By Joe Livernois
The planet is blundering and stumbling into its third year of the pandemic, with a population willing to either embrace or ignore the lessons learned.
Even as the Central Coast has opened to tentative public gatherings, pandemic fatigue is taking its toll on health care workers and people with compromised health conditions, while frustration continues to mount about residents who refuse vaccines or who won’t wear masks and the mixed messages the public gets from government agencies.
“We are — collectively — profoundly disappointing at this moment in history,” wrote Nancy McCullough of Pacific Grove, referring to friends, neighbors and countrymen who won’t mask up.
On the Central Coast, the death toll through the first two years of COVID-19 and its variants is at 860, including 636 in Monterey County and 224 in Santa Cruz County. More than 72,000 cases have been confirmed on the Central Coast since the start of the pandemic, and almost 2,600 have required hospitalization.
The good news is that residents in both counties are ignoring the skeptics and getting their vaccines. Monterey County lifted its indoor mask mandate more than two weeks ago, but most residents are still wearing them inside buildings and around crowds, even if they are vaccinated.
The latest statistics indicate that about 70 percent of all eligible Central Coast residents over the age of 5 have received at least their first dose. Still, that leaves 30 percent who aren’t vaccinated.
According to Monterey County health officials, the seven-day average case rate for Monterey County residents is about 11.4 per 100,000 for unvaccinated residents, compared to 2.2 for vaccinated locals. Hospitalization rates are 0.9 people per 100,000 among the unvaccinated, compared to 0.1 percent for those who have had their shots.
“If I hear one more @#$%^&* tell me to take off my mask … I’ll make him eat my mask,” wrote J. Eric Tynan of Castroville. “Forrest Gump was right. Stupid is as stupid does.” Tynan told Voices of Monterey Bay that he lost his best friend to COVID recently, and Tynan’s wife works at a local hospital. His wife came home recently, shaken after watching a 2-year-old baby girl die of COVID-related symptoms.
“I believe that the focus has been on the economy rather than preserving as many human lives as possible,” said Ashley Shaffer of Pacific Grove. “It has frankly disgusted me.”
Shaffer, Tynan and McCullough were among almost two dozen residents who responded to a survey of Voices of Monterey Bay readers about mask mandates. The survey was not a scientific poll, and the results of the yes-no questions are not likely representative of the thoughts of the entire county. But a substantial number of those who responded said they don’t think Monterey County has done enough to protect residents against the virus. And they believe state and federal leaders undermined a swift end to the pandemic by politicizing the situation.
More importantly, the survey allowed readers to share their thoughts about the past two years. And it is evident that the disappointment and the frustrations are real.
“The authorities have pretty much politicized COVID such that citizens no longer know who to trust,” said Mary Frances of Carmel Valley. “People are tired of being whiplashed with unscientific mandates.”
Katie Coburn said she believes government leaders botched the job at all levels. Caring for an immuno-compromised husband, the couple has carefully avoided crowds and social situations, she said. “Avoiding infection/death has been our goal,” she said. The couple resumed small dinner parties and some outdoor functions after getting their second vaccines but she added that “we only see fully vaxed folks socially.”
She blamed early federal response to the pandemic for the incremental illnesses and deaths, and she and her husband traveled to Santa Clara County for their first vaccines because they were so difficult to find in Monterey County. She said she believes the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and county health officials “have sold out to Big Ag and hospitality.”
Dr. Adelheid Ebenhoech, a physician from Prunedale, said she believes the situation has improved, “given the horrid first year of gross COVID-19 mismanagement at all levels.” She blames poor communication and the federal government’s early refusal to “openly engage with scientific fact.”
She said that confusion and miscommunication still abounds.
“As a doc, I think this information piece, which encompasses communicating scientifically sound information in a way that works for people with less scientific literacy or who don’t speak English, represents the greatest failure because it was so unnecessary, and so predictable to those of us watching the situation unfold.”
Nona Childress, a microbiologist from Salinas, said that conflicting advice and confusing information about the virus “adds to the general district of any source that differs from the one you favor — and that observation comes from a scientist who’s used to evaluating multiple data sources and can usually reconcile them.”
“All levels of agencies have had both successes and failures in pandemic management,” she added. “I find myself more willing to trust the ones that are transparent about why they are making the calls they are, and willing to admit what they don’t know. I do think linking implementation and easing of various mandates with near real-time numbers and benchmarks is important, but the numbers and sources need to be defined ahead of time to avoid appearances of cherry picking data.”
Michael Helmes of Pacific Grove said he is disappointed that Monterey County politicians inserted themselves into what should have been health policy decisions. “It was going well as long as the Health Department was calling the shots,” he said. “When the Board of Supervisors got involved it became messy. They have no qualifications to even have an opinion about it … and the quick backtracking because the supes heard negative comments from constituents illustrated how little knowledge and commitment they had in the first place.”
“The messaging on mask use this summer and fall from the Board of Supervisors and Health Department has been inexcusable,” added Molly Weaver of Salinas. “It is clear that a vocal minority of political and business interests are taking priority over common sense measures that protect kids.”
Featured image: Masks | Photo by Joe Livernois
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