Why the unvaccinated are taking a political stand

Unvaxxed

Back in early January of this year, I was pretty excited to snag an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccination at Mercy Hospital. Nimble fingers and computer savvy allowed me to find a time on the county health department website and complete the registration form before someone beat me to it.

So, I was able to secure both doses of the Pfizer vaccine before the end of January. Mercy ran the operation incredibly well and only allowed us to enter the facility within 15 minutes of our appointment.

That meant there were virtually no lines. Much appreciated, Mercy.

Similar vaccination sites were set up around the city, including a giant operation at the fairgrounds that could vaccinate hundreds at a time.

Then what happened?

Despite evidence that shows the COVID vaccines are incredibly effective, the numbers of people flocking to vaccine sites quickly dwindled. Health care providers anticipating a crush of people seeking protection from the potentially deadly COVID virus sat idly, waiting for patients who never arrived.

The need for vaccination sites that could handle hundreds at a time evaporated and most closed up shop. Now you can schedule a vaccination at your local Walgreens or CVS and have no trouble finding open time slots.

Oklahoma vaxxedI just peeked at the numbers, and while 46 percent of my fellow Oklahomans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, less than 40 percent of us have been fully vaccinated against COVID.

Those are pretty disappointing numbers, but I’m not surprised.

Just like wearing of masks over the past 15 months or so, getting the vaccine has been turned into a political statement. And we’re a Red state.

When I hear people say they don’t trust the vaccine or how it was developed, that’s not the real message I’m receiving.

To me, there’s no doubt that these are the same people who supported Donald Trump and bought into his BS about the COVID-19 pandemic being a hoax, yada, yada, yada.

Sure, there may be some people who are merely procrastinating.  But when you look at maps that show low rates of vaccination, the standout states with low numbers match up pretty well with the Red states that supported Trump.

And we’re watching COVID infections rise dramatically in the Trump hotbed states like Missouri, across the South and in Oklahoma.

So, what are the implications?

Well, we’ll watch our neighbors and our elderly relatives get sick. Some will die.  Even those of us who are vaccinated are at risk of infection because of our unvaccinated fellow Oklahomans.

All because of their proud vaccine resistance that has its roots in the Trump insanity.

A story in today’s edition of The Oklahoman reports a new poll that shows that the majority of unvaccinated Americans say they do not plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows 56.5% of Americans have gotten at least one dose, and 43.5% have not received one. Of those people, a poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35% say they probably will not get the vaccine, and 45% say they definitely will not.”

As one who is proudly vaccinated, I reluctantly keep my mask at hand. I fear more disruptions loom in our future. All because of the unwilling who are making a political statement by shunning the vaccine.

So, what’s the point of all of my rambling?

What we’re seeing in the unvaccinated is a collective display of the Ugly American. The me-first. The selfish who would never consider doing something for the greater good.

That’s ‘merica. That’s “freedom,” as defined by Oklahoma Gov. Stitt.

Sadly, the pandemic is far from over. And it’s no fault but our own.

Fun at the ol’ ballyard — life returns to ‘normal’

Panoramic shot of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on 2021 Opening Night

Life as we knew it returned on Thursday, May 13. The Oklahoma City Dodgers opened the home portion of their 2021 season at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

My friend Casey Harness, a long-time season ticket holder, called me early in the afternoon and said he had an extra ticket with my name on it. I cleared it with the home office and agreed to join him at the park about 6:30 p.m.

Masks were optional, as it turned out.

Although the Dodgers lost the game (as they did all but one of their six season-opening road games), it was a special night. Seating was limited and spaced out, but the crowd of about 5,000 still brought enthusiasm and noise.

Here are the top 10 things that made it an awesome night for me:

FREEDOM: The Centers for Disease Control announced early Thursday that Americans like me who are fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus can shed their masks outdoors,  as well as in most indoor situations. I was conflicted upon first arriving at the ballpark. I wore my mask as I entered – as did about say, 30 percent of the people I saw – then took it off after entering the club level food area where I met Casey. I put the mask back on briefly as I waited in line for food, but then took it off and never wore it again the rest of the night.

FRIENDSHIP: On my left sat Casey Harness, my host who invited me to sit in his seats with him. Casey and I worked together at i2E, Inc., beginning in 2009 and have remained friends for over a decade.  On my right sat Ed Godfrey, a long time friend and colleague at The Oklahoman who was actually at the game to write an opening night fan experience story.

WEATHER: It was a spectacular night for baseball with clear skies and warm afternoon that cooled off after dark into a night that could still be enjoyed without any sort of jacket. The only thing missing was a giant full moon rise in the east.

CONVERSATION: One of the great things about watching a baseball game in person is that the pace is conversation friendly. Casey, Ed and I tackled all sorts of problems last night, including the OKC Thunder’s ongoing tanking dilemma. And the new largely unpopular baseball rules that put a man on second to start play in each extra inning. Oh, and the extreme defensive positioning that plagues all of baseball these days.

BALLPARK EATS: The tickets that Casey has come with unlimited food service, so our group sampled grilled burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, chicken strips, peanuts, M&Ms, beer, water and even a hot cup of coffee late in the game when there was a hint of a chill in the air.

