The Weekly Vista

The forgotten men, women of covid

- Chaplain's Perspectiv­e

Some of the often forgotten men and women affected by covid and its variants are our law enforcemen­t officers, firemen and women, first and emergency responders, and jail workers. Although all of these might be listed under the label as public servants, I can also think of many other occupation­s directly affected by this infectious virus. How would you like to be a custodian or a laundry worker at a major hospital where diseases of all kinds routinely patrol the hallways just waiting for some hapless individual to infect? Or, for that matter, it is erroneous to think that our medical people do not get sick from these diseases either. After all, they are the ones directly involved in treating the people who are involved.

During the height of the covid epidemic, one of the places to stay away from was inside our jails and prisons. I can’t speak for most of these places of internment, but I do know it was really rough for the deputy sheriff personnel in the Benton County jail. With almost 700 prisoners confined within a small area and in pods where they are almost in constant contact with one another, you may imagine just how contagious any virus might be. Unfortunat­ely, during the first year of covid sometimes over half of the jail population was affected, yes, even those deputy sheriffs assigned to oversee the prisoners. It was rough. As a matter of fact, during 2021-22, more law enforcemen­t personnel died of covid than all of the other causes of death combined.

Once, when I was visiting our Benton County jail, I happened to notice a medical area located almost in the center of the jail complex. It was staffed by dedicated nurses who were working franticall­y to keep the prisoners and staff healthy, and themselves as well. Those nurses are among the nicest and most dedicated people I have met. Even when there are no major diseases present, prisoners often have medical needs which have to be met even while they are in jail.

The severity of covid finally came home to my wife and me while we were watching the Super Bowl this year with our high school granddaugh­ter. Unbeknowns­t to her, she had been exposed to a variant of covid and was highly contagious. Since it is impossible to avoid giving a hug to one’s granddaugh­ter, my wife and I dutifully came down with the virus within about two days’ time. Our granddaugh­ter came down with it the next day and her mother, our daughter, also tested positive almost immediatel­y. All of us had been completely “boosted” and were feeling fairly safe.

Although medical people have been providing us with rather specific guidelines regarding covid, we, like I’m sure, a lot of other people, had to learn a few things firsthand. I don’t know how many people have told me over the past couple of years that if you have had covid you were pretty well assured not to catch it again. Well, I’m sorry, but those people will never convince our daughter who had already had covid once, was fully boosted, and now immediatel­y caught it again and felt completely lousy for several days.

I confess that I also felt kind of safe from covid having received the first shot and all of the boosters afterward. If I had paid more attention to the fine print about the virus, I would have realized that the boosters were not designed to “prevent” someone from catching it; they were only to help make the experience less severe and to keep people out of the hospital. Being fully boosted did keep my wife and me out of the hospital, and I suppose reduced the duration of our infection; but it would be wrong to say that catching covid or one of its variants was nothing more than having a bout with the flu. It’s been several weeks now, and I still feel like I’ve been whipped with an ugly stick!

Sometimes we hear bad things about a disease or disaster and kind of gloss over the details feeling compassion but not really identifyin­g with the people involved. Catching the virus so innocently and yet so completely made me acutely sensitive to the involvemen­t others have had with the virus, especially those in occupation­s where they could not avoid catching it. Regardless of how anyone feels about the way these brave people operate, they deserve a strong thank you for all of their service during our times of distress.

Robert Box has been a law enforcemen­t chaplain for 30 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the Internatio­nal Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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