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Keep asking questions and take COVID stats to heart

We’ve been in this mess for a little more than nine months.

And despite the hashtags, jovial social media coping mechanisms and mask fiascos of 2020, we received a glimmer of hope this week with the first vaccine administrations in Ohio and West Virginia.

But Dr. Jeff Patey, a Marietta frontline physician, gave us a clear warning this week about premature returns to “normal.”

“The vaccine is not going to reach the general public until February or March,” he noted Monday.

Priority is being given to frontline health workers, like my mother who is a speech-language pathologist, just like the SLPs, RNs, LPNs, physicians and other healthcare personnel who work in our hospitals, for our Board of Developmental Disabilities and for hospice and home health firms locally — not to mention paramedics, EMTs, nursing home workers and dental workers — who are at a greater risk of exposure to the deadly, novel virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s senior official for infectious diseases, said this week that we will not see herd immunity until late spring/early summer at the earliest.

But as I sit at the counters of my two breakfast spots, in Zoom calls with local politicians and on the phone with those who scream “fake news,” we are constantly discussing the community spread of coronavirus.

Those who believe the reality of the threat ask me in email, via phone call and text:

“What do I do with the numbers?”

“What do they mean?”

“Are they hiding deaths?”

Because of the access journalists have to people in power, the hospital association spokespersons and the individuals logging deaths in the offices of hospitals’ infection control departments, we have a greater responsibility to do more than regurgitate the broad-strokes Gov. Mike DeWine shares in an afternoon presser.

A duty that I am thankful to you, our readers, for continuing to expect from us.

Your questions have helped fuel deep dives into the more than 170,000 raw data records released daily.

Your expectation of greater understanding made graphic illustrations like the pie charts and bar graph in Wednesday’s edition possible.

Because of your engagement, you help to hone how we as your trusted source for news in not only Marietta but also Athens, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan and Noble counties, and all of Washington County, judiciously decide the use of limited print space.

Wednesday’s printed graphic had three pie charts, the first at the top right-hand corner explaining that cumulatively, 85.8 percent of the total deaths of COVID-positive individuals in the six southeast Ohio counties were a result of the virus, while 14.2 percent were deaths of a COVID-positive patient by another cause.

Finding, understanding and explaining that disbursement took phone calls to multiple health departments, hospitals and state officials over several weeks to accurately interpret the data.

When the answer from a health commissioner was, “I don’t know,” we didn’t quit asking.

When the answer from a hospital administrator was, “I don’t know,” we didn’t give up.

Thank you for continuing to ask.

We also published that data broken down in an online video on our Facebook page, understanding where state rates of infection are and are headed.

Wednesday the tally was that one in every 20 Ohioans has now tested positive.

One in every 1,500 Ohioans has died.

At this rate, by Jan. 1, we’re likely to see that ratio shift to one in 16 testing positive in the Buckeye state, and one in every 1,300 dead.

As I write this, my abuelo is fighting coronavirus in an understaffed hospital in the desert.

I’m not going to debate with you about reality as his doctors struggle to keep his oxygen levels up enough not to put him on a ventilator.

But we at The Marietta Times are committed to making the data dump from the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Disease Reporting System digestible, understandable and then — arguably most important — usable for an informed populace to determine its own actions.

I challenge each of you to see the numbers as more than just distant figures.

To allow your heart, the heart of your neighbor, your enemy and your friend, to percussively throb in community, as Stanley Crouch wrote.

To acknowledge this suffering and despair imposed by the dragon that is this virus.

Acknowledge the human toll as grandchildren blame each other for the loss of their grandparent.

Acknowledge the stress of single parents whose children could only attend Marietta City Schools in-person for two days in November, three days in December and a projected four days in January.

Yes, we must not let fear win.

For, “if that dragon thinks it is grand enough, it will try to convince you that there is no escape, no release, no salvation from its wicked dominion. It will tell you that you are destined to live your life in the dark.”

But democracy and freedom die in that darkness.

That noble sound of truth “might just rise up on the high side of the sky, it might just ring the silver bells of musical light that tear through the cloak of the dragon’s shadow that blacks the sun.”

Please join me in that quest for truth.

Please don your armor, raise your sword to slay this dragon.

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