Coronavirus COVID-19 infection rates are so high that W.W. Hastings Indian Health Service Hospital in Tahlequah was, at last notice, at capacity, with not one extra bed. Dedicated health care workers have been doing the tough job of taking care of patients whose lives are at risk.

By now, we all know someone who was infected and survived. Most of us know people who have died. The strain on the medical system is not just in COVID cases. Getting into the hospital for other types of medical care is now harder than ever. The patient isolation makes it a maddening sadness. Americans are hoping there will be a vaccine rollout soon, so we can loosen up, gather again, and return to "normal" life.

Introverts are enjoying their creative down-time to pursue their interests, but others of us are suffering from the separation from friends and family. Schools are adapting to huge changes. Children are trying to learn remotely.

Social bubbles are important because we each need contact with our loved ones. My children and parents and one co-worker make up my social bubble. Rarely, I dine with someone outside my bubble. But I think of social bubbles as lower-risk risks. For instance, my grandchildren have their own social bubbles, which multiplies my potential third-party exposure risk. I’m cautious.

Don’t hate me for stating the obvious: Things will never go back to exactly the way they were before. Since the 1950s, accepted health care wisdom has been about teaching us to wash our hands, practice common-sense hygiene, and observe social behaviors that protect us from infectious diseases. As kids, we learned to cover our mouths when we cough. But we called "germaphobes" those who overdid it in all aspects of life.

Now it is time to adopt additional lifelong infection prevention and hygiene strategies. Implementing some long-term measures in place of the stop-gap emergency measures will involve re-thinking the cleanability of surfaces in public places. I am in courthouses a lot, for example. We’ll be eventually replacing courthouse benches with washable molded seating. We’ll be ventilating elevators. We’ll switch to washable floors and away from carpets and upholstery. We’ll be holding smaller, more frequent dockets, rather than large, jam-packed courtrooms. Those phase-overs take time.

God bless those unsung heroes, the health and maintenance workers, who are diligently preventing the spread of this highly-contagious virus by cleaning and bleaching and sterilizing countertops and bathroom floors and doorknobs, and replacing air filters and changing gloves and masks and washing surfaces and innovating touch-free service.

Some people object to contact tracing. They confuse their freedoms with their own and others’ self-interests. I happen to have at-risk elders in my circle. If I were exposed to an infected person, I would want to know, because I love my family and do not want to expose them to unnecessary risks. I sign my name on the list at the courthouse, and expect them to call me if I’ve been exposed.

In one courthouse that has a high infection rate, I heard a person submit to having her temperature taken, but she refused to sign the list of people entering the building. I don’t know how important her business was. I am guessing she was there to pay property tax. “It is my right,” she said, “not to sign this.” The deputy sheriff told her, “Yes, ma'am, it is. But in order to enter this building, we need your contact information so we can reach you if you have been exposed to COVID.”

Even big fans of individual freedoms don’t have to forfeit common sense to exercise their rights.

Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney, and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.

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