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Op-ed: Getting angry about COVID-19

I’m getting angry.

As COVID-19 begins to affect the health of members of my extended family, I’m getting angry.

As COVID-19 puts a friend (who’s also a more distant family member, and whose health is compromised in various ways) in the hospital for an extended stay, I’m getting angry.

Angry at the virus. Sure. But it’s not human. It does what it’s RNA tells it do so. Without malice.

Angry at the Chinese government for not being more forth-coming with information early on? Sure. But other countries (such as South Korea) faced this same monster and have largely tamed it.

But I’m most angry at all of the people who have argued over the numbers, who have felt (whether or not they said it) that it’s all a “hoax.” Who have railed against common-sense and common-decency efforts to control its spread and the suffering it causes.

And, yes, I’m angry at those who have continued to downplay it or mock mask-wearing even as the scientific evidence piled up, that wearing masks — while not 100 percent effective at preventing infection — is certainly better than not wearing masks.

I understand concerns over a loss of civil liberties and people “living their lives in fear.” But these are the EXACT same issues that America and the world wrestled with in the (mis-named) Spanish Flu of 1917-1918. At that time, the “pool halls” were open, but churches were not. Anti-mask rallies were held. Sound familiar? As the flu moved in as many as three waves, more than 650,000 Americans (oh wait, maybe it was only 600,000…or perhaps 500,000, let’s argue the numbers, shall we?) DIED.

Thankfully, none of the people that I know who have come down with COVID-19 have died. Some only have had minor symptoms. Some have been miserable.

Most of these people (I think) took mask-wearing seriously. No one does it perfectly 100 percent of the time. But I think they tried.

So how did they get it? Perhaps momentary lapses of safety protocol, of which we are all susceptible. Perhaps being around people who did NOT take it seriously, who did NOT wear a mask, who did NOT monitor their health symptoms, and did not take the “drastic” (ha!) step of self-quarantining even without a confirmed diagnosis.

Or perhaps it was from a person who was trying to do everything right, still got it, and exposed others while being asymptomatic.

But if EVERYONE had been trying to do the right things — wearing a mask, keeping their hands away from their faces, washing their hands thoroughly and frequently, trying to stay six feet away from people, not gathering in large crowds (indoors or outdoors) — we wouldn’t be in as big of a mess as we are in now.

And if we, as a nation, had done a better job of contact tracing (though perhaps not as drastic as was done in South Korea; Americans would never put up with that!), we would not be facing the potential of a “dark winter.”

We could have not only flattened the curve, we could have crushed it.

But our arrogance, our unwillingness to TEMPORARILY (as in 1917-1918) sacrifice for the overall well-being of our friends, family, country and jobs, has brought us to where we are now.

Would it still be necessary for us all to be careful, even if we had all done the right things? Probably. We won’t truly be able to breathe a sigh of relief until a very effective vaccine is approved, manufactured, and made available to everyone. There will be people who will refuse to take that vaccine. That makes me sad, but that is their right, I guess. I just hope that they don’t contract it and come into contact with people who cannot take the vaccine due to age or other health concerns.

And I’m angry at myself, for not getting ANGRY about this until it began to touch me personally. I’ve been concerned and vocal from the beginning. But not angry. Perhaps that was a good thing. Perhaps not.

This evil is out of the box, and spreading. Yes, we have more effective ways of dealing with it. Yes, the death rates are falling even as the number of cases (and now, actual hospitalizations) are sky-rocketing. And colder weather, when people tend to spend more time with others in enclosed spaces, is coming to much of America.

I plan to turn my anger into action in that I will re-double my efforts to keep from getting and therefore passing along this virus. I will sacrifice spending time with family as much I’d like, to help keep them AND my wife and I safer, and so that we don’t give it to older family members.

We may (emphasize, MAY) be getting an effective vaccine (or vaccines), that we can all take, in record time, in the next few months – about 15 months after the first US cases of the virus. Remember, last Spring, when the experts said that such a vaccine would not be available for about a year at the earliest. We didn’t want to believe them. Guess what? They will probably turn out to be pretty accurate.

Until then, turn your anger into positive action. Re-double your efforts. Consider NOT getting together with as many people as usual during the upcoming holiday season. I know that will be painful. But not as painful as losing a family member unnecessarily or even causing another person to suffer through a “minor” case of COVID, through carelessness or arrogance.

But I’m optimistic about the future and the potential roll-out of an effective vaccine in the next few months. To paraphrase a lyric from “Tommy,” by the Who: “Got a feeling ’21 is going to be a good year…”, to which I add: “Especially if you and me, see it through together!!”

***

Roger Sheppard is a native of Parkersburg and is a former newscaster and the former VP/GM at The NewsCenter, which operates WTAP, WIYE, and WOVA television stations.

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