Letter to the Editor: Not blaming county for virus, but for not sharing more information

A week ago, I volunteered to be interviewed by Plumas News to share my experience after contracting Covid-19. I did this because I had found the interviews of a few other people who had battled the disease useful, and since the County has chosen to not share this information generally in public that it would be a way of assisting other County residents. I related my experience, complemented the County case workers who showed a lot of compassion and concern for me, and criticized some County leadership.

I didn’t write the article; however, the reporter did a good job of capturing the interview. I have since received some fairly strong negative reaction both privately and publicly. I wanted to take the time to clarify a few things. First, I was not blaming the county for my illness. I take full responsibility for all the actions that resulted in me coming down with Covid. The family time I spent at Thanksgiving and the day after were risks I chose to take. However, the County and I agree that my family was not likely exposed during these two encounters. No one else in the entire group (nine others) got sick. All of them either tested negative, or never developed any symptoms after quarantine.

I was most likely exposed during a trip to Reno. I spent about 5 minutes out of my vehicle getting fuel. I was probably 30 feet from anyone else, and outdoors, so I wasn’t wearing a mask. Another man approached me and got within about 5 feet and spoke to me for approximately 15 seconds. My wife and daughter masked up and did about 30 minutes of shopping in Costco. We then picked up some medications at a drive through pharmacy. That trip to Reno is how we were most likely exposed.

Yes, we did travel to Reno where there is a higher rate of infection than here in Plumas county, but we wore masks indoors, minimized our time indoors, sanitized our hands, and were pretty careful. Apparently not careful enough. It seems that many people believe that only folks who flaunt mask wearing rules get sick. It is obviously not that simple. I have been following the rules on mask wearing since the beginning. I always have one in my pocket along with a small bottle of hand sanitizer. I am not perfect however (as few of us are). This is a highly transmissible disease and even careful folks can get it if they let their guard down for even a minute. And then once it’s in the house it easily spreads to other family members.

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The County did a very detailed job of interviewing me, and my family, and they recorded all this information. Unfortunately, the Health Department leadership has made the decision not to share this, or other similar information, publicly. They have gathered quite a lot of info from the over 400 cases we have had here. Yes, there are some privacy concerns, but redact my and my families names from the story I have told you and I think this is an issue that can be overcome.  The information regarding how the disease was likely contracted would be helpful to local people making decisions in their lives during this pandemic. For example, they may choose to shop locally or have food delivered rather than travel to Reno. I think this is fair criticism given that there has been no solid explanation as to  why this vast trove of information is being withheld from the public. It has nothing to do with blame.

My criticism of the Board of Supervisors is essentially that (at least from my perspective) they have not been very engaged. The State has essentially been running the County. Other rural counties have at least engaged the State authorities in challenging dialog, trying to tailor the response to their unique situations. I have not seen that from our leaders. Regardless of what decisions were ultimately made, I feel more robust representation would have been better. If I am wrong here, and this has been happening out of public view, then at least it should have been communicated to us citizens more effectively. Again, I am not criticizing the decisions (however I do disagree with many of them) on lockdowns etc.

To summarize, I think there is a lot of useful information that the County Health Department is withholding from the public without much of an explanation (the “privacy issue” can be readily addressed). To reiterate, I know that I am solely responsible for my own health. I also hope the Board of Supervisors will be more visibly engaged with the State authorities in developing policies that fit our county better (closing a crowded gym in LA is not the same as closing a small rural community gym that may have 6 people in it on average) one size does not fit all. Finally, some people who are careless are contributing to spread. However, just because someone gets the disease does not mean they are a careless person that flouts the rules. It can happen to anyone who doesn’t lock themselves in their house and have food and medicine delivered to their door. I know some who have done that, and I understand and respect their approach. All of us need to work together to stay healthy, minimize spread, and continue to live our lives as we see fit until the vaccine can help us out of this terrible time.

Sam Wilbanks
Sierra Valley

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