Perhaps Chris Corry’s approach to pandemic management is best summed up by the first words you find in his 2018 voter pamphlet and current website: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Gosh, that does sound terrifying. I’m sure glad he’s not doing a thing to help.

So why does it matter that Chris Corry continues to sue the state as Yakima blazes, as its hospitals overflow and her severely ill citizens are emergently shipped out of the county? It matters because messaging is the most important tool we have in a pandemic. Rather than speaking with one united voice, arguing against this being an emergency adds to the misinformation, adds to the downplaying, adds to the body count. It also matters because messaging is a limited commodity. The same breath and ink you spend filing and now trying to excuse a lawsuit could be spent on commonsense solutions—encouraging masking, discussing how to keep our essential workers safe, doing the hard work of reopening safely.

The coronavirus is an emergency for us here in central Washington; to claim otherwise is nonsense. We have already had more than 6,000 cases and 150 deaths in Yakima County. Our hospitals and ICU beds overflow, and we are shipping our sick neighbors to surrounding counties, who are also seeing an uptick in cases. The health experts’ findings that the coronavirus is five to 10 times as deadly as seasonal flu may be too low if we don’t have safe places left to take care of folks. I cannot judge whether Corry’s missteps are from a lack of understanding or a lack of caring, but I can judge the results.

So what should we be doing to keep each other safe and sane? We must acknowledge that this period has been brutal, brutal not just for coronavirus patients but also for families and for workers. The way forward is to reject the false choice we’re being offered between our lives and our jobs and to lean into smart pandemic management while being thoughtful about the other emergencies it is creating.

Masking, hand washing, and other basic public health measures may be the most important tools in our kit for slowing and stopping the pandemic. And it’s in our control! We should reject any and all attempts at making this an issue with sides. Let’s make it a symbol of coming together, of loving our neighbor and showing them that their health and jobs matter to us, too.

In addition to applauding our essential workers, we need to protect them and make safer workplaces. Our farm and packinghouse workers have been too long overlooked; one wonders if the response would have been more swift/emergent if the early cases had been concentrated in more well-off communities. Safe workplaces include sufficient protective equipment, reimagined logistics where conditions are crowded, and frequent and prophylactic testing.

We need to rebuild trust. In a time where we’ve let “expert” become a dirty word, we need that expertise to help us weigh out difficult choices going forward. And to do that in a way where everyone feels like part of the process and has a seat at the table.

Taking care of a coronavirus patient isn’t pretty, and it informs why I feel so strongly here. I’ve seen neighbors go from plowing their fields to gasping for air quickly. This is not the flu. I’ve sent multiple patients down the river to large ICUs, knowing they probably won’t make it, knowing they will probably die on a ventilator and die alone.

Chris Corry is right when he ends his lawsuit excuse with “We need not fear the coronavirus. We need to fight it.” We need to fight it with unity, responsible messaging, and care for our neighbor and the vulnerable. This is our time.