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COVID-19 surge scarier than ghosts and goblins

As Halloween approaches, coronavirus infections are setting records, in Oregon and across the country. On Oct. 22, Jackson County recorded 36 new cases of COVID-19 — the most in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. Wednesday’s report: 35 new cases, the county’s seventh death and an outbreak at Costco. Still, too many people insist that wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand-washing somehow infringe on their personal liberty.

That is nonsense.

New York, which was a hot spot in the early weeks of the pandemic, is now a safer place to be in terms of COVID-19 risk than North or South Dakota, where new cases are soaring and ICU hospital beds are nearly full. Why? Mask wearing. Social distancing. Avoidance of large indoor gatherings.

Seven states report record numbers of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic. The Washington Post reports 41 states and Puerto Rico have more hospitalized COVID-19 patients now than at the end of September, and 22 of those reported increases in excess of 50 percent.

Oregon and Jackson County did a reasonable job of containing the spread of the virus over the summer, when outdoor activities were available. But now that the weather is turning cold, people are tempted to venture to indoor events when it may not be safe to do so.

Pay no attention to the voices insisting that being told to wear a mask in public or avoid large indoor gatherings somehow infringes on your freedom or takes away your exercise of personal responsibility. It does neither.

If refusing to take precautions endangered only you, that would indeed infringe on your right to risk infecting yourself. But we wear masks and maintain social distance primarily to protect others, not ourselves. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it succinctly:

“Many things should be matters of individual choice. The government has no business dictating your cultural tastes, your faith or what you decide to do with other consenting adults. But refusing to wear a face covering during a pandemic, or insisting on mingling indoors with large groups, isn’t like following the church of your choice. It’s more like dumping raw sewage into a reservoir that supplies other people’s drinking water.”

So please, stay away from the reservoir.

Jackson County Public Health has discouraged traditional door-to-door trick or treating on Saturday as a high-risk endeavor, along with indoor haunted houses, indoor costume parties and other Halloween activities that don’t permit social distancing. Note: Halloween costume masks do not substitute for cloth masks.

Please take these warnings seriously. The lives of your friends and neighbors just might depend on it.