Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

There is so much we do not know about this COVID-19 pandemic and how it will continue to impact our health, work and community. We don’t know how long our lives in Sonoma County will be interrupted, if we will still have jobs and we don’t know how many lives will be lost. But we already have learned many valuable lessons. Number one among these is that the best way to fight a global pandemic is with lots of very local actions. Whoever thought we’d be using the old axiom, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” to fight against a virus.

We learned very quickly to wash our hands, practice social distancing and obey “shelter in place.” We are doing our best to cope with closing our schools and shutting down all our non-essential businesses. We are figuring out how to have virtual Zoom meetings on our computers. And we kind of like the new routine of ordering take-out food and having curbside delivery.

After failing one big test, most of us now know there will be enough toilet paper for everyone. It hasn’t been easy, but we seem to be getting more tolerant of our collective learning curve about “flattening the curve,” where the longer we practice social distancing, the shorter the peak of local deaths and impacts to our hospitals will be. That’s the theory, and right now, it’s all we’ve got.

What lessons do we need to learn next?

This week, our county public healthcare officials are collecting baseline data on the level of COVID-19 exposure we can expect. Inventories of available hospital beds, personnel, supplies and unmet needs for testing and protective equipment are being completed. Additional facilities will be needed to serve as “isolation units” for less severe patients. These places may include local schools, hotels and currently unused buildings. Volunteers may be needed to help convert these spaces and for other emergency response efforts.

Local businesses and employers must get prepared to secure whatever Small Business Administration, state and federal assistance that is being promised. Zero-interest loans, extended unemployment insurance, family leave, one-time disaster relief and direct payments to households are all being proposed. This assistance must come fast and it will need to last for months, not just weeks.

Another good lesson would be for everyone to act like a journalist. Equally important to washing our hands is the need for accurate information and timely news. Journalists always check many sources. They verify information by comparing different versions of a statement. Journalists learn the best sources for reliable information and they keep opinions separated from facts. It takes extra research to know what a coronavirus is, why social distancing works and what it is likely to happen next, or not happen at all.

The journalists at this newspaper continue to be on the job. We have amassed a resource guide of reliable COVID-19 information sources for our readers. We monitor all the local news conferences and online public meetings. We have all the phone numbers for local officials, healthcare providers and elected officials. We get our calls answered because everyone understands we have an important job to do.

For this issue of the newspaper, almost all of our staff worked remotely. We communicated and shared text and photos via our Virtual Private Network (VPN) that connects to our internet-based server and archives in Healdsburg. We updated our websites by remote login this week and we sent our newspaper galleys via the Internet to our printer at Healdsburg Printing. We have lots of practice doing this from the two recent wildfires and the 2019 flood we covered.

We are here, for now. We have a partner organization, the nonprofit Sonoma County Local News Initiative. This week they are mounting an urgent public appeal on our behalf to keep the news flowing and our reporters paid. While you are sheltering in place, you can check out their new website at

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