Years ago when I lived in North Carolina, I remember a town on the northern part of the Outer Banks with dirt roads whose motto was Stuck in Duck. Googling Duck, I found that the town has retained its nickname and there is a clothing line that sells Stuck in Duck ocean wear. No surprise, the town of nearly 400 people got its name from the many waterfowl in the area as it serves as a migration route from the Arctic for ducks. The Facebook page has several videos of ocean views which I listened to with longing since I haven’t been to the beach since last year. Dumpy is a word I would have used to characterize Duck forty years ago — hence the appropriate nickname Stuck in Duck, but current pictures of shimmering sunsets and inviting beaches displayed a different, updated Duck.
Seeking definitions for “stuck,” I found “trapped and poked.” Among the synonyms were “baffled, bewildered and bamboozled.” I have a mix of these feelings today as I review where we are in the pandemic. The United States has the highest daily rate of COVID cases in the world. Across the country, cases of COVID continue to rise exponentially. Thirty-nine states have shown an unwelcome rise in cases. Hospitalizations across the country have increased. Even the White House has contributed to the growing numbers with its superspreader events in DC and Florida. With deaths nearing 215,000, covid has now become the third leading cause of death in the United States.
I remain astonished that our country is in such terrible shape in its handling of the virus. The situation has been created by what some of us have done — not follow public health guidelines and what we haven’t done — recognize the danger, accept the science and thoughtful planning, provide funding for public health, supply adequate testing with quick results, and set up an organized national response.
Some states’ premature reopening of social settings, particularly bars and restaurants, and schools, as well as interpretation of public health guidelines as infringements on individual freedoms have contributed heavily. Failure to employ the test-trace-isolate procedure other countries have effectively used has had tragic results. We have 4 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the cases.
The country is stuck, but how stuck are we in Vermont?
Examining the current information regarding COVID cases in different rural states tells a sorry story. I am struck with how badly states with populations similar to ours are doing. Daily positivity rates have risen significantly in rural states, except Vermont.
The state with the least population, Wyoming, is experiencing a surge in cases. Money devoted to hospital improvement and readiness projects was delayed, so they are not prepared for this increase in patients. Nearby states, including Utah, Idaho, and Montana, also have more cases and will be limited in their ability to take patients from Wyoming.
Wyoming’s total cases number 7,802, 1,680 active cases with 54 deaths.
North Dakota has 27,742 total cases, 4,546 active cases and 350 deaths. Of those who are testing positive, 60 percent are under the age of 40; ages 20-29 have the most cases. At the end of September, public health officials withdrew the requirement for quarantine for those close contacts of someone with the virus.
South Dakota has 28,925 total cases, 6,062 active cases and 288 deaths. In August nearly 500,000 motorcyclists came to a rally in Sturgis which lasted over 10 days, which caused cases to climb. While public health officials have strongly recommended masks and social distancing, throughout the pandemic, Governor Noem has not supported either strategy in her behavior or remarks.
Ranked third worst, after North and South Dakota, Montana’s cases exceed 7,432 with 212 deaths. The increase in cases is thought to be associated with group settings: in-person schooling, facilities for assisted living and long term care, prisons and social gatherings. Over 60 schools had cases and a significant rise in people ages 20-39 years old has developed over the previous week.
How do we compare? Vermont has 1,886 total cases and 58 deaths. Our public health officials and governor have provided consistent and stable leadership. One notable factor has been the careful management of college students’ return to Vermont. Most Vermonters and visitors are wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and staying outside for activities.
Many vacationers would look forward to spending some time suntanning, swimming, or shopping in Duck if more of North Carolina was maintaining a safer level with the virus. Currently, leaf peeping, hiking, and dining are possible in Vermont.
Rather than stuck in Vermont, we are safe. So far.
An aura of safety cannot allow us to become smug. As I write this piece, a case in the kindergarten has been reported at MEMS.