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Tom Zirpoli: Controlling the spread of COVID-19 is now in our hands | COMMENTARY

We may associate difficult decisions regarding how to respond to COVID-19 with presidents and governors. Certainly, these macro-decisions can play a significant role in reducing the speed of COVID’s spread. Yet, as stated by Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic, “The appetite for shutdowns or other large-scale social interventions simply isn’t there.” Gov. Larry Hogan’s hesitation to declare a state of emergency in response to Maryland’s hospital crises is an example of this.

We should not, however, underestimate how personal decisions can affect our daily lives during this current surge. These micro-decisions range from not going out with friends for dinner to wearing a mask when grocery shopping. These daily decisions, multiplied by millions of individuals, play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19.

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By my observations, about 30% of our citizens are wearing masks while shopping at local grocery stores. Large community gatherings, including church services, continue unabated, apparently with the support of most community leaders. Our hospitals are paying the price for these decisions.

How disappointing it was to read in this paper about some Christmas church services that continued despite pleas from health care providers not to hold large gatherings. One local pastor said that he was glad his services were back to “normal” with large crowds and no vaccination or mask mandates. Well, if you can call a Christmas superspreader event “normal,” perhaps that pastor needs to spend time in hospitals tending to the sick. Maybe then he would recognize that things are not normal right now by any stretch of the imagination.

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A friend told me that she was helping an elderly relative livestream a Christmas service in order to keep her safe. From her computer monitor, she could see that most of the in-person congregation — a majority of whom were elderly — were sitting shoulder to shoulder and unmasked. I thought these pastors were “pro-life.” I find it interesting that these pastors have no problem trying to regulate what goes on in the privacy of our homes, but don’t want to intrude with a mask mandate during a one-hour church service.

Clearly, controlling the spread of COVID is in our hands. We have already decided that our organization, Target Community & Educational Services, will not host our annual Spring Gala in March. It is our major annual fundraiser. We couldn’t do it last year either. It hurts. But we could not, in good conscience, hold a gala with 400 people eating and dancing, only to possibly spread a deadly virus to our clients, employees, and supporters. There are more important things than fundraising, and we have decided that the safety of our community will be our priority.

There are other ways to raise money without putting the health and well-being of people at risk, and we will figure it out. And we believe that these micro-decisions, multiplied by others, could help stem the tide of COVID within our community. I’m proud of our organization for doing our part to help. We challenge others to do the same.

When I was a Rotarian, our motto was, “Service above self.” I think about this when I think about vaccinations, wearing a mask in public, and not attending community gatherings. These precautions are more for the protection of my family and community than they are for myself. At my age, however, I’m glad they also protect me.

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The message I hear from hospital workers is that they are living in two worlds. In their work world, a disaster is occurring right in front of them. This disaster is the product of the daily decisions each of us makes when we decide to have gatherings, not to get vaccinated, and not to wear masks. Then there is their other world — outside of the hospital — where community members are behaving as if the virus is gone, that people are no longer getting sick, and that we can now be carefree. Our hospital workers have been trying to get our attention about what is going on in their world, inside the hospital, but we don’t seem to have the attention span or the interest.

The folks who work at Carroll Hospital are our neighbors. Many of them went to our local schools before heading to college and medical training. Many of them have lived in Carroll County for their entire lives. The patients that come and go to the hospital are their family members and their neighbors. We are lucky to have a quality community hospital in our backyard and we should all do our part to help them during this challenging time by making smart daily decisions.

Please get vaccinated and get your booster shot. The numbers are clear — it really does makes a difference in the severity of your illness when you become infected. Of the 73 COVID cases at Carroll Hospital this past Monday, 74 percent were unvaccinated. Please wear a mask in public settings like the grocery store. You are not only protecting yourself but the people who work there who are serving you and your needs. Be grateful for them and wear a mask.

Tom Zirpoli is a professor and program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster and his column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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