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GREG HARTON: Individual behaviors matter most

by Greg Harton | December 6, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

Over the course of the last two days of the work week, Benton and Washington counties contributed more than 1,000 positive covid-19 test results to the astonishing numbers the entire state posted.

On both of those days, the state posted new records for positive tests -- 2,789 on Thursday and 2,827 on Friday, for a grand total of 5,616 people. All of them are capable of spreading the coronavirus to others.

It doesn't take a math whiz to figure out the exponential growth that's possible unless people take precautions to interrupt the virus' path from one person to others.

Christmas, less than three weeks away, along with New Year's a week later, are usually times of great joy. Certainly I will join a lot of Arkansans in gladly viewing 2020 in the rear view mirror, with hope that 2021 restores us all to something closer to normal.

But the spiking case numbers alone provide prima facie evidence that Americans in great numbers ignored the precautions recommended for Thanksgiving. If that trend continues, December's numbers will astound us all and January will make December pale by comparison.

As challenging as 2020 has been, the numbers in Arkansas are only now demonstrating exactly why public health officials have worked so hard to get us all to change our behaviors and to jettison incautious attitudes about covid-19's spread.

Their reasons are not based on the ravages the disease might or might not cause to any individual. Clearly, many individuals get the disease and their bodies handle it without major discomfort. But it's also capable of triggering responses in some people to which they will ultimately succumb.

Unfortunately for the cause, most people think they're never going to die, that the tragic stuff never happens to them. It's the same self-deception that convinces a drunk person he's not one of those dangerous yahoos who can't control his car. That way of thinking continues until he's tossed in jail or, worse, didn't see that red light and plows into a pedestrian or another car.

What we're beginning to see with record-breaking case numbers, in Arkansas and around the country, is exactly what public health officials had hoped we'd be able to avoid through sensible behaviors.

Covid-19 is a forest fire that's been controlled to some extent, making it hard for many of us to imagine what an uncontained blaze might look like. Public health officials attempted to create a fire-break through proven methods, such as avoiding larger gatherings, wearing masks, keeping our distance from other people and washing hands frequently.

Despite warnings, the Thanksgiving holiday appears to have served as Santa Ana-style winds, fueling a far more aggressive spread than any of us has witnessed before. Some people have volunteered to join the fight against it becoming an inferno. Others through either ignorance (hard to believe by this point) or indifference appear willing to throw fuel on the fire, believing it will never become so big that it endangers their homes.

Last week's covid-19 numbers reflect that we're all feeling the heat, that the faint glow over the ridge is transitioning into something much more aggressive and more difficult to stop.

The state's hospital executives are walking that treacherous line between reassurance and acknowledgement that there's a breaking point precariously near. Equipment and personnel so far have been mobilized where they're needed, but when flames are everywhere and everyone needs resources at once, the capacity to strategically battle the disaster is diminished.

Something's got to change, and the only thing that can is the aggressive adoption of individual behaviors that will prevent the spread in gatherings of all sorts. If we fail to do it, too many of us are going to get burned.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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