By: Jamie Ward
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life for all of us. Children, their families, and teachers are adjusting to virtual classrooms. Employees are dealing with cumbersome new policies and procedures. Many industries have slowed down to a halt while others are struggling to keep up with demand. People feel isolated, afraid, or outraged. The mental health aspect is alarming. Everyone is exhausted.
Back in mid-March, I suspected mass hysteria at first. In all honesty, I was annoyed at sensationalist headlines. Then the numbers started to rise. More and more deaths. As of today, the United States has had over 183,000 deaths, topping all US deaths from every war since the 1950 start of the Korean War. Yet, many people question the numbers. As someone with a degree in public health, I can assure you epidemiologists are doing their absolute best to obtain the most accurate numbers. This is part of what they do every day and they recognize the severity of the task. Yes, there are nuances with reporting and there will be glitches with technology and human errors along the way, and ultimately, adjustments. However, simply wanting something to be less scary than it really is does not change the fact that it is scary.
There is a current uptick in cases in rural parts of our country. This is concerning because outbreaks in these regions can easily overwhelm healthcare systems that do not have the resources to deal with large numbers of cases. On social media, I see photos and videos of church services and other gatherings where no one is wearing a mask. I hate wearing a mask as much as the next person, but we have to take care of our most vulnerable friends and family members.
Having lost my grandmother to this virus (she was a resident at Jackson Manor), I would give anything to be able to go back in time and help prevent the outbreak in her nursing home. Yes, she was older, but she was in good health. I would love to be able to hug her neck one more time or hear her sing the songs she used to sing with her family growing up. My Mamaw, Ruby Hays, was such an important part of my life. She was my piano teacher, literally giving me the gift of music, and an independent woman, inspiring me in so many ways. I never dreamed I would not be able to tell her goodbye at the end of her life. Having to watch her struggle through a crack in the window and not be able to comfort her with our hands and voices was almost unbearable. Thankfully, my Mom and her sisters were able to be with her briefly during a short hospital visit and some of the Jackson Manor staff were able to sit with her occasionally even though they must have been drained.
According to recent reports, more than 900 front-line healthcare workers have died of COVID-19. Each one of these workers died while caring for our family and friends. And yes, you and your whole family may get the virus and have mild symptoms for the entire duration of the illness. If that is the case, be thankful. We know that will not be the outcome for everyone. Kentucky ranks among the worst states for percentages of residents with chronic health issues. When we wash our hands often and wear a mask out in public, we are playing a part in limiting the spread of illness and potential death. How is any minor nuisance to us more important than the monumental act of loving our neighbors?
Through my job, I am fortunate to meet people from all over the world. I love telling people about my hometown. If your car breaks down on 421, there would be someone offering help in no time. Neighbors share their ladders and help you haul furniture. Friends and family bring you food when your loved one dies. There is a general feeling of community, but I have not always felt that when it comes to COVID-19. This is in large part due to fear and misinformation. Appalachia has more than its fair share of problems; let us not allow COVID-19 to spread like wildfire, preying on our dearest friends and family members.