Mark A. Kastel
Our health care system is on the verge of collapse. Will your actions / inaction be responsible for the murder of your neighbors or family members?
This is not hyperbole. Many others discuss the usefulness of vaccination, as most hospitalized and dying people are not vaccinated. But whether we have had the vaccine or not, our behavior will have a direct impact on the fatal risks to others. The reality is that we are in the middle of a pandemic, not the end, and our actions will determine how many people in our community may die from it.
Hospitals, including here in Viroqua and La Crosse, are operating at full capacity. According to the New York Times (December 14), the national trajectory of new infections (currently mainly the Delta strain) has increased 49% in the past two weeks. Deaths have increased by 40%.
According to Wisconsin Public Radio, 28 people were turned away from an emergency room at a Green Bay hospital last week. Two of them had strokes. Some had to travel for hours to find treatment. There was no one to take care of their critical needs locally.
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I have a friend who knew someone who was flown from Eau Claire to the Twin Cities, also last week. Now the Minneapolis / St. Paul is also full.
Intensive care units have reached or exceeded capacity in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There are no intensive care beds at Vernon Memorial. If someone is sicker than they have the technology or the staff to take care of, standard practice is to transfer them to Madison or La Crosse. But these facilities are full. This means that people stay in Viroqua and receive a different level of care than they would normally receive in a large medical center.
And due to staffing issues at local nursing homes, hospitals are forced to dedicate valuable staff space and time to care for people who would normally be released but have nowhere to go. .
If that is not enough, unlike last year, the flu is also starting to cause hospitalizations.
And it’s not just Covid patients who are at risk. If your mom has a stroke, your dad has a heart attack, or if you are in a car accident, you may not be able to take care of yourself and your loved ones. You may have to wait hours for on-site medical attention or seek help for hours. And if we continue down this path, there might literally be no place to turn.
Even if you are lucky enough to find a bed, the physical and psychological well-being of most of the nurses, doctors and support staff who will care for you has been taken to the extreme – do you think? do they have the resources to do their best job under these circumstances? NPR reports that some Colorado hospitals that had two nurses assigned to each ICU incubated patient now only have one nurse looking after three patients!
There are places in the country where everyone is still camouflaging themselves. There are places where companies have changed their business model. But that doesn’t always happen here in Vernon or La Crosse counties. It’s time to reflect on every decision we make and its impact on others. I know, firsthand, that it is embarrassing, painful, depressing, and certainly a challenge for businesses that would like to operate more normally. But the stakes are too high to ignore the potential consequences.
There are a few businesses in Viroqua that are in need of masks. If you’re a patron, it’s not that hard to put on a mask for 15 minutes (staff already commit to eight hours or more to protect you). But every business should seriously think about what needs to be done to protect its employees and the community at large.
Vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death. But even if you are vaccinated, you can still catch the virus and pass it on to others. This pathogen is evil. It is easily transmitted before we have any discernible symptoms. An N95 mask will protect you. But if everyone is wearing some kind of mask, we are all protecting each other.
Many companies offer curbside delivery. Please don’t order only from Amazon by default. It’s pretty easy, but if you do it, once the pandemic is over many of our wonderful local businesses might not be around. There wasn’t a store I contacted that wasn’t more than happy to take my credit card over the phone and pay for my purchase at the door so I could pick it up (with a problem underlying health and helping someone who is medically vulnerable, I have personally avoided going to stores and businesses as much as possible).
Even during the holiday season, you might wonder if every time you are indoors with others is a necessity. The outside is much safer and the weather has been exceptionally warm. A week ago I entertained guests with hot chicken soup and hot bread on the picnic table (I know, pretty drastic! But everyone had a great time – you’d think that we were skiing in Aspen, Colorado). Wearing masks or switching to virtual participation in events whenever possible will also ease everyone’s risk during this current wave of rising infections.
In addition to protecting ourselves, our actions, together, will impact many others who may be more vulnerable than us.
Mark Kastel is a longtime agricultural policy analyst and director of OrganicEye, an industry watchdog based in Washington, DC. He maintains his office at his farm in rural La Farge, Wisconsin, just outside the small market town of Rockton.