Commentary: Shut down now or face the consequences

By Mark Roye
For The Cordova Times

Cordova can be spared the very worst revenges of COVID-19, and even its economy can recover quicker than elsewhere, but only if we act decisively and we do so immediately.

We may think that we will be spared by our isolation, but this is a false hope. People continue to fly into our airport every day from all parts of the country, even from abroad. Our community is so small, so closely knit that a single infection will spread through the town faster than the devastating downtown fire did just a few months after the earthquake. Data now shows that four out of five who contract the virus become infected from someone showing no symptoms of the disease whatever. A simple temperature scan will not disclose who are infected.

This is not a Democratic Party hoax to try to bring down the president, nor is it a Chinese plot, nor is it just like the flu. It is an extraordinarily revenging disease that affects all genders, ethnicity, even ages. The belief that the young are immune is now yielding to further evidence, and, even were they immune, they can very readily transmit the disease to others. And now there is emerging evidence that even those who contract only a relatively mild case may suffer irreversible lung damage that can diminish their lung capacity by 20-30 percent.

For hundreds of years, even before understanding germ theory, we have known how to fight such epidemics. Indeed, it remains the only way to do so even in our modern age. There is only one defense: isolation. Yet, for the most part, we seem to be going on with life as usual.

It is now time to fully isolate.


Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, and one of three physicians in the Senate declared March 18, that the most patriotic thing all of us can do is isolate ourselves. He very forcefully made the case that by doing so, each person probably cuts off transmission to at least six others. Each of those in turn could pass on the disease to six more, and so on exponentially. This is not a political statement. This is just the simple mathematics of epidemiology.

Cassidy went on to explain that the patriotic aspect of self-isolation is that each of us who does so becomes more effective in fighting the epidemic than several doctors, and this in turn permits the limited number of doctors to treat those infected. Unless we do so, those doctors will be overwhelmed. As a Republican, Cassidy is not simply sowing fear or political discord. Cassidy concluded by insisting that we not simply practice “social distancing,” but that we shut everything down immediately. That’s very difficult for the nation at large. But, as a small, closely knit town, we can do it.

We simply can’t do that some say, it would devastate our economy. But even the best economists tell us that the only way to preserve the economy is to stop the epidemic. If the disease persists, there will be no demand for goods and services, no markets for Cordova’s fish. The disease must be stopped before the economy has any opportunity at all to recover.

We can win this war, but we must act as though we are indeed at war. That will take sacrifices by all of us. We must shut down now as Senator — and doctor — Cassidy insists. Close the airport to all but freight and absolutely essential travel, preferably to medical personnel only. Permit barges to land cargo, but not send their crews ashore. Turn away deliveries of early season fish products except from boats sailing out of Cordova with crews only of known individuals whose medical condition is well understood. With the continuation of the epidemic, tourists, bird watchers and others will not be flying to town, and the likelihood of finding fishery processing workers is low anyway. So, a full shutdown will cause little additional damage to the economy than what is now inevitable anyway.

The time to act is now. To fail to do so is to capitulate to the enemy.

Mark Roye is a Cordova-based retired fisherman who also served as the supervising attorney for the Bethel Regional Office of Alaska Legal Services.