COVID is real. Are we?

originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

We’re on the cusp of receiving a vaccine for COVID but we’re also at an all time high for cases and deaths. It’s time to get real. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Texas State University noted that, “If poorly designed and executed, a COVID vaccination campaign in the U.S. could undermine the increasingly tenuous belief in vaccines and the public health authorities that recommend them.”

My first reaction to that was to deny we’d have a problem. Isn’t the United States the most advanced country on the planet scientifically and technology-wise. Surely folks will listen to the scientists and epidemiologists and make a logical judgement. But then I was reminded that we have increasingly fallen under the conspiracy syndrome. Just a few days ago, A Wyoming Department of Health official insisted that the “so-called pandemic” is a plot by Russia and China to spread communism worldwide. And he told the audience that the vaccine was a biological weapon.

I suspect that he’s also encouraging people not to wear masks and safely distance.

Here’s where personal liberty and public safety clash in a duel to the death. Resenting being told by government officials what to wear on their faces, indignant citizens crowd indoor events without masks, spreading COVID in a deadly partisan mess.

How does the most advanced nation on Earth reject common sense like this? Experts try to answer that question with statistics regarding trends and academically-accurate analysis.

I applaud their efforts, but for me, the mask-wearing issue is personal. And it’s not just because I’m older with health issues. It’s because my daughter is a doctor, a front-line physician in a hospital that’s seeing a rising number of COVID cases. I cannot agree that people insisting on not wearing masks are exercising their rights. None of these people would say that it’s my right to express myself by setting fire to their living room. Yet that’s how I see what they’re doing to every hospital in the country. These are not patriots. They are negligent, self-important public nuisances who are putting my daughter’s life at risk and stressing her out beyond belief.   

I got even more agitated when Hamilton County announced the suspension of contact tracing due to overwhelming numbers and begged retired health care workers to return to work. Our hospitals are near capacity and given massive holiday travel, major overloads are on the way. So, let me get this straight. A retired doctor should come back to the hospital, possibly putting her life in danger, to care for a patient who refused to wear a mask.

Some call mask rejection virus fatigue but I think that’s being kind. The refusal to deal with COVID realistically is more like destruction of our nation as hospitalizations and deaths reach an all time high. And the worst is yet to come.

Vaccines aren’t a miracle. States are now learning that there’s not enough to fully vaccinate all folks on the front lines. Emergency room medical staff will be first, but many other doctors, like my daughter, expect a delay of months. Given the Trump’s administration rejection of extra doses earlier this year, it will be June 2021 before enough people are vaccinated to control the virus. And that’s optimistic!

Given how masks became partisan, I’m pessimistic that vaccines will also be controversial when finally available. Bottom line is don’t get overly comfortable and confident. Wear that mask and socially distance. Get real instead of making the situation worse than it already is.

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