FUN AT THE OL’ BALLYARD: The Dodgers have a fun bit between innings late in the game where fans dance (mostly) badly and cameras broadcast their (lack of) talent on the giant hi-def scoreboard screen. There were the usual kids dancing wildly, girls and then a couple of 20-something guys who suddenly ripped off their T-shirts like they were World Wide Wrestling contestants. Laughter erupted throughout the stands. Later, I spotted the shirtless guys sitting behind the first base dugout and giving the umpires the business. Must have been dollar beer night.

PREDICTIONS: The Sacramento River Cats – our foes for the night – had the bases full at one point with two outs. I offhandedly predicted a “weak ground ball to second” to end the inning. The batter ripped a hard ground shot just to the right of second, and the Dodgers’ second basemen made a great stop, got up and threw him out to end the inning. I took credit for calling it, of course.

HIGH-TECH: As far as I can tell, Dodgers tickets now are all digital and sent to your phone, which are then scanned when you enter the front gate. I put my ticket in my iPhone’s electronic wallet, then scanned the URL code at the entrance. It worked great. But have the folks still carrying flip phones been left behind?

FIREWORKS: The opening night game was followed by a spectacular opening night fireworks show that was incredibly loud. There are two hotels located just over the left field fence. The game ended about 10:30 p.m. Can you imagine the unexpected jolt that sleeping patrons received? Followed by angry calls to the front desk, I’m sure.

DO IT AGAIN: There’s not much time to wallow in self-pity after a baseball loss. Teams routinely play every night during a homestand, and this year teams are playing the same opponent six straight to cut down on travel during the pandemic. They do get Wednesdays off this season. Anyway, the Dodgers and River Cats are back at it again tonight. I’ll catch this one on the radio.

March 11 and the end to life as we knew it

The scoreboard told the story on March 11, 202

We all remember March 11, 2020, as the day that life ended as we knew it.

It was the day that the Jazz-Thunder game at Chesapeake Energy Arena was postponed because a Utah player tested positive for COVID-19.

A single NBA game postponed in Oklahoma City was the first falling domino in a cascade of millions of others around the world.

OKC was the center of the COVID universe that night.

The Oklahoman wrote a terrific oral history of that night in OKC that you don’t want to miss.

My family will always have vivid memories of March 11. I was home, parked in front of the television waiting for the game to commence.

Meanwhile, my wife met her mother, like we often do – or did – at Chesapeake Arena and waited for tipoff from their seats in Section 206.

I’m not sure who suspected something was up first. As the television broadcast went on, I recall the Thunder announcers talking about a delay, but not knowing what was causing it.

In the arena, my wife and her mother noticed the delay too.  They were expecting tipoff at any second.

But it never happened.

“The moment that stands out to me,” Paula told me, “was the two Thunder employees running out and huddling at midcourt with the game officials. We didn’t know what it was about, but we knew that something was up.”

At home in my recliner, I speculated to Paula in a text that the game might be delayed because a player had tested positive for COVID. I was repeating a rumor I saw on Twitter.

She texted back what she saw from her seat, which was that players were being herded off the court. The Thunder tried to distract the crowd for a few minutes with what would have been the halftime entertainment.

But fans in the stands were left to speculate among themselves what was happening. Some grew restless, she said.

Finally, the Thunder announced that the game had been postponed on orders from the NBA. Fans were asked to leave in an orderly fashion.

Paula and her mom slowly left the arena, but not before she took an awesome photo of the scoreboard that announced the postponement. No one panicked, although there were a few boos after the announcement.

It wasn’t until she got home that it was confirmed what we all suspected. Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19.

We both wondered if she and all the other fans in attendance were in danger. Was Gobert even there (he wasn’t)? What did it mean to the rest of the NBA season?

I remember that the TV coverage continued for some time after the game was cancelled. But I recall very little of what was said, because the implications of what had just happened were all I could think about.

Turns out that the NBA did shut down after March 11, followed by college basketball, Major League Baseball and most of life as we knew it.

Paula’s photo has served as my Twitter and Facebook background for exactly one year. I’m retiring it today, replacing it with a happier photo shot at an OKC Dodgers baseball game two years ago.

It’s time to move on with our lives.

The COVID test, Part 2: Results

Breaking news on the COVID front. The COVID-19 test I took on Thursday came back negative today.

Huge exhale.

As a reminder, my daughter, Sarah, and I both had COVID tests done at the IMMY Labs free “Swab Pod” mobile testing site near UCO.  Here is a blog post about our experience.

Sarah’s test came back negative, as well.

If you were wondering what type of test we took, the IMMY website describe it as a “PCR” test, whatever that means. I understand that it’s more accurate than the tests that return results in 15 minutes.

The negative result was important to me because I’m technically a “senior citizen” with underlying medical conditions.

For Sarah, it was important, because the negative result allows her to get back to her job immediately.

Now, on with our lives.

The COVID test. Don’t fear the reaper

My daughter, Sarah, reacts as a nurse inserts a swab into her sinus cavity for a COVID test.

