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Community Perspective

The Fairbanks Covid rate is surging. We must do better to slow it.

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Where is our golden heart?

In the last couple of weeks, our borough has seen a sharp surge in Covid cases and hospitalizations while we seem to be stuck in our level of vaccinations even though eligibility for the vaccine has opened to everyone aged 16 and older.

Our borough has the dubious distinction of being second to the last in Alaska in vaccination rates even though there are all sorts of venues for us to get the shots from pharmacies, doctors’ offices, our hospital and the well-organized community vaccination clinics at the Carlson Center. In addition to vaccine availability, we are lucky to have dedicated health care professionals like Drs. Mark Simon, Michelle Nace, Jenny Lessner, Leif Thompson, Elizabeth Norton, Andrew and Jacqueline Cox, and many others who are doing their best to provide good medical information and answer Fairbanksans’ questions and concerns about the vaccinations. (You can view their weekly information sessions on Facebook or via Zoom at 7 p.m. Tuesdays by searching for Interior Alaska Covid-19 Vaccine Update sponsored by Alaska ECHO.)

So why are we lagging in vaccination rates and surging in incidence of Covid cases? There is a correlation between the rate of vaccination and the following of safety measures — like mask wearing — and the reduction of Covid cases in a community. So why are we not acting on the data?

Perhaps you feel that you are young and unlikely to contract or be hospitalized because of Covid? According to recent statistics, the Alaska group with the highest incidence of Covid now are people aged 20-40.

Perhaps you are hesitant to be vaccinated because you feel that politicians and officials who ask you to vaccinate may be giving you incorrect information? If this is you, try tuning in to the Fairbanks doctors, who have no political stake and only your health as their concern, on Tuesday nights.

Perhaps you don’t feel the need to mask or have a vaccination because you already had Covid, and it wasn’t that bad, so you feel that you are immune? Having a mild case of Covid does not mean that you will not liable for another round. A friend of mine learned this the hard way.

Perhaps you threw away your mask the day you had your Covid vaccination? The immunity that the vaccination provides takes two weeks after your last shot to kick in, and it is not clear that vaccinated people cannot still spread the virus, even though they exhibit no symptoms.

Finally, perhaps you have never worn a mask and won’t be vaccinated because you see these as infringements on your freedom and liberty? If this is you, I ask you to think about how your unwillingness to modify your behavior may affect others. In our community, in your neighborhood, and possibly in your own home, there are people with various health conditions, whether it be cancer treatments, blood cancers, sickle cell anemia, severe allergies and many other pre-existing immune difficulties who are not necessarily as protected as you might be even if they are able to have the vaccine. For many of this group, the consequences of contracting Covid may be far more severe than for you and may even be fatal.

What this means is that your neighbor, coworker, family member, or relative with these and other similar conditions may be in continued isolation as long as Covid is a presence in the community. Your insistence that the simple act of wearing a mask is too inconvenient for you may mean that these people will continue to live very restricted lives and that their freedom to participate in simple things like going to the grocery store, church, meetings, school or visits with friends will be closed to them as long Covid is with us as it is now. All of our rights and freedoms are contingent on not infringing on the rights and freedom of others.

Let’s live up to our golden heart motto. This is certainly the time, if there ever was one, for us to think about how our actions affect our neighbors. 

Sue Sherif is a 40-year resident of Fairbanks. 

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