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A perilous time for the unvaccinated

Lycoming County is 34% vaccinated, with another 8% part way there. What great progress! Keep up the good work. Talk to your friends and family and encourage them to get the shot. Suggest they talk to their doctor if they have concerns.

Even though we are making progress with vaccination here, we continue to lag behind the state and the nation. The overall picture is rosy enough to justify lifting restrictions now and rescinding the mask order later this month. But caution is still in order locally — in particular for those who are not yet vaccinated.

Why? Because though the state infection, hospitalization, and death numbers have dropped substantially, locally our counts are staying roughly level. Staying level sounds good. After all, they’re not rising! But that reading offers false comfort. If you look at the counts and consider that a third of the population is largely no longer susceptible to the disease, it means those cases are occurring almost entirely among the subset of the population that is not yet vaccinated. In other words, the rate is rising among the unvaccinated. It is actually getting more risky now for them.

Let’s do the math.

To calculate the incidence rate, compare the number of new cases to the total population and then normalize that, to figure out what the number would be for 100,000 people. Since we are hearing from doctors that the people with COVID showing up in hospitals now are almost entirely those who have not been vaccinated, you must subtract the number of people who have been fully vaccinated from the total population to get the incidence rate among those still vulnerable.

That number is 50% higher than the numbers might otherwise lead you to believe. In other words, it is as risky now to be going about your business not fully vaccinated in Lycoming County as it was back in March. And in fact, the hospitalization and death numbers for the county, while they dropped substantially from the beginning of the year to early March, have remained at roughly the same level since.

Being young might give you better odds for having a mild case, but when more young people are getting sick, you have more chances of drawing a lottery ticket/infection that takes you to the hospital.

So, what should you do if you do become infected and are unlucky enough to have symptoms?

First off, remember that even the mild form of this disease can be rough. You could be having fever, fatigue, chills, aches, cough, loss of taste and smell, and GI problems. And they could last for weeks (or even months).

But if they are manageable, do just that: manage. Stay home, rest, isolate from others in the household, ventilate the space you are in, take pain relievers, and drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes. Stand up and move around the room every couple of hours and try to lie on your belly or side if possible. You may want to get a pulse oximeter (available from drugstores) to check your oxygen saturation levels a few times a day.

If your fever is above 100, you have a severe cough, or you have shortness of breath, then call the doctor or urgent care.

If you are having trouble breathing, chest pain, new confusion, and/or bluish lips or face, seek immediate medical care. Call 911 if necessary and get to the emergency room.

Again, if you are young and in good health, you may wind up on the far side of the initial infection without having any scares, but remember that the people going to the hospital and dying of COVID-19 now are almost entirely those who are unvaccinated. Since 76.5% of seniors in Lycoming County are vaccinated, that means the poor outcomes are currently showing up in younger people.

We are also getting reminders from local physicians that they are seeing lots of younger patients with lingering impacts after COVID-19: shortness of breath, headache, function-limiting fatigue, and a post-concussion-like syndrome – all of which are difficult to treat.

Getting COVID continues to be very dangerous. The infection can invade your lungs, your bloodstream, and even your nervous system. When people test positive, whether or not they get sick, they are very contagious. And while COVID leaves survivors with some degree of immunity, it is still important for them to get vaccinated because the vaccines provide stronger, longer-lasting, and safer protection. The vaccines do not contain any form of the COVID virus. They just teach our bodies to reject the “spike” protein, that feature of the outer coating of a coronavirus which the virus uses to attack and enter our body’s cells.

You’re better off getting vaccinated. We are all better off if you get vaccinated! We can do this. Let’s end COVID!

Samantha Pearson is the executive director of Lewisburg Neighborhoods, a non-profit in Union County; she is collaborating on regional public health messaging with the Lycoming-based Let’s End COVID! group.

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