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Instead of criticizing, lend a hand

by Daily Inter Lake
| January 16, 2022 12:00 AM

The chorus of groans was audible as the omicron wave crashed into the Flathead Valley last week, dragging in its wake wide-reaching impacts on our local schools, businesses and health-care system.

It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day” in real life — here we go again.

As predicted, active cases of the highly contagious Covid variant have skyrocketed in the Flathead — climbing from 260 on Jan. 4 to 1,300 on Jan. 14. That’s a 400% increase in 10 days, and all indications suggest cases will keep going up over the next few weeks.

The statewide active case count was approaching 12,000 on Friday, a total not seen since the beginning of October during the delta variant surge.

Unfortunately, local and statewide hospitalizations are rapidly increasing as well.

Due to the omicron surge, school districts across the state have had to make the difficult decision to cancel in-person classes or move to distance learning. Plains, Kila and the entire Great Falls school district closed their school buildings to help curb infections, to name a few.

At Smith Valley School west of Kalispell, classes were canceled last week because of a staffing shortage. Too many teachers were out sick or in quarantine, and not enough substitutes were available to fill the openings.

Other districts such as Kalispell and Whitefish have suggested staffing could become problematic as positive cases and quarantines pile up and the valley’s substitute pool becomes maxed out.

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill pointed out that school closures have an unfortunate domino effect that reaches beyond students and staff. If a district employs a parent living in a town where their children attend school, and it closes, they may also have to call in absent if they can’t find child care.

School administrators are making difficult decisions every day about how to navigate this round of Covid, and we don’t fault districts for taking measures to protect their staff and students — even if it means a few days of distance learning to help a facility get back on track.

While frustrating for families of school-age children, pointing fingers and casting blame isn’t helpful. Instead of firing off criticism, lend a hand and help keep the valley open for business.

If you are healthy, qualified and available to pick up a few shifts as a substitute teacher, now is the time to get involved with your local schools. If you’re licensed to drive a school bus, there are plenty of routes for taking.

The experience could be rewarding, and it’s worth noting that most districts have done a lot to improve the pay for these positions, as well.

To be certain, this Covid surge isn’t just affecting schools. Local businesses and consumers are feeling the pinch with workers being out sick, while our dedicated doctors and nurses are once again rising to the call of duty to provide critical care for the community.

The good news is that omicron may be swept out of here as quickly as it arrived. Researchers say this variant moves through a community so easily that it rapidly runs out of people to infect.

Let’s hope that’s the case.

In the meantime, we have more tools than ever to weather this storm.

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Thursday that Montana has ordered 650,000 rapid tests to be distributed to residents through county health departments. A new federal website (COVIDTests.gov) where people can request free tests will begin accepting orders beginning Wednesday. And the White House plans to distribute free high-quality N95 masks to people who want them.

Covid vaccines remain widely available for free, and the county health department is planning one final community immunization clinic Feb. 1 at the fairgrounds.

Unvaccinated patients accounted for 70% of the 29 Covid hospitalizations at Logan Health on Jan. 12. While getting the shot isn’t a guarantee you won’t get sick with Covid, you’re far less likely to become acutely ill — just do the math.

The next few weeks could be rocky, but we’ll all be better off doing our best to protect and care for each other, knowing this wave will be over soon.