The title to this column is a rhetorical question that I and probably most of you reading this already know the answer to.

Of course we won’t ever come to a full understanding about the severity of COVID-19 — especially the surging and apparently even more contagious and dangerous Delta variant — and come together in a common purpose to stop it from continuing to spike and get out of control. Not when everything in this country, almost every situation, is boiled down to a political litmus test — some misguided assessment of where one’s tribal allegiances lie. And not when so many of us can’t see or think past our own interests.

This week, I read a letter that will run in our company’s Madison County newspaper from a woman who lived in and remains an advocate for residents of a refugee camp in Comer. She told the story of a family where a man, his adult daughter with a developmental disability and his wife all died from COVID-19 within a week of each other. Four other family members were hospitalized, including a 10-year-old.

I’m tired of and worn down by hearing stories like this; I’m sure many of you are as well. But — and this really isn’t meant to insult or demean anyone — judging by the available statistics, some of us obviously just could not care less about the suffering. It isn’t them or their family and friends impacted personally. So, after all that’s happened in the last year and a half, they still find it within themselves to run around unvaccinated and maskless acting like total fools while feasting on what a friend of mine has called an “information dystopia” on the internet.

At a joint press conference last week, officials with Atlanta-area hospitals, including Northeast Georgia Medical Center, stood outside of Mercedes Benz Stadium and warned that the new strain of COVID is more infectious, that it’s resulting in more serious cases among children and young people and that this latest surge will “significantly outpace the previous highest peak.”

According to Georgia Department of Public Health data, as of Monday afternoon, the seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID cases in Barrow County was 58.4, 722 new cases confirmed in a two-week span with one of the worst rates per 100,000 people in this part of the state and at least a couple more deaths among county residents.

Northeast Georgia Health System on Monday morning reported that there were 240 COVID-positive patients across its facilities, including 14 at NGMC Barrow in Winder and 62 at NGMC Braselton. There were no beds available at the Winder hospital. And an overwhelming percentage of those hospitalized are not considered fully vaccinated.

The vaccine can’t stop us from being infected or even spreading the virus to others, but it can and has been shown to drastically reduce people’s susceptibility to some of the worst effects of COVID-19. The science isn’t as clear yet on how effective it is against Delta and other variants that will surely come, but what is clear is you can save your life and others by getting the shot.

And yet, here in Barrow County, the full vaccination rate as of Monday morning was 34%, in line with several surrounding counties but well behind the state average, which is well behind the national average. But hooray, I guess? Barrow passed the one-third mark!

The reasons for not getting vaccinated may vary, but it is those who hide behind “religion” and “guarding against infringement on personal liberty” who need to undertake a serious self-examination.

I got my shots in late March and early April. Because there wasn’t as much information available earlier this year on pregnant women and the vaccine, my wife chose to wait until after our second child was born last month to get vaccinated. She received her second dose last week, and for us it was a feeling of relief. To others, being encouraged or even required in certain situations to be vaccinated is some sort of assault on liberty and our Constitution. I guess I just never will understand that level of willful and blissful ignorance.

But it isn’t even entirely an issue of politics or personal decency, but in some cases a matter of comprehension and intelligence. And yes, I’m talking about those who would refuse a medically-tested, approved and effective vaccine and then willingly spread misinformation that horse worming and cow de-worming medication are a shield against COVID-19. Lest we forget about the great bleach-drinking challenge of 2020, mind-numbing stupidity still resides among us.

The FDA actually sent out this tweet: "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously y'all. Stop it."

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from pulling your hair out, but there needs to be more people who say, “Seriously y’all, stop it.”

The aforementioned woman from Comer wrote this in her letter: “Standing near two open caskets at the funeral, I implored people to get vaccinated so we can put an end to the sickness and suffering that (COVID) is causing to our families and our community.”

More people need to be standing up and saying this in public settings. This newspaper and its sister papers should be doing more. Elected leaders around Barrow County should be doing more. The local school system, which is also continuing to see an increase in positive cases, has put out statements urging people to get vaccinated and follow virus mitigation measures, but it arguably could also be doing much more within its power to stop the spread. State leaders could certainly be doing more, but real leadership from that corner has often been fleeting throughout the course of the pandemic — especially now, as election season approaches and political expediency is the flavor of the month.

Ultimately, it is all up to us. Are we willing to ask and demand more of ourselves? Or are we just going to keep our heads in the sand and our fingers in our ears?

Scott Thompson is editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at sthompson@barrownewsjournal.com.

(1) comment

Cheryl Brownstein

Excellent opinion piece by Scott Thompson. Speaking from experience the people not wearing masks and/or not getting vaccinated do not want to hear opinions of those who have taken this pandemic seriously. Got the 'banned from this site" T-Shirts to prove it. They keep citing "their rights." It's time that those of us who have masked up, who have isolated ourselves to avoid infection and have gotten our vaccines to demand that our rights move to the forefront. Demand that local businesses exclude or limit access to the unmasked and un-vaccinated. Their right to spread their infections ends where our noses begin. And, it's time for local governments to do as they are in S. FL, stand up to a governor who is NOT looking out for the best interest of their friends, neighbors and voters.

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