By Dr. Surdam, Medical Director of Stitches in Wellington, Cheyenne, and Laramie, and Amy Surdam, Area Manager for Stitches.
It’s Sunday morning and what used to be one of my favorite days of the week is now just another day of angst. I woke up to a cry for help email from a physician colleague. She was frustrated that there wasn’t more happening to help physicians, providers, and healthcare workers and that more wasn’t happening to help our patients and our community right now. Last night, I had a similar call from a provider in tears asking for more help. Four other calls came earlier in the week from different folks on our team.
After 18 months of this pandemic, those who have remained strong and in the fight are breaking. This fourth surge has brought along with it feelings of defeat. Why? Because there are vaccines available and masks to protect one another, neither are being used appropriately in our community.
The announcement that Laramie County School District #1 and Albany County School District made masks optional sucked the wind out of us. We know that our testing will increase, our pediatric population needing urgent and emergency care will increase, the risk to the teachers will increase drastically, and the bullying to the children who do wear masks will be a real thing. All could be avoided with a simple mask mandate for another school year until children under the age of 12 can receive the vaccine and herd immunity is reached in the community. Instead, we will see increased COVID cases and massive disruption to classrooms and the industries in which parents work when they have to stay home with their exposed children. My one question to the school districts: whose guidance did you follow? A physician’s? CDC? Or just angry parents who don’t want their children in masks?
Parents, I encourage you to educate your children to wear masks at school while inside. This education will need repeating daily, and your children may be ridiculed for it, but the efforts will help save lives and decrease the burden on the healthcare system. Please do what the school boards did not do and have the courage to be a leader in your family and in the community.
Regarding vaccines: the Pfizer vaccine just gained full FDA approval, which means the vaccine was studied extensively, and the benefit of the vaccine outweighs its potential outweighs risks. The mRNA technology of Pfizer and Moderna teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response in our bodies. This immune response produces antibodies, and later when you are exposed to COVID, those antibodies will protect you from the virus.
If you do not receive the vaccine, you will get COVID at some point. And even with the vaccine, you may still get COVID. COVID is such a new disease that we aren’t sure how any individual will react to it. However, we know that those with risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are at a higher risk for poor outcomes and even death and that vaccination will give you protection when you interact with COVID. In Wyoming, we have had roughly 70,000 cases of COVID and 809 COVID-related deaths thus far. Currently, the vaccination rate of Laramie County is about 35%, and Albany County is 45%. We can do better. We need to do better.
Masks and vaccines are the only tools in our toolbox that will shift the burden of healthcare away from the hospitals and clinics and alleviate some of the massive pressure that healthcare teams are experiencing.
This is a call for action. Please wear a mask in public when you are indoors, and please receive the vaccine today. You can quickly obtain the vaccine by making an appointment at City-County Health, Walmart, or many other places. If you are unsure if you need the vaccine, I have made a list of who specifically should receive it:
- If you work in healthcare, have a family member who works in healthcare, or have a friend that works in healthcare.
- If you are immunocompromised or overweight.
- If you have any comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, or asthma.
- If you have a friend or family member who is immunocompromised, overweight or has any comorbidities.
- If you have a child under the age of 12 or you are around any children under the age of 12.
- If you are over the age of 12.
To my healthcare colleagues, please be bold in speaking with your patients, friends, and families about the vaccine and its importance. Be bold in speaking to the community. I would encourage you to also write an op-ed or letter to the editor that can be published then shared on social media. We need a collaborative effort to educate the public on the value and importance of the vaccine. Vaccination and masks are the only things that will ease our volumes and lower acuities right now. Perhaps the public will listen to their healthcare providers. If enough of us say the same thing in different ways, they will hear us and help.