Kyle Troutman: Chasing the light at the end of the tunnel

Saturday, March 20, 2021

I have been waiting to write this piece, afraid I might upset the karmic universe, but after about a month, I think itís safe to say thereís a light at the end of the dark, year-long tunnel of COVID-19.

It was a year ago on Tuesday that schools were shut down because of the virus, but it was not until months later that our area really began seeing the cases climb.

In fact, the stay home recommendations were really for the least dangerous times in our corner of the state. By the start of May, Barry County had only had eight cases of COVID. I was still reporting each case as it was announced, including possible community exposures and businesses that were affected.

It was in July that things really started to ramp up, as for the first time, the county topped 100 active cases. Every week, from July 5, 2020, to just two weeks ago, I reported a smorgasbord of COVID numbers, everything from case counts to recovery counts to death counts, death and mortality rates, age ranges of cases and more. It has become a weekly chore I will not be sad to see end.

People that may look for that story every week were left questioning last week why there wasnít one. In short, the officials that send out that information were too occupied running vaccine clinics.

The change is welcomed, and I waited until this week to write this column, just to make sure nothing wild happened with the numbers.

A major dip in cases occurred in February, and it can be attributed to two things ó vaccines and weather.

For a year, officials have begged and pleaded with residents to socially distance six feet from others, wear masks, avoid large crowds, wash hands and use hand sanitizer frequently, and stay home if feeling sick.

From Feb. 8-19, minus a couple weekend days, many people did not have a choice in one of those recommendations. An icy week followed by another week of heavy snow was Mother Natureís way of enforcing social distancing, and boy, did it work.

Cases at the end of January were still above 100, and on Feb. 9, active cases numbered 75.

By Feb. 25, that number had dipped to 32, and this week, they have fallen even further to 19.

Itís almost as if staying away from other people actually slowed the spread of COVID and lowered the number of cases, or maybe itís coincidence.

Another factor in the drop has been vaccines, the first batch of which the county received the week of Christmas in 2020. As of this week, more than 1,600 residents in the county have had at least the first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccination ó myself included as of Wednesday. That is about one out of every six people, and most of them in positions that put them at the most risk of catching or spreading the virus.

Yes, 2021 has brought a plethora of positive news regarding COVID, but we are still not completely out of the woods.

While one-in-six has been vaccinated, five-in-six have not, meaning the threat of the virus is still prevalent, especially as the weather warms and people begin to spend more time out in the community at events.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says those who have received both vaccine doses, or those who get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine the Barry County Health Department is distributing today, can begin gathering indoors with other vaccinated individuals without masking, preferably within the same family and barring anyone having an condition giving them an increased risk for illness.

Those who have been vaccinated and are around someone with COVID also do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless they begin to show symptoms unless they live in a group setting like a detention facility or group home.

Those are optimistic recommendations, however, the CDC still advises vaccinated individuals to mask in public, when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household and when visiting an unvaccinated person.

Medium and large gatherings should still be avoided for the time being, travel should be delayed if possible, people should still watch for symptoms and workplace guidelines should still be observed.

These recommendations are still in effect for one main reason ó we are still learning how effective the vaccine is at preventing spread. While it is less possible to spread COVID, the effectiveness rate is not 100 percent, so there is a small chance a vaccinated person could still catch the virus, or a vaccinated person could act as a short-term carrier and unknowingly expose another unvaccinated person.

If history is any lesson, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 lasted about two years before things got back to normal. While these changes in the past few months are encouraging, we may as well expect the same time frame 102 years later.

If we continue following recommendations and getting vaccinated, the light at the end of the tunnel will get brighter.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or editor@monett-times.com.

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