View From the Editor’s Desk – I Talked With a Local Healthcare Worker About the Covid Surge

Thoughts on a very soggy Wednesday as remnant rains from Hurricane Ida pass through western Virginia….

I had lunch last week with a local healthcare worker. It was eye-opening although not surprising for anyone who has been following the rising Covid numbers.

Monday’s local headlines pretty much said it all: Augusta County has one of the region’s highest COVID transmission rates (newsleader.com) and Augusta Health reporting record COVID-19 case numbers (augustafreepress.com).

Tuesday WHSV in Harrisonburg reported, Augusta Health takes on local COVID-19 surge (whsv.com).

Since the number of infections increased so quickly for this area, I wanted to talk with someone in the thick of it all – someone who had been in the battle last year and was there on the front lines still – to hear if it was as bad as the numbers were suggesting.

I walked away from that lunch with an acute awareness of the danger we’re in because so many in our area will not wear masks or vaccinate against Covid-19 to help protect from the extremely contagious Delta variant.

I also walked away with a new-found appreciation for healthcare workers on the front line – our neighbors, family, friends – who are sacrificing energy and time away from their own families to care for the ill and extremely ill.

These workers were there in 2020 and early 2021. The difference between then and now: then we didn’t have a vaccine. There was a huge learning curve on a new, or novel, pathogen we knew nothing about, as scientists raced against time to find a vaccine that would stop a worldwide killer in its tracks.

Now: we have a vaccine. Full stop.

The problem: too few are taking advantage of this wonderful tool to protect themselves from a potential killer. It’s Russian roulette, coronavirus style.

To discover if the vaccine works, one need look no further than how many of the current hospitalized are unvaccinated: 81.4 percent at Augusta Health as of September 1, 2021. For the few who are hospitalized with break-thru infections (they have been vaccinated), the cases are milder and far more treatable.

Three things stood out in the conversation with this healthcare worker:

1. They’re angry. Pissed, would be more accurate, because these are preventable deaths and serious illnesses.

2. There is a feeling that healthcare facilities should be more forthcoming with the public about what is actually happening so the community will be more aware of the seriousness of the situation. In this case, many in the area continue on with their lives as if nothing is different when, in reality, we are in a Covid war zone.

3. Last year the community was wonderful to hospital workers and others by sending pizzas and baked goods and showing other ways to thank them for being there to save lives. While that was appreciated, this year the only thing healthcare workers want is for everyone to be vaccinated. Period.

So the biggest ask that I took away from our conversation was that the public be vaccinated against Covid.

To me, that was a pretty important ask, and a simple one if only people would do it. The shots are free, and healthcare providers have bent over backwards to make it as easy as possible to find vaccine clinics and receive a shot.

Augusta Health, the local hospital located along I-64 in Fishersville, ran a huge Covid vaccine clinic on their premises for months in the spring of 2021 as they vaccinated thousands in the area.

When shots slowed down, they followed up by initiating their “Vax the Valley” campaign, taking mobile clinics to locations around Augusta and setting up at local businesses and events.

When the localities have achieved herd immunity, then, and only then, will the lives of healthcare workers return to normal. And the lives of the rest of us in the community.

I’ve got to tell you … I want a return to my normal life. We enjoyed a brief glimpse of it during June and July and truly don’t want to return to another Covid winter. I love my kids and my family and friends too much to want to be physically separated from them again when we now have a remedy to avoid another distanced holiday season.

We have a vaccine!

So what is the concern?

Look at the map below. That’s Augusta County – the deep red blob on the left side of Virginia. We are the color of, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

In other words, we have the highest numbers for Covid along with only one other locality, and it’s on the complete opposite side of the map.

Covid numbers have soared in Augusta County and the surrounding area. My lunch companion wasn’t surprised it was happening here, and neither was I.

This area has been stubbornly against masks since the beginning. The fact that vaccine resistance would follow was not much of a stretch. We are, after all, 75 percent Republican in Augusta, and being an anti-vaxxer and anti-mask wearer has become a political statement for some reason.

Politics over health. I never saw that one coming.

Augusta isn’t alone. Across Virginia other localities are seeing their numbers increase, and the New York Times reports, The U.S. reaches a daily average of 100,000 Covid hospitalizations for the first time since the winter peak.

But there was good news yesterday in an Axios-Ipsos poll that showed vaccine hesitancy may be crumbling.

One in three unvaccinated Americans in the survey said FDA approval would make them likely to take the vaccine. But 43% said their boss requiring vaccinations would make them likely to do so, up from 33% a month ago.

56% saw friends or relatives outside the home in the last week, the lowest share since April. Half of respondents said they are practicing social distancing, the highest share since early May — though only 12% said they’re canceling travel plans.

The number of children who are now vulnerable may be driving more adults to vaccinate. Schools reopened with in-person learning and immediately began dealing with infections, quarantines, and shortages of teaching staff and bus drivers (see here, here, and here).

Locally a friend told of a neighbor’s six-year-old who had returned to school earlier this month, then began feeling sick so was tested for Covid. “It hurt,” he said of the nose probe with the cotton-tipped swab.

Perhaps actions speak louder than words. Four conservative radio talk-show hosts, all anti-vaxxers, died in the past month from Covid – two based in Florida and two in Tennessee (more from Charlie Sykes).

There is now a growing pushback from those in the community who have worn their masks and received vaccinations and are doing everything that has been asked of them to protect not only themselves but the country as a whole (from the Washington Post):

I am furious at the selfish, outrageous, stubborn anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who are putting their performative, ill-informed political crusades ahead of America’s children.

I am livid that what should’ve been the joyous return to classes and the start of my children’s freshman and senior years were noncommittal, shoulder-shrugging days of maybe and whatever.

Vaccinations could’ve prevented the surge that is cramming those hospitals.

“It’s absolutely due to delta; it’s absolutely due to unvaccinated people,” David Wohl, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina, told my colleagues at The Washington Post. “There is an incredible increase in hospitalizations across the spectrum, from just needing oxygen and some care to needing serious interventions to keep people alive. If everyone was vaccinated, our hospitals would not be anywhere near where we are.”

The earliest deaths in the pandemic, when there were no vaccines available, were heartbreaking — the elderly, first responders, workers who couldn’t shelter in place and work from home.

But this new surge is fueled by the willfully ignorant and is almost entirely political, led by several dozen GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill and two governors who are more interested in making a scene than doing their jobs.

Mandates by some states that forbid schools and businesses from setting their own mask and vaccine policies at the local level have pushed this to the crazy zone.

And so we trudge onward minus, of course, 637,000 of our fellow citizens who died the past 18 months from Covid-19, not to mention the 4.5 million deaths worldwide.

Don’t become numb. Stay alert, stay safe … and be well.

~Lynn

 

Background:

These 10 charts show you vaccination and virus trends in our state and nation | National News | richmond.com

Virus numbers keep climbing; Fredericksburg-area COVID death toll up to 304 | Local News | fredericksburg.com

CDC: Unvaccinated teacher caused an outbreak in classroom – Axios

Anti-maskers are putting their facial freedom over our kids. And I’m furious. – The Washington Post

 

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