Death in the Time of Covid

Stories and commentaries about Covid-19 often focus on statistics, and this piece will as well later.  The numbers are significant because they are easy to understand and they provide a scale of where we are in the pandemic.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice cites the numbers during his frequent briefings, but he does something else; he mentions each death.  He does not give their name, but he says their age and where they are from.

Frankly, I wish Justice could, or would, tell us the names and even show us pictures of those we have lost.  Maybe that would be an invasion of privacy, but it would also personalize the losses to make them more meaningful to those of us who do not know the individuals.

Friday, Justice provided brief descriptions for 110 individuals whose deaths from Covid had been recorded since the last briefing.  “It’s staggering to think of 110 deaths,” Justice said.  I just can’t tell you the magnitude of what we’re talking about here.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Justice has done that for 4,426 individuals.

Unless you have been directly impacted by Covid—lost a friend or family member—there is a temptation to become complacent.  Candidly, while watching a video of the Governor’s briefing on Friday, I fast forwarded until he finished the list.

But his ritual is important.  The West Virginians who have died from Covid were real people, not just statistics. They had loved ones and life stories.  Their deaths created a deep sense of loss among family and friends.

There will be more deaths.  Yes, the number of new daily infections has dropped significantly from just a few weeks ago, but it remains a life-threatening virus, especially for individuals with co-morbidities, and we have a lot of high-risk folks in our state.

Most of those who are dying have not been vaccinated. DHHR statistics show that 92 percent of the Covid-19 deaths since the start of vaccinations were individuals who had not gotten their shots.

Justice continues to encourage, even beg, individuals to get vaccinated and for the vaccinated to get the booster, even as the number of new cases declines. “As our numbers continue to fall, as sad as it may be, we’re going to lose a bunch of people,” Justice said.  “If we could get ourselves vaccinated, we control our destiny in a big, big way.”

He is right. The vaccines are safe and effective.  Multiple studies from a variety of medical sources show that.  A study published in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found, “hospitalizations (and) deaths were substantially higher in persons not fully vaccinated compared with those fully vaccinated.”

Another CDC report determined that in August, unvaccinated individuals faced a risk of dying from Covid eleven times greater than those who had been inoculated.

The vaccination rate has stalled in West Virginia, despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of the shots.  Sadly, that means Justice will have many more lists to read of many more West Virginians who will have died from Covid.


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