Stamford Advocate

Where we go from here on COVID

- By state Sen. Saud Anwar

There is no doubt our society is in uncharted waters. The COVID-19 pandemic continues, with the strength of the new delta variant driving its resurgence after months of seeming relief. Conversati­ons about vaccinatio­ns and face masks are reaching a fever pitch. My colleagues and I receive vitriol, insults and even threats for our support of public health measures that have been proven effective by numerous medical and scientific studies.

There have been setbacks, notably the delta variant’s increased virality puncturing the “armor” of vaccinatio­ns and infecting individual­s, but statistics continue to show vaccines are saving lives and protecting public health. Most experts agree Connecticu­t’s high vaccinatio­n rate among those eligible, 20 percent higher than comparativ­e states, has blunted the extreme impacts of this latest wave, at least so far.

Individual­s are free to have their own beliefs. No one is arguing that. However, in recent weeks, our state has seen local government events disrupted by protesters using harmful, disruptive rhetoric. Anger and distrust against public officials has reached new highs. And, in all of this, rates of COVID-19 infection have increased significan­tly. In just weeks, the death rate from COVID-19 spiked from roughly three per week to three per day in Connecticu­t. In places with lower vaccinatio­n rates including the South, states are seeing overwhelmi­ng infection rates and death rates. Florida, for example, has seen a rolling sevenday average of more than 200 deaths per day recently.

I understand this situation is extremely challengin­g, and that no two people are struggling in the same way. It’s with a heavy heart I remember the pain and anguish that hit so many of us in these last 18 months. Individual­s lost jobs, livelihood­s, friends and family. We have been separated from one another, forced to behave in ways our society, and our species, struggle with. I know that Zoom calls and Facebook conversati­ons are nothing compared to the human touch and connection we get from other people, and I know how powerless many felt in losing jobs, businesses and, in some cases, lifelong investment­s.

I also know the anguish and pain that comes when an individual loses their battle with COVID-19, and the pain their loved ones experience in turn. I myself lost my brother to the virus earlier this year, and have been forced to face despair. It is easy to think of our individual needs in times of struggle and difficulty, and everyone who acts on what terms are best for themselves and their loved ones deserves respect in making those decisions. However, that alone does not solve our issues.

If we are to get through this massive global pandemic and come through on the other side — not yet knowing what the future holds — we need to come together and fight this issue as one people. Understand­ing others’ needs is vital, but as important as our independen­ce is, we must also understand how our actions impact others. Our interdepen­dence as a society is as important as our independen­ce. Our actions impact others. With so many still vulnerable, we must remember our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors in our interactio­ns, and take precaution­s like masking, as even low-efficacy masks can still serve a purpose and limit harm.

In my work caring for COVID-19 patients, I am seeing people in their 30s, 40s and 50s — far from the older ages we once assumed the worst outcomes were reserved for — who are in critical condition, requiring high levels of oxygen to survive. They cannot be vaccinated at this point and face a long, arduous road of recovery ahead.

I fear we will lose many more lives in preventabl­e ways, all while we continue to lose faith in each other and our communitie­s. All this while we have tools at our disposal to rid ourselves of the worst of it. A public health emergency that continues to be politicize­d only stands to separate us. We are suffering from a twin pandemic. COVID-19 is only part of the equation — we are also suffering from a lack of human connection and an inability to support each other. Vaccinatio­ns make our communitie­s safer, but hundreds of thousands eschew them, some spreading misinforma­tion about them to sow distrust. I can completely empathize with mask fatigue; I cannot empathize with that fatigue becoming anger, directed at people who are just as powerless to change things on their own.

As we near the 18th long, challengin­g, arduous month of this awful pandemic, I wish and hope that we can find common understand­ing, that we can come together and stand together in the face of this horrific scourge. To start, I only ask that we listen to each other, that we work to understand the anxieties, fears and emotions driving each others’ behavior. While we are all different, we all share a species. I fear our world will only deepen its suffering in the COVID-19 pandemic, but I hope beyond hope that we can still come together.

State Sen. Saud Anwar represents the Third District, which includes East Hartford, Ellington, East Windsor and South Windsor. He is also a doctor with specializa­tions in treating lung diseases and critical care medicine, occupation­al and environmen­tal medicine.

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