I applaud our governor’s approach to managing the COVID pandemic throughout our Commonwealth, including within Union County.  The COVID-19 virus poses a dual threat. It causes serious illness and death, and it has profoundly impacted our economy.  Our nation has lost more than 112,000 lives, over 6,000 of these in Pennsylvania.

The virus has attacked our most important resource – the lives of the people of our state. The economic impact has been felt in lost income, lost jobs and the shutdown of businesses.

Recognizing that the major risk to be contained was the swift, deadly spread of the virus itself, Congress and the governor first took action to slow the virus spread through drastic social distancing of people. Staying home worked. While there are COVID cases, the much-feared spike in such cases has not overwhelmed the hospitals of our area. But our economy took a massive hit as we stayed home.

Now the state government is attempting to guide a safe reopening of our economy and protect our investments. Trillions of dollars have been invested, by individuals, companies and every level of government to address the pandemic.

Some of the dollars have been expended to keep people home in March and April to reduce COVID’s spread. Other dollars have been used to support our health care institutions, buy personal protective equipment, and expand testing capacity and vaccine. Trillions of dollars are being provided to help businesses recover. Now it is critical that we continue to protect this investment of human lives and dollars using a strong risk management approach.

What risks do we face? First, there is the risk of the virus itself. As critical, is the risk of many in our community thinking that and behaving as if the virus has gone away. It hasn’t. National and state medical experts warn us that simply returning to even a modest state of normalcy in our lives increases our risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

We have seen the evidence of COVID cases spiking again in countries and other states. Why do we think it won’t happen in central Pennslvania?

Since March, we have spent a fortune slowing the COVID spread. But COVID will be with us until a vaccine is developed and delivered.

Because COVID is highly contagious, primarily spread by droplets as we breathe, and is often asymptomatic, living with COVID until it is eradicated requires that we all take responsibility to protect ourselves as a community.

Medical experts and COVID guidelines consistently and universally advise us that keeping a safe distance apart and wearing a mask is the most effective way to safely function again economically and socially. The lowest risk, least cost way to return to a full economy is to follow the COVID guidelines.

Wearing a mask doesn’t protect you, it protects those around you. By wearing a mask, you protect the workers in retail stores, servers in restaurants, neighbors, family members, co-workers and the economic and health well-being of our entire community. No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no work, no service. Wearing a mask costs us nothing. Not wearing a mask may cost us everything. We do this for each other and our local economy, not because the government tells us that we must.

Our world, our country, our community have made a tremendous investment to initially slow the spread of COVID. Sound risk management is to use every means possible to not squander the trillions that we have already invested by avoiding our option of COVID running rampant again. The least risk, lowest cost strategy to help the economy rebound is to wear masks and keep proper distancing.

The challenge to all of us is that we must do this together.

Stacy Richards is a Union County Commissioner. She wrote this commentary for Susquehanna Valley Progress.


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