick, then I can keep myself safe from it.’ 

Reports from around the world, from our state, from our county and from our own local healthcare providers show that, for now, the best way to combat this pandemic is by staying home, wearing a mask and social distancing. Yes, it makes things inconvenient. It makes things scary, uncertain and for many with real health concerns, the rise in number of cases and fatalities makes this a daily reminder of their frailty. 

There are a lot of unknowns surrounding this virus, and little solid information to guide us. We are told that we will have immunity if we have had the virus, but maybe not, and maybe not for an extended period of time. We are told to stay at home, limit trips to the supermarket, but don’t buy too much when you do go shopping. The CDC says buy enough to last two weeks, but the FDA says buy enough for one week. We are told that symptoms can vary from mild to severe, involve a bewildering host of organs, or can be nonexistent. There is even conflicting information about the number of days that the virus can live on surfaces. 

What we do know is that there is very little information about the spread of the virus for Eastern Santa Cruz County. There have been 225  tests in the county to date, only 0.48% of the population. We do know that it is spreading here; there are more positive cases reported every day. We will not have an accurate picture of the spread of the virus until testing becomes more widely available and we all need our politicians and health officials to act now to get us the information that we need to protect ourselves and each other.  

We also know that we have a high number of retirees in our population and others who are vulnerable because of preexisting health conditions. We still do not know enough about the virus to guarantee that it doesn’t affect the healthiest of us all. 

If anything, in a small community like ours, we know better than anywhere else that each life matters. Each person in our communities is worth protecting and every person in our communities must share the responsibility to keep us all safe.