You’ve no doubt seen video clips of people being tested for COVID-19 where a health care professional inserts a long cotton swab into their nostril. I wince each time because it looks like they’re trying to make the brain squeaky clean instead of probing for virus.

So, wouldn’t you know it that my turn came today for a COVID test.

Both my daughter and I have been showing some symptoms, although she was originally diagnosed with an ear infection. And I have ongoing allergy challenges.

But Sarah also has a hacking cough and needed to have the test done for her work. I have been incredibly tired in recent days, so I decided to join her.

Our first decision was where to have the test done.

My friends at Norman-based IMMY, a developer and manufacturer of innovative lines of diagnostic tests and reagents for infectious diseases, have also developed an FDA approved COVID test. It set up a subsidiary company called IMMY Labs to conduct the testing.

IMMY conducts free, drive-by testing daily in the Edmond/Oklahoma City area and locations across the state that include Tulsa, Blanchard, Norman, Moore, Midwest City, Chickasha, Purcell and more. They call their testing sites the Swab Pod. Results are promised in two days or less.

So, Sarah and I chose the Swab Pod near the UCO campus and drove over for our tests this afternoon.

I have to admit that I was fairly apprehensive. Those news clips didn’t do me any favors.

We drove up about 5 minutes before our scheduled time and got in line behind about three other vehicles. There was a check-in table where they scanned a registration code on our phone and placed vials on our windshield beneath the wipers.

The vehicle in front of us pauses for a quick swab test.

We were told to fall in line and follow the vehicles to the nurse’s station. Less than two minutes later we were there.

The nurse approached Sarah’s side first, and I took photos as she was swabbed. It took only seconds, and she didn’t show any discomfort.

My time came. I closed my eyes, leaned back in the seat and anticipated the worst, which I’m not sure what that would have been. The swab scraping my brain? Hitting a nerve? Blinding me?

The nurse inserted the swab and counted down from five. Just like that it was over. I had a tickling sensation and almost sneezed. That was it.

We drove off the lot and were on our way in less than 30 seconds, slightly giddy at how painless and easy it was. We’ll know the results probably sometime tomorrow.

The lesson for me? Don’t fear the reaper.

Stay tuned.

IMMY brings new tools to state fight against Coronavirus

OCAST interview with IMMY about COVID-19 testing from OCAST on Vimeo.

 
Editor’s note: I recently was invited to a virtual meeting with Sean Bauman, Ph.D., CEO of Norman’s IMMY, and facilitated by Debbie Cox of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). This is the report I filed after the Zoom interview.

When the Coronavirus pandemic made its way to Oklahoma in March, the state’s ability to test suspected COVID-19 virus infections in Oklahomans was limited by the number of tests available to health care providers.

And when patients were tested, health care providers had to wait days for results to be returned from out-of-state laboratories.

“The turnaround time was just a big problem,” said Sean Bauman, Ph.D., president and CEO of IMMY (Immuno-Mycologics, Inc.), a diagnostic manufacturing company based in Norman. Bauman recently joined OCAST’s governing board, the Oklahoma Science and Technology Research and Development (OSTRaD) Board.

“You have a patient sitting in a hospital, and you are having to don and doff Personal Protection Equipment numerous times a day to care for that patient,” Bauman said. “And to get a COVID negative result three to five days later, you can imagine how much the wasted PPE costs.”

So, IMMY stepped up to develop a solution at its Norman laboratories. It developed and validated a nasal swab-based test known as PCR that allowed laboratories to provide results in a matter of hours.

“We dove in and literally from idea to reporting our first test result was 10 days,” Bauman said. “Crazy fast.”

But not crazy as in sloppy or low quality, Bauman clarified. IMMY was able to quickly develop its own test because it is an FDA and ISO manufacturing facility in a highly regulated industry. Its 85 employees are skilled professionals capable of overcoming challenges to develop a test to FDA standards.

“The other thing that happened, we had an incredible partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Health,” Bauman said. “They were fantastic, helped us get up-and-running as fast as we could. Just a great story of partnership.”

Gov. Stitt visits IMMY labs in Norman (photo from News9 video)

IMMY since has added a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies, which can confirm if a person has had the coronavirus and is potentially immune to further infection.

Bauman was part of Gov. Stitt’s recent press conference announcing the implementation of testing for COVID-19 antibodies. Stitt also toured IMMY’s Norman campus. 

“This is actually an important test, in my opinion, because Oklahoma is now in a unique position, with both the antibodies test and the PCR test at our disposal,” he said. “So, two tools in the tool belt.”

IMMY’s tests were part of a random sampling of 1,000 Oklahomans in early April to assess how widespread the virus is across the state. The sampling revealed that approximately 1.4 percent of the Oklahoma population had the virus at that time.

So, what does that mean?

“At that point in time, I think the conclusion from the study was that COVID-19 is just not in the general population to any large extent,” he said.

Bauman recommends random sampling across the state for COVID-19 at weekly intervals.

“Now that we have these two tools at our disposal we can start to ask different questions,” he said. “When is it safe for people to go back to work? When is it safe to relax some of the restrictions on people being out and in the community? Lots of different questions are going to be ask in the coming weeks and days.”