Personal Loss Due to COVID-19
After 19 months knowing COVID-19 is in our community, sometimes I am astonished to hear someone say they don’t know anyone who has contracted COVID-19 or died as a result of COVID-19 complications. That happens but, for me, the risk and the loss are very real.
Last month, my family and I paid final respects to my father-in-law. He contracted COVID-19 earlier in the year and the disease cut his life short. If you read my January 2021 article, you may remember that I credit my then-future father-in-law for my fluency in Chinese (“I went to [my future wife’s] house for dinner and her father gave me incentive to learn—speak Chinese or you don’t eat. They laughed at me a lot but, within a couple years, I became quite fluent.”).
My father-in-law was 97 when he passed but every one of us wanted more time with him, and I know it wasn’t his time to go. Our final farewell was done via Zoom, which unfortunately has become for some the only means of visiting one’s loved ones confined in health care facilities. His funeral was postponed for almost two months due to COVID-19, and attendance was limited to a small number of close family and friends, due to continuing concerns about the Delta variant and King County’s newest peak in active COVID-19 cases.
Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life are for the living—a way to bring comfort and closure. Families who have experienced loss due to COVID-19 have had to hold their grief for months, without the benefit of gathering in person with others who cared deeply for the life that was lost.
Many people I know have known someone who has died prematurely due to COVID-19. Some of us know “long-haulers” whose bodies have taken months, maybe even a year or more, to recover. And most of us know people who were largely untouched by COVID-19, except for the inconvenience of confinement or wearing a mask. Those inconveniences are likely to stay with us until more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, here and across the country.
Vaccination rates in King County are quite high—over 95 percent of residents aged 70 and older have received COVID-19 vaccines. Rates lag among younger people. Looking at racial equity, people of African and Latinx descent lag other racial groups on vaccination rates. By geography, vaccination rates lag among residents of southeast King County. Statewide vaccination rates are lower but trends are similar.
Although breakthrough infections among vaccinated people do occur, the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are considered safe and effective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave final approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine on August 23. Previously, Pfizer and the other two vaccines—Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—were approved for emergency use. I hope this approval gives more people confidence in getting inoculated against COVID-19.
Certainly, far fewer vaccinated people end up in the hospital and far fewer die. According to a recent New York Times article (See the Data on Breakthrough Covid Hospitalizations and Deaths by State), states report that a very low percentage of people who were fully vaccinated have been hospitalized or have died from COVID-19.
I’m proud of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services’ advocacy for COVID-19 vaccines among older people. It’s clear that continued advocacy is needed everywhere—among people young and old—otherwise, this disease is here to stay.
Whether or not you know someone who has contracted COVID-19, it’s important to be part of the solution. Please ask your younger friends and family members here and across the country to get vaccinated. Vaccines are in good supply. And since both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can transfer the disease to others, please continue to adhere to public health recommendations regarding masks and physical distancing. Do everything you can to protect the lives of other people—particularly your loved ones—and put an end to this pandemic.
Contributor Dick Woo chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail (email@example.com) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.