A Balanced Approach Needed Going Forward
Park Jefferson Speedway, a 3/8-mile dirt track, is located about 15 minutes north of Sioux City, Iowa near North Sioux City and Jefferson, SD. Raceway Park, a 1/4-mile dirt track, is located just up the road from Park Jefferson off of I-29, maybe two miles from Park Jefferson. I’ve been to both tracks, for the record, when I lived in worked in majestic Vermillion, S.D. These two small-town tracks have made national news this past week because they were planning to race this weekend — with fans in the seats — despite social distancing restrictions in place for the Covid-19 virus: Park Jefferson on Saturday and Raceway Park on Sunday. This is in spite the South Dakota governor saying they shouldn’t have any fans, and in spite of the federal guidelines President Trump has set for social distancing (meaning no gatherings of 10 people or more) through April 30. Park Jefferson’s race, which will include sprint cars and modifieds and former NASCAR drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace, even made the homepage of espn.com as a headline. Crazy. It’s probably the most publicity that track has ever had on a national scale. Perhaps in the end this was nothing more than a publicity stunt but who knows. Naturally, there have been incredibly strong opinions both ways on social media whether the tracks should race or not this weekend with the Covid-19 pandemic going on. On Thursday, however, both tracks, after receiving some and guidance (more likely pressure) from state health officials, announced they WOULD NOT allow fans to attend. Cars will attend, very limited to amount of crew that can come with, and for those not familiar with racing, you can spread a pit area all over the place and not have cars and crews ever come in contact with each other. So this was a good call, in my view. Both races are available on pay per view which requires a minimal amount of people to produce. As much as I LOVE racing -- my thought before this announcement was and is to land on the side of caution here — I think waiting 3 weeks would be better than trying to race with fans now, as numbers of cases should continue to decrease, more testing is becomes available and frankly more is learned about how the virus is transmitted. It’s estimated one in four people who have Covid-19 are asymptomatic. Enough has been said on the two SD tracks racing on Facebook and other outlets, I won’t go further down that path. You can form your own opinion. I'm looking at the big picture instead of this week, and by waiting a few weeks we ensure a better chance for a longer racing season, in my opinion. But that’s not what this blog is about, entirely. The truth is, this goes much beyond whether these two racetracks race this weekend or not with or without fans. This has to do with where do we, as a society, go from here. It seems like we have an either-or mentality (not surprising considering how polarized the country is politically) and truth is, going to extremes either way isn’t wise. One side wants everything shut down for months, the other wants no restrictions. At least it seems that way by the loudest voices on each side to me. Covid-19 is very serious. More than 47,000 people have died in the US alone from the virus which is tragic. It is particularly devastating for those with chronic lung and heart conditions (or other serious, pre-existing health conditions) and to those who are elderly. Some nursing homes and long-term facilities have been hit particularly hard, sadly. Some food processing plants — which are deemed essential by almost every state governor regardless of party — have become hot spots. If anything comes of this, I hope it changes the way those plants work, and especially changes how we protect those in long-term care from such illnesses spreading. Social distancing and being careful and vigilant about not spreading this is of course, of vital importance. People need to show some personal responsibility and act with common sense — you know, washing your hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, etc. However, there are two other effect of this virus that shouldn’t be ignored — the effects on the economy/finances and the mental health of those are people in our country. There are those of us — and I realize there are a few who are greedy and selfish on this issue — who believe restarting the economy, in a slow and careful matter, is vitally important. Not because we’re greedy or selfish or don’t care about lives — which I find insulting to me frankly — but because we see the devastating effects this is having on people financially. This has the potential to crush small businesses and cost many people jobs. Here’s why the economic side is important: for many who live paycheck to paycheck, working means paying rent. Buying groceries. Buying medicine. And having health insurance through his/her employer — which in turn provides access to health care. All of those are so significant. Then, there’s the mental health aspect. People are isolated in their homes, which in the long-term isn’t healthy. Isolation can lead to depression (I speak from experience). Not to mention the anxiety this has created not only worrying about potentially getting the virus, but also about the stress this is taking on people as a result of the economic effects. I truly fear suicide rates will increase as a result of this.
Plus we need to build some immunity to this. It's going to be around awhile. We have to find a way to function going forward. I’ve read some articles saying there should be shelter-in-place till a vaccine is ready. That could be 12-18 months. I don’t think that is feasible or logical. Truth is, you could contract the virus going to Target or Wal-Mart or the grocery store or picking up take-out food. There’s always a chance. I also have read some articles saying we should just re-open everything instantly to where it was before. I don’t think that is wise. Why not meet in the middle and have some balance here and open things slowly with precautions. We really need to continue to protect the most vulnerable to this illness, and in many cases, that includes the elderly and those in long-term care facilities. Publicly, we can continue to have some strong social distancing rules, have some restrictions for businesses (hair salons ,etc.) while allowing them to re-open in a careful manner. Maybe require masks in certain settings. Requiring hand washing/sanitizer at every place. I think you can do this and still allow businesses to open and begin to function again. I think it can be done. And if you aren’t into racing and are wondering how Park Jefferson and Raceway Park can have cars in their pit area. Well, think of a pit stall like a camp site. You maybe have 10 campsites for RVs or campers to park. Under social distancing, maybe you open one of every three of those instead of all. A pit area can function similarly especially if the number of cars is limited. For those that think that I am dismissing the health aspect of this, I am not one bit. My wife is a NICU nurse and is working on the front lines in health care. Every day she works, she faces risks, not only from Covid-19, but other illnesses that are contagious too. I’m very aware of that. My dad, who passed away in 2017, had COPD and later developed interstitial lung disease, which permanently scarred his lungs. In his last years, if any of us were sick with a cold or flu-type illness, we usually stayed away as a precaution. We didn’t want to risk him getting sick. Some times he’d stay home from church or family gatherings to avoid people who’d been sick. In this case he would have been at home, probably for a long, long period of time, as a precaution, and likely visiting him at home would not have been an option. I’d hate to see what would happen if he contracted this virus. So you see I get how serious this stuff is health wise. I also know the economic and mental health effects can be devastating. Like I said, I think a balance is important moving forward.