The COVID-19 pandemic upended our world. Araceli and I isolated ourselves from March 2020 until after our vaccinations a year later. Even after her terrible fall April 9, 2021, followed by three days in surgical intensive care at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, we took all precautions ordered by her doctors to stay safe. She had no visitors, and I exercised extreme caution coming and going.
Thank God, at the time of my beloved’s passing from this life to the next, May 17, 2021, our community was experiencing a nadir in virus spread. Poling St. Clair Funeral Home, First United Methodist Church, and even the Opera House on Main Street could allow public participation celebrating the life of Araceli. What a blessing grieving with friends and family.
That low point in virus infection transmission, or “nadir period,” did not last as the COVID-19 Delta variant rapidly elevated the spread of this horrible disease over the summer. Boldly I flew to San Francisco, sharing the nuptial joy of niece Chelsea Ganan and Seth Gold. Then at the height of a West Virginia summer, our extended family gathered in Canaan Valley for an August week of outdoor living. Finally, my soul grew resilient at Chautauqua Institute with sisters K, Ruth, and Beth, as well as friends. I truly benefited from the combination of body, mind and soul exercise. However, around September 1 I became mildly diseased with a breakthrough COVID-19 infection from the highly contagious Delta variant. Thank God for my Moderna vaccine protection back in January and February which kept my symptoms mild.
With my infection, my grief gives way to another experience of suffering—a quarantine. To protect others, I act responsibly isolating at home. Alerting the postal man who brings mail to our outside porch box, I yell out “Be safe!” feeling like I have Biblical leprosy shouting “unclean!” I advise our family not to come to Upshur County now. Of course, I want to surround myself with loving arms at the time of Araceli’s and my 46th wedding anniversary September 13th. But I must “give it over,” as the mountaineers up our hollows would tell Country Doctor Dad and me on our house calls. I must bow my head alone on that sacred day reciting Holy Scripture: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
But I am not the only one suffering. Around our downtown home in Buckhannon, area hospitals are overflowing and the number of deaths are rising, as local health officials sound the alarm about the severity of the current COVID-19 outbreak tearing through the community. In a two-day period more than 100 new COVID-19 cases flare. Upshur County claims the sad acknowledgment as the highest infection rate in West Virginia, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. And West Virginia is the highest of all 50 states. My, my.
Quarantine means avoiding contact with others to the furthest extent possible for the next 14 days. I wear a mask even as I hike lonesome trails around Buckhannon. I seek out haunts that I have not walked since boyhood days.
Now I shout from the top of Mt Hibbs, the highest peak overlooking our mountain burg.:
Just like in our childhood, I can yell loud enough to get an echo from Hospital hill and Water Tank hill.
Finally, my 14 days pass and I am able to attend the Upshur County Schools Board of Education public meeting at Rock Cave Elementary School. There I carry the message as we work through our agenda, emphasizing the due diligence of Dr. Jeff Harvey, our BOE point man for COVID-19 safety. He keeps in daily contact with the Upshur Buckhannon Health Department. Together they beat the drum that the most effective weapon we have right now against COVID-19, both inside and outside schools, is vaccination.
“If you are eligible to be vaccinated, you should absolutely, positively get vaccinated,” I hear myself exclaim. “Vaccination of teachers and staff, students 12 and older, and all eligible family and community members will help keep everyone in school and in our community safer,” I repeat myself. “Even if there is a breakthrough infection like I experienced, it will usually be mild like mine was. Hospitalization and death has been avoided. That is a good thing!”