This week, the rate of Covid-19 cases in Gilroy shot up to a new level, reaching 6,422 cases per 100,000 people. That’s the highest rate of any city in Santa Clara County, a statistic of which Gilroy should not be proud. By comparison, Morgan Hill and San Jose, the next most impacted cities, have rates of 3,489 and 3,237 respectively, as of Dec. 16.

Amidst this public health and economic crisis, the City of Gilroy’s somnambulant response seems to be centered around reposting messages from County Health on its Facebook page. Clearly a better communications strategy is needed, as well as enforcement of public health mandates.

Demographics are one reason for the high incidence of cases. The Latino community has been the county’s hardest hit ethnic group. With a Latinx majority, Gilroy reflects this unfortunate reality. Many are service workers who can’t work from home, and housing density is no doubt an underlying factor as well.

There’s more to the story, however. People of all races and ethnicities are taking chances they shouldn’t be and are potentially exposing themselves and others. The notion that not wearing a mask—a simple and effective way to reduce the spread—promotes individual freedom has regrettably taken hold. People too often strut down Gilroy’s sidewalks and through public spaces without a mask, or with one that’s improperly fitted and sliding down their nose.

Not masking actually has the reverse effect and results in less freedom for all of us. When case loads shoot up, restaurants and businesses must close. It limits our freedom to enjoy going out—and puts locally-owned establishments out of business. The economic and social damage to our community will be long-term and lasting if we lose community institutions. And many are hanging by a thread.

Gilroyans can help save the businesses they value by ordering meals, merchandise or services directly from a local operation. Call or go to their website to place a direct order rather than through a delivery operation that takes most or all of the profit.

The best way, however, to save our local economy—and lives—is simply to social distance, mask and limit contacts. (Hand washing, hot beverages, vitamin C, zinc can’t hurt either.) We’ll put this pandemic behind us more quickly if we show some discipline and make some short-term sacrifices.

More than 500 county residents have already died. On Dec. 7, eight people lost their lives after contracting Covid-19, setting a record for a single day.

As cases spike and deaths continue, the prospect of a vaccine offers some hope. We hope that by spring, there will be some relief. In the meantime, we ask everyone to take personal responsibility and do their part to create a healthier community and urge Gilroy’s leadership to step forward so that it’s not the county’s municipal hotspot, with twice the infection rate of the next most impacted city.

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