COVID-19 Sawyer County Travel Advisory

The Enemy: SARS-CoV-2 in yellow under scanning electron microscopy

By Dave Neuswanger
President, Quiet Lakes Improvement Association
April 1, 2020

I have some painful news to pass along. All lake association leaders in Sawyer County have been asked by the Sawyer County Public Health Office to publicize the County’s March 27, 2020 updated travel advisory discouraging seasonal and second-home residents and tourists from traveling to and residing or renting in Sawyer County during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read the advisory, click on the bold PDF below:

COVID-19 Sawyer County Travel Advisory 3/27/20

For other official information regarding COVID-19, visit the Sawyer County Public Health website at https://www.sawyercountygov.org/475/Public-Health

I agonized over sharing this information on the Quiet Lakes website as I tried to put myself in the shoes of seasonal friends and neighbors who I have always welcomed with open arms upon their return to the North Country every spring. If I was a so-called “snow bird” like them, I would eagerly await the opportunity to escape risky population centers and take refuge in the relative isolation and safety of my vacation cabin or second home on a beautiful northern Wisconsin lake. The same thought process has prompted many New York City residents to flee to second homes in Florida, which is now experiencing a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases among a particularly vulnerable elderly population… like ours.

In addition to fear, I can easily imagine the bitter resentment I would feel as a seasonal resident now being asked to “stay away” after paying property taxes like everyone else and investing no small amount of money in providing a place for my family to recreate and, in this case, self-isolate and reduce the risk of contracting this deadly disease. I worry, too, about our friends and neighbors who operate resorts and other businesses around the lakes whose very livelihoods are at risk if seasonal residents and vacationers are unable to visit for an extended period of time. This pandemic presents a challenge of unprecedented scale in my lifetime, medically and economically, and I suspect my generation will be defined by how we handle it.

Despite all my trepidations, as President of the Quiet Lakes Improvement Association, I feel a sense of responsibility to cooperate with Sawyer County health officials by sharing this travel advisory with all QLIA members. If it saves even one life, I will accept the criticism associated with passing along recommendations that nobody wants to hear. However, I will not accept criticism from anyone foolish or paranoid enough to believe this is some kind of “hoax” or that its magnitude has been exaggerated in order to gain political advantage. I am a biologist. I know this is real, and I know it is serious. COVID-19 is neither red nor blue. Viruses are blind to political ideology.

It is now widely understood by the medical community that people exhibiting no symptoms of the disease can carry and transmit the virus to others. Public health officials believe we must be isolated without symptoms for 14 days before we can be reasonably certain we do not carry and therefore cannot spread the virus. This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of COVID-19, because people who feel just fine can spread it from one community to another without ever knowing what they have done. And it’s not like spreading the common cold. People will die. Nobody wants that on their conscience.

This is not just a matter of looking out for your friends and neighbors. There is a prudently selfish reason to ride this out in your primary residence if you happen to live in or near a major population center. Medical facility capacity is a big concern here in northwestern Wisconsin. The Hayward Area Memorial Hospital is remarkably well equipped for a facility serving such a small community. However, Hayward has only a couple ventilators and little extra space to isolate and care for people who may need them. Any significant number of people who get seriously ill with COVID-19 will have to hope treatment is available at a larger hospital several hours away. If we experience a spike in cases associated with an influx of asymptomatic carriers who ignore the travel advisory, the risk of over-running our limited healthcare facilities and staff in Sawyer County is very high. This is in nobody’s best interest.

Allow me to end this message on a hopeful note. There are several potential treatments for the most severe symptoms of COVID-19 currently undergoing rapid development and testing. An actual vaccine is probably a year or more away, but effective therapeutics may be right around the corner. One promising drug candidate inhibits the inflammatory response in lung tissue that causes patients to need ventilators. We should know in a matter of weeks whether this will be effective. If so, it would be a game changer. Other innovative strategies include the injection of specially developed antibodies that may function for short periods of time as if they had been produced by our own immune systems. These antibodies may save some of the most critically ill patients, and they may give our healthcare workers and other critical service providers some added protection so they can maintain their heroic struggle until a vaccine ends the war.

So, all is not lost. We just need some time for dedicated scientists and responsible corporate leaders in the biotech industry to develop, manufacture, and distribute effective treatments that will prevent our healthcare systems from being overrun until an actual vaccine is available. Everyone can help to “buy some time” by staying home and maintaining social distance to the greatest extent possible. I sincerely hope to see all my friends and neighbors again later this year or in 2021 after we presumably have this beat.