Do your part

Rapid City bound, we drove across Washington and North Idaho yesterday afternoon and evening. The states where we drive have all erected large electronic signs to update motorists with the latest information about road conditions and other important things. In the winter the signs often warn of high winds or slippery conditions. In the summer, Montana often has general highway safety messages and reports the number of traffic fatalities to date. These days the signs seem to have messages about pandemic safety. All of the Washington sings had the same message yesterday:

THINK TWICE
BEFORE TRAVEL
STAY SAFE

I guess that there were a lot of people like us whose second thought was, “I guess I’ll go!” There were a lot of people out and about on the roads. Fortunately, for us, the big traffic delays in Washington were going in the opposite direction of our travel. The biggest slow down we saw was traffic heading up the eastern slope of Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 94. We don’t usually take the Interstate when traveling across Washington, but it is the fastest way to travel, at least some of the time. Yesterday, we were fine, heading east, but west-bound traffic was stop and go for miles and miles heading up to the pass. There were a lot of folks heading back to Seattle after the 4th of July weekend. The Interstate was essentially one big traffic jam all the way back to Ellensburg. That’s over 50 miles of cars and trucks backed up. There were a lot of recreational vehicles in that line and I’m sure there were a lot of frayed tempers as well.

We stopped to use the rest rooms at the top of Snoqualmie Pass and again at a rest stop east of George. People were being fairly respectful of social distances. The majority, however, weren’t wearing face masks. This surprised us because Washington has a statewide mandatory order requiring the use of face masks. This is being widely observed in Mount Vernon, where we had been visiting. We had ours on when going inside buildings or walking near others.

Most surprising was Spokane. We stopped for fuel and picked up a sandwich at a shop that we ate on the tailgate of the pickup before getting back on the road. The sandwich shop was not enforcing the face mask rule. In fact we didn’t even see the signs that are posted on most public buildings in Washington stating that it is state law. The employees and we were wearing our masks, but none of the other customers, who also were not observing the simple distancing signs marked on the floor. We got our food and got out of that shop. Right next door was the fuel station where they were clearly enforcing the face mask and physical distancing rules.

We are living a huge social experiment. How do you get people to do what is clearly in their best interests? The issue of face masks has become political and more than one candidate has used the tactics of social division rather than appealing to unity. I am afraid that the high number of infections that we are now experiencing will continue as long as the politicians are trying to exploit the pandemic for personal political gain. Sadly the politics of division has worked in the past and candidates are quick to exploit our differences and disagreements.

I know it will be an issue when we are back in South Dakota. I have seen the pictures of the July 3 fireworks display and rally at Mount Rushmore. Senators and Representative and Governor all standing shoulder to shoulder with no face masks or other personal protective gear. I hope there was no one in attendance who was actively carrying the virus, but since it takes a couple of weeks for incubation, we won’t know for a while the results of the behavior.

Even then we may not know. It seems that world leaders have a euphemism for contacting the virus. Unless the politician is deathly ill and needs to be hospitalized, as was the case with Boris Johnson in England, the announcement is made that the spouse of the leader has been infected and the leader needs to take time off to be safe. That is what happened in Canada. It was announced that Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, had contracted the virus and he disappeared from public view for several weeks. I don’t know whether or not he was infected, but I suspect that a lot of couples have shared the virus once it came into their home. I’m suspicious that the announcement that Donald Trump Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, has tested positive for Covid-19 might be telling us that the illness is closer to the President himself than campaigners would like us to believe.

As we crossed the Montana line, I noted that their state traffic signs were no longer reporting highway fatalities. The slogan on those signs is:

BE SMART
6 FEET APART
DO YOUR PART

It isn’t exactly highbrow poetry, but it is an attempt at public safety education. I appreciated the attempt at rhyming. Actually, I noted that both states had signs that were easy for me to remember long enough to include the slogans in today’s journal entry.

How this pandemic plays out is a long way from being resolved. I’m pretty sure that the holiday weekend has resulted in a lot of risky behavior and it is likely that increased infection rates will be showing up over the next couple of weeks. None of us are magically exempt from catching the virus. The basic precautions of keeping distance, washing hands and wearing face masks make sense to me. If I unknowingly have contacted the virus and have no symptoms, I certainly do not want to be sharing the illness with anyone. And if I can do anything to slow the spread of the virus, it seems to me to be worth a little inconvenience to do my part, as the Montana sign asks.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!