It feels like the pandemic is in the rear view mirror as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ruled that for those that have been vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a face mask in public.
I still see many people masked up in Lewis County, but the vibe is relaxed compared to when we first entered the new world of COVID-19 realities.
I remember in March of 2020 when the pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere. I remember neighbors taking walks in my neighborhood wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart while stopping to visit. I remember the first time my wife and I left our home after staying in for weeks (we had stocked up early on before the run on toilet paper and other commodities hit) and were driving down south to one of our favorite seafood markets that also sells the best deep-fried halibut. It seemed almost like a magical date we were so excited to get out and about.
Then we all got used to the new world. We made wearing masks in public an automatic reflex. We felt a bit violated when someone got closer than 6 feet away. We avoided gathering together with friends and family, but the early strictness of avoiding the virus started to wane.
Then the pandemic started to hit close to home.
First my uncle died from the virus, but he did suffer from other health concerns and was in his 80s. Still, he died alone in the hospital, breaking my aunt’s heart. Then several friends came down with COVID-19.
One friend, a healthy man in his 40s, came down with the virus and ended up spending five weeks in the hospital, placed in a coma and put on a ventilation machine. He is out of the hospital now, but is in a form of hospice care and breathing through a tube jabbed into his throat. He looks like he has aged 20 years. His family did not believe the virus was real before he got sick.
We are still in scary times, and as fearful I am of getting sick with the virus and worst case dying all alone by not being able to breathe, I am also not rushing for the heralded vaccination, and neither is about 72% of the population in Lewis County.
I feel uncomfortable with the push to get the vaccination approved. Long-term impacts of the vaccination are unknown. I also have concerns about what happens to people after getting jabbed. My sister-in-law got the vaccination after peer pressure from family, and has suffered from weird ailments ever since, the latest losing strength in her legs and extreme pain in her back.
As of earlier this week, Lewis County’s vaccination rate was at 28%. The state rate is 41%. That means no herd immunity in Lewis County for those selfish enough to avoid getting vaccinated, such as myself.
As I weigh my options, I get closer to getting in the car and getting the shot. It seems pretty easy these days. I have told friends — some vaccinated, some not — that if a nurse showed up at my house with the Johnson & Johnson single shot in hand, I would probably roll up my sleeve, although I would be on edge for after effects.
Where I live, many are weary of the vaccination. Some of my neighbors believe the virus is not all that different from the flu, and believe in various conspiracy theories. One such friend lives just down the street. He did not believe the virus was real. Then he came down with it about three weeks ago, along with his wife. He said it is the sickest he has ever felt, and he has done a 180-degree change in thinking. Now he says I am ignorant and misinformed if I don’t rush down to get the shot. He said the virus is not to be trifled with.
I see in reading The Chronicle that I could simply drive to Packwood this Memorial Weekend, where all three vaccinations will be offered. Or next week I could go to the Lewis County Mall where multiple variations of the shot are also being offered.
The kicker is that the virus seems to be moving strong across Lewis County. A person in their 30s died last week from the virus in Lewis County, bringing the number of people in our county who have died from the virus to 66 people. Our hospitalization rate in the county is at 17.4 per 100,000 people, compared to the state rate of 5.9. This past week, Lewis County had 149 new cases, the most in five months. If Lewis County was following past rules, this would place our county back to Phase 1 with its massive closures and regulations.
This all means that I am still at risk, maybe more so as people start to turn their back on wearing masks and social distancing. I recently went to a memorial service for a relative.
Of the almost 100 attending, only two were wearing masks. There were plenty of hugs and no social distancing. What to do?
My preference is not getting the vaccination and never getting the virus. But it feels like a crapshoot. If I do get the virus because I am scared of the shot, my risk-reward approach will be foolish.
So what to do? I’m still perplexed. In the meantime, I will wear my mask in public, but I have lowered my threshold of gathering with family and friends.
I will be hosting a dinner this weekend, as well as family coming for the holiday. I doubt anyone will wear a mask.
Time as always, will tell. I think I will just give it up and get the shot and be done with the internal conflictions, but still harbor doubts.
Michael Wagar is a former president, publisher and editor of The Chronicle.