I’m eating yogurt and fruit. My face mask lays on the table next to me. Writing from an empty hotel lobby in the heart of Philadelphia, I fear you will dismiss the need for personal responsibility when it comes to transmitting COVID.

It’s been a challenging year to be a journalist. The pandemic has had its way with my feelings and I’m sure it shows. Those feelings are amplified because Margie, a dear friend, chose not to believe in COVID or vaccinations. After being hospitalized for a month, she died. And she didn’t die just from COVID. She died because her beliefs about COVID prevented her from protecting herself against COVID. That’s the part that I just can’t reconcile in my mind because she died a slow and miserable death, needlessly.  

Despite this, I loved her, even as I scattered her ashes.

My husband, father and daughter have had COVID. They survived. Luckily, I didn’t get COVID because I’m vaccinated. Some of my readers who called my work fake news have died. Some of my friends have had their loved ones die in a hospital hallway, alone.

These images haunt me.

So that’s why the yogurt and fruit sit to my left and the mask lays next to me. My focus is on taking care of me and the collective we. I don’t want you to know this pain. Some might call this bias. I call it living with the burden of truth.

There’s an “I need to take care of myself” and a “we need to collectively take care of ourselves” aspect to this pandemic that seems to get lost in the conversations around COVID. 

This “I’ll be fine” mentality where we choose not to mask, socially distance or refuse to be vaccinated does not work in the realm of infectious diseases in places where healthcare resources are limited. With the original COVID-19 strain, one person infected two people. In the case of Delta, one person infects five to seven people. And Omicron is thought to have an even higher transmission rate. 

To throw out a few more stats, five out of every 100 people who contract COVID will be hospitalized and one of those five will die. On the other side, 95 of every 100 people who contract COVID will not be hospitalized and 99 of those 100 will live. So yes, while you may be fine, the people you infected may not be and that’s where we get into trouble. 

It’s also a problem of not having enough resources. This healthcare crisis is already happening. On Thursday, Dec. 30, the 31 hospitals in southeastern Wisconsin have 31 ICU beds, three intermediate care, and 24 medical surgical beds available to serve 2 million people.

Racine County is also at a tipping point 

Ascension-All Saints staff told the Racine County Eye the hospital has about 250 beds. They only have the staffing to take care of 100 patients and they had 167 patients on Friday. Of those, 40 to 45 are COVID patients. People hospitalized with the Delta and Omicron variants require more hospital staff to take care of them and they stay in the hospital longer. 

So the fear is that the highly infectious COVID-19 Omicron variant will create a tsunami of patients that the staff won’t be able to provide care for, which is already starting to happen. This is impacting the care provided to those with COVID as well as those who do not.

But there are things we can do to make sure we – as a community – are protected. 

I see this happening in Philadelphia. My husband and I are both current on vaccinations and boosters and we mask indoors. What’s more, when we have gone out to eat, we have had to show our proof of vaccination and our ID.

When we visited Independence Hall, the place where the U.S. Constitution was debated and adopted, we were told to stand six feet apart from one another. When we walked down the street, we were offered COVID tests.

Credit: Denise Lockwood

I understand the argument many have about not getting vaccinated. Those are definitely personal choices and those choices have consequences. The majority of the people hospitalized were not vaccinated. And in the context of a community dealing with limited healthcare resources in a global pandemic that has caused over 5 million deaths worldwide, disrupted our supply chain, and caused so much human suffering – it’s important to balance the I and We of this pandemic. 

Being in the place where the U.S. Constitution was debated reminded me, we are a country that values personal freedom and community responsibility. It’s the I and the We. Our social contract with one another centers around justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, and the blessings of liberty to ourselves. 

I digress – I’m a history nerd.

Here’s my point… you don’t need the government to tell you to do the right thing. 

Do it because you see the need to end human suffering. Do it because your boss is tired of trying to figure out how to run a business without enough staff. Do it because you know someone who works in healthcare that is exhausted and just wants to go home at the end of their shift.

Whatever “it” is for you – whether it’s getting tested, masking up and/or getting vaccinated – do it now.

Up-to-date COVID information

The Racine County Eye is committed to publishing the most current and accurate information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in our Coronavirus section. View our COVID-19 Dashboard that offers real-time (updated daily) statistical reporting for Racine County.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.