Yes, we can survive this crisis

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The anxiety, inconvenience, boredom and fear set off by the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to grip Petaluma, as well as the rest of Sonoma County, the U.S. and the world.

Sonoma County currently has at least eight known cases of coronavirus, and Petaluma so far has none. But that is likely to change. Because Petaluma has an aging population — 16% of city residents are 65 or older — we could be even more susceptible to harmful infection.

Fortunately, we are uniquely qualified to weather a crisis of this magnitude. For the past three years, Northern California has experienced catastrophic wildfires that required a similar, if localized, response.

Does it seem strange to see people walking around with masks over their mouths? Not for us who remember smoke-filled October skies.

Did your favorite local band cancel a show? Is your child’s youth sports league or school in limbo? We’ve dealt with that too during recent wildfire seasons.

Are you bummed because you can’t watch the NBA, or any sport for that matter, on TV? Well, you couldn’t watch TV at all during PG&E’s power shutoffs last fall.

The spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness brought on by the novel coronavirus, is certainly a new challenge for our community that has seen its share of recent hardships.

We are learning new terms, like “social distancing,” and “community spread.” Just three years ago, most of us had not heard of “Nixle alerts” and “containment lines.”

The coronavirus crisis feels especially familiar in Petaluma, which was spared damage from the major wildfires of the past three years.

During the Tubbs fire of 2017, the Camp fire of 2018 and the Kincade fire of 2019, the situation in Petaluma was certainly tense. Cancellations and closures made life inconvenient. But we got through it, and we stepped up as a community, helping those in need where we could.

There are, of course, differences between the outbreak and the wildfires. For one, while the fires ravaged our corner of the state, the pandemic is on a global scale. For many of us not too young to remember 2001, the mood feels somewhat like the aftermath of 9/11.

Another difference — except for the uncertainty in the initial days of the 2017 fire storm, Petaluma has been safely on the periphery of the disaster area. But with a viral outbreak, no area is immune as we have seen, and even the chance of spread has caused us to alter our lives in unprecedented ways.

There may be some silver linings to this crisis. With restaurants shut down and people confined to their homes, the family dinner might make a comeback as relatives spend more quality time with each other amid the uncertainty. With no sports on TV and stores closed, people might spend more time outdoors.

With most worldwide travel shutdown and industry ground to a halt, we will certainly be emitting less greenhouse gases. If this persists, and we sampled our greenhouse gas emissions in three months, we are likely to see that we’ve made a dent toward our climate change goals.

All that said, we hope that strict measures bring about a swift end to the pandemic and a return to normalcy. The economic and health impacts will continue to be felt for a longtime, and there will be people in our community in need of help.

That “Petaluma spirit” that weathered the firestorms and helped our neighbors cope with disaster needs to be reactivated for this crisis. We are battle-tested and we know that we can come out stronger on the other side.

This too shall pass.

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