So close, yet so far away

It’s a common refrain when new COVID-19 information is put on the paper’s social media accounts.

There will be a few of the same names who like the post and share the post, often people who have reached out saying that they are appreciative of the updates for the region, not that they’re “liking” new positive cases or the continued presence of the virus in the community, mind you.

Then there will be the two opposite ends of things. One or two that post a crying or angry emoji and one or two that post a laughing emoji in reaction.

Now and again, attempting to be humorous, someone who posts the latter will add something to the effect of, “Is COVID still a thing?”

Yes, yes it is.

When those updates go up, often my personal email inbox or social media messages will be hit up with a few people concerned about actions taken by local, state, or national representatives.

This week was especially so.

Our city and county governments both made moves in their respective commission meetings to remove funded leave by those entities for an employee who became infected with the virus and missed work time.

These policies were initially put in place to encourage employees to stay at home, rather than bringing a COVID infection to the workplace in order to save personal leave time.

In changing these policies, both the county and city meetings cited lower numbers and increased availability of vaccinations in the county as reasons to make these policy changes.

This had some in the community concerned.

Is COVID still a thing?

Yes, yes it is.

The opportunities are there to have COVID in a contained manner, similar to other viruses that we encounter each year. That will require significant amounts of the adult population to be vaccinated, however.

So far, Beadle County has lagged behind the overall state response in vaccinations. While the state has seen nearly 55% of the population with at least one dose and more than 45% with the vaccination series complete, Beadle’s percentages sit at 37% of the county with one dose and 31% with the series complete.

Variants are emerging within the state, and after opening the month with just a handful of the variant cases, more than 75 have now been confirmed, with the actual number likely much higher, as many who are testing positive for COVID are not being tested for variants in the state right now, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Josh Clayton.

The state is encouraging all labs that conduct COVID tests to do this extra step, but not every lab that is used is currently taking on the task.

The numbers are notable, however, as infection rates among those aged 20-39 in the state as a portion of overall positive cases are higher in the last two months than at any point during the pandemic.

The variants are noted to be more easily spread and affect younger, healthier people more than the “original” COVID strains.

Questionable numbers are a whole issue to contend with when considering the active cases reported by the state.

In October, the CDC allowed for a positive case to be termed “recovered” after a set amount of time, regardless of the outcome for the individual. That means someone could still be suffering from the immediate effects of COVID, and they would be no longer considered an “active case” in their county.

For an example, over roughly three to four days recently, Jerauld County reported an actively hospitalized person due to COVID. At the time, Jerauld County also reported no active cases of the virus.

Then, we have no clue what the long-term effects of the virus will be. HBO’s Real Sports has done a set of tremendous pieces over the last few months on mental health of those whose worlds were shut down and they were unable to exercise during the pandemic as well as an incredible piece on “long haulers,” a term being applied to those who come out of a COVID infection with long-term health effects. The people interviewed for the particular Real Sports piece included a young, female athlete who went from nationally-ranked long distance runner to being unable to walk after her battle with COVID.

The scary part is that professional athletes have been sidelined for extended period of time with long-term health changes due to the virus.

With some of the most elite athletes on the planet, in the prime of their lives, unable to escape long-term effects of the illness, why would we assume that there would be no long-term effects elsewhere in the population?

We just don’t know…yet.

That’s the “so far away” part of the song lyric. We are now 405 days since the city and county made drastic changes due to Beadle County being the first location of community spread of the virus in South Dakota, and we’re still learning about what COVID can do, has done, and will do in our lives.

Marginalizing its impact is foolhardy. Living in complete and utter fear is equally so.

So, is COVID still a thing?

Yes, yes it is, but as a community, we can be close to containing it.

Akin to having the right conditions and supplies to contain a wildfire and then letting it burn out, we’re in a similar spot with COVID. That containment will take continued community movement.

We can all move forward with honor, kindness, decency, and respect for one another. We can get vaccinated when it’s available. We can utilize credentialed, unbiased sources for information about the virus rather than talking heads on our favorite network or website.

More than anything, we can continue to be vigilant and step forward as a community. This isn’t over, but we can continue to step forward as long as we remember the welfare of those around us as we take each step.

The totality of what COVID has done may be far away, but the next step forward in this fight is close.



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