Back when I was regularly reporting on domestic violence in Mississippi, my goal was to see an end to that scourge so I would never have to report another DV story.
I never reached that goal, even if domestic violence is no longer high on my list of stories to cover at the Vicksburg Daily News.
I’ve become the de facto COVID-19 expert for VDN instead, and I promise you: I will never be so happy to stop reporting on a subject.
We’re all sick of COVID-19 — sick of the restrictions it has placed on our lives, sick of the daily drumbeat of the numbers of cases, the hospitalized and the dead. I know I’m sick of it, and even though I disagree, I can understand the urge to look for the thinnest evidence that this nightmare isn’t real or isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be.
It’s easy to get numb to the enormity of it all too and easy to downplay it. I get it. It’s cold comfort to think that more than 11 months of COVID-19 news is all a conspiracy than to believe it’s real.
But here’s the thing. It’s huge, it’s ugly, and it’s one of the worst incurable communicable diseases most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S., nearly 17 million people have been diagnosed with the virus and more than 300,000 people have died. And that’s just in the U.S.
I want you to sit with those numbers for a moment: 17 million cases, 300,000 dead in the U.S.
Looked at from a percentage basis, it’s easy to get lost in those big numbers and minimize them so they aren’t so scary. Resist the urge. Instead, compare it to a smaller number. Warren County, for example, has about 45,000 residents. Imagine that everyone in Warren County died — six times over. Now you’ll begin to put some real perspective on the number. Mississippi has fewer than 3 million residents. Imagine five Mississippi’s sick.
It’s so easy to get numb to the numbers. It’s hard to know that someone you know has the disease. Harder to recall those you love who have died from it. Easier to talk about some other disease that isn’t in the spotlight right now. Easier to point a finger and blame someone.
I know. I get it. And yet, every day that I write about the numbers, I become heartsick and sometimes overwhelmed. Sometimes I cry. More often it’s just hard to concentrate and my mind wanders. It’s only through the harshest discipline I’ve developed through years of reporting really tough stories that I can pull myself back to the present moment and make sure I report all those scary numbers accurately.
Do I want to do it? Oh, hell no. But I do think that understanding where we are right now in any situation is vital to making good decisions on how to proceed, today and tomorrow.
Monday morning, the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines were delivered to Mississippi. By Monday afternoon, the first five Mississippians, all top health officials in the state, had received the first of two doses of the vaccine. Like you, I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if they show any side effects.
So, what does the vaccine mean for us? Can we stop wearing masks, stop social distancing and stop washing our hands frequently? The short answer is no. We have to continue to do all of those things, probably for many more months if not for the foreseeable future. If you’re healthy, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a vaccine until next spring.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we interact with people — some of us may never shake hands with a stranger again. It has changed our concept of communicable disease. It has changed our economy, and for many, it is altering their ability to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. Some 150,000 landlords have already filed eviction notices, and that little ripple could grow into millions of evictions when the federal moratorium on evictions expires at the end of the year. By one estimate, 6.7 million renter households are unable to pay rent. And, although the employment picture has improved since the first huge wave of layoffs in May, only about half the jobs lost have been replaced, and the rate of job recovery has slowed. The hardest hit? Workers in low-wage retail and service industries, those with the fewest resources to begin with.
With this new and bigger surge of COVID-19 disease that is infiltrating even the most isolated rural communities, it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel of pain many of our neighbors have been traveling this year.
Don’t get me wrong: The vaccine is a wonderful development, and it could mean that we will return to some sense of normalcy over the next year. But it won’t happen tomorrow. Or the day after that.
Look, I get that you want me and everyone else to stop talking about COVID-19. I do. I want to stop reporting about it. I’ve been doing on a near daily basis for going on nine (or is it 10) months.
But this is the time to get out of our comfort zones when thinking and talking about this virus, not to retreat into conspiracy theories and fringe elements who want you to believe it’s about controlling you, personally, and not about controlling a disease. Now is the time to make sure we have adequate masks and hand sanitizer. Now is the time to have virtual get togethers and learn how to use Zoom and Skype if we haven’t, yet.
Stay with it folks. We know how to beat this thing. We’re not powerless. This is real. This is now. Let’s ensure as many of us make it to the other side as possible.