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Playing catch-up on the COVID pandemic

After covering the 60-day legislative session, I almost always need the week after to recover, decompress, and catch up on things.

For example, I feel like I missed the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus in the state. I didn’t. I did write about it even while covering the session, but I feel like I didn’t really stop to reflect.

I’ll never forget when my editor the week after the 2020 legislative session asked me to talk to the Department of Health and Human Resources about this coronavirus thing. I rolled my eyes.

You see, I had lived through the SARS, bird flu, and swine flu scares. I had even participated in state pandemic tabletop exercises nearly 15 years ago when I worked in radio. It’s not that I didn’t think a pandemic could happen, but I just didn’t think COVID-19 would rise to that level.

But since 2020, more than 565,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with a worldwide death total of nearly 3 million (it’s probably higher, but some countries are probably undercounting their numbers). It might not be at Spanish Flu or Black Plague levels, but it is certainly the worst pandemic in any of our lifetimes.

My wife and I have it better than most. Neither of us have lost employment during the pandemic. No one in our immediate families have come down sick with COVID. I only know two people who died from COVID: an older family friend, and my editor and friend Mike Myer.

Yet, we’ve certainly not been immune from the psychological effects. Up until recent months I’ve been on most of Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID briefings. At the start of the pandemic, I was on all daily briefings along with other reporters from around the state. Being bombarded, especially in the beginning, with increasingly negative information and repetitive information can get to you.

Surrounding oneself in COVID data constantly can also get to you mentally. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I maintained a daily spreadsheet of information — cases, tests, deaths. I kept track of the age of deaths in a separate document. You’ve probably seen some of the maps and graphics I’ve made. At the end of March, I made an executive decision to stop updating my spreadsheet.

I made that decision mostly for my sanity, but also because the worst of the pandemic is over. Let me be clear: I’m not saying the pandemic is over. However, we’re a long way from 29,257 active cases in the state, which was the peak on Jan 10.

As I write this, we’re at 7,164 active cases after a solid drop between Jan 10 and March 12 to 5,157 active cases. That 7,164 number is down from 7,470 active cases on April 11. Most of the increase in active cases since March 12 are almost exclusively young people between the ages of 16 and 29.

To West Virginia’s credit, more than 60 percent of residents age 65 and older are fully vaccinated. The state worked aggressively since the vaccines started arriving last December to vaccinate older West Virginians. This is the age group that stood the greatest chance of passing away if they got infected.

The rate of vaccinations has dropped off a good deal recently, though that is to be expected. Those most enthusiastic for the vaccines were the first in line, so it makes sense that things would slow down. Now we’re dealing with younger people in no real hurry to get a vaccine because in their minds they don’t get sick. They don’t stop to think that they’re basically human sprinkler machines for the virus.

We’re also dealing with some vaccine hesitancy based on bad information and — dare I say it — fake news. If I’ve had one frustration during the pandemic, it’s the number of people I know personally who will run with the most dubious of sourced information that would take a second to debunk instead of trusting my reporting and the reporting of my colleagues on the virus in West Virginia.

I’ve made it a point the last 13 months to cover the pandemic in a way to give you accurate information without hype. I want you to have factual info, but I don’t want to create scares for no reason. Many members of the media spend a lot of time hyping the most negative information, even now as things are getting better.

At this point, covering COVID-19 is like covering the weather. I give you your forecast and it’s up to you to assess your risk. One day it might be sunny. The next might be rainy and you need to take an umbrella. A vaccine is practically a weather shield.

Obviously we’re not done with the virus, which means I’m not done covering the virus. But I can see some sun beyond the gray skies. Those gray skies would go away more quickly if you got your vaccine.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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