A few days ago I was making a mad dash to the market to pick up some essentials for the day’s meal. As it was my turn to shop, and I was determined to do so without the list that remained on my kitchen counter, my mind was playing memory games to fill the shopping cart successfully.
Because I was so preoccupied, it wasn’t until I was in the store, heading straight for the produce, that I realized I had forgotten one very important item — my mask. In my hurry, I had left it in the car. And so began my “safety waffle.”
Should I go back to grab my mask, or just take a chance?
The risk seemed small — the store wasn’t crowded. I didn’t intend to be there long. Nobody else was masked. I had created a predicament that many people wouldn’t recognize.
So many people are done with COVID and its restrictions and want to live as though the virus no longer exists. Friends and family, and those I see when out and about, often give me “what are you doing?” looks when I am the only one in the crowd wearing a mask. I don’t believe the glances are intended to make me feel uncomfortable; I am just an oddity left over from a time of heightened COVID awareness.
I think of it as invisible peer pressure.
I reinforce my choice to mask because I don’t live in a bubble and going in public without this safety precaution could drastically change someone’s life, especially someone who is older, or has underlying health conditions, or a weakened immune system. I think about delivering leftovers the next day to an 89-year-old relative, then stopping to see another older friend whose wife is in a nursing home. How selfish and inconsiderate it would be if I chose to be unprotected and risked the lives of these vulnerable people.
During the first summer of COVID, we were returning from paddling to a small launch area on
a lake where two young men had taken all the space with their truck, canoe and camping supplies, making it impossible to avoid close contact safely. After about ten minutes of paddling in place, I asked for a few feet of clearance so we could exit safely. One sniped that he wasn’t worried about COVID and that we could just sit on the lake until they launched.
How many of us let our older adults paddle around unprotected? How many of us don’t even recognize the elderly can literally be up the creek without a paddle when it comes to being COVID safe? Are too many of us risking the lives of the vulnerable, because we aren’t “worried about COVID?”
COVID has quickly become a pandemic of the elderly. Since the pandemic began, 75 percent of COVID deaths have occurred in people over age 65.
Although COVID numbers fell in January, 2,100 people ages 65 to 74, 3,500 aged 75 to 84 and nearly 5,000 over age 85 died of COVID, representing over ninety percent of our nation’s COVID deaths that month. Hospital admissions for people over 70 remain five times higher than for people in their 50s.
We know the bivalent booster can lessen the chance that older adults will become seriously ill or die from COVID, yet only 40.8 percent of adults age 65 and older have had a bivalent booster. Considering the high rate of COVID deaths among these age groups, the low booster rate is frightening. Why is the number so low?
Is it similar to me wondering whether or not I should go to my car to get my mask? That people are over COVID and, especially if they are under a certain age, have little concern about getting COVID or having trouble recovering if infected?
Or is it difficult for older people to arrange for the booster? Do they need help getting the shot, whether finding a location or transportation to receive the booster? Do they understand the protection provided by the booster?
Are these numbers compounded by those who are caregivers for the most vulnerable? Good, well-intentioned people looking out for their aged loved ones, unaware that a COVID fault line is within their home and the earthquake could happen at any time?
While we have seen so many ways of approaching a desired return to normal, the COVID virus is still here, and continues to pose life-threatening challenges to certain populations. By respecting and following the basic prevention skills we practiced in the beginning of the pandemic – hand sanitizing, avoiding crowds, and masking, especially around those people at risk — we can keep the aftershocks of COVID from burying our vulnerable.
Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!