mask protest (copy)

Protestors stand outside Beaver Dam High School last week objecting to the district's policy requiring masks to be worn in school buildings to help prevent COVID-19 infections.

STEVENS POINT – By now, many have felt the claws of COVID-19 dig into their inner circles. Here are a few recent notes from mine.

A good friend here in Portage County was munching on breakfast one recent day when he crashed to the kitchen floor with a stroke. Lucky for him his wife was there, and she called for emergency assistance. Despite being fully vaccinated, he was found positive for COVID-19, which is known to cause strokes. That’s especially so for those with other risk factors, like my 65-year-old friend. But he is a tough dude and came around quickly at the emergency department of the local hospital.

One would expect someone in his situation to be held for a day or two for observation. But things are different in the new normal, and his medical attendants told him he should just go home. Turns out there were no available beds, and he would have to endure a 24- to 36-hour wait in the emergency department. So home he went, where he’s now negative for COVID and recovering from the stroke’s lingering effects.

You can bet similar stories are piling up across the state, since the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that all 72 counties in Wisconsin are currently experiencing “high,” “very high” or “critically high” levels of COVID-19 activity. But to heck with public health measures, many still say. That laissez-faire attitude startled a cousin and her husband on a recent visit from Costa Rica. They’re expatriates from the states, where their children and grandchildren live, and they were here for long-delayed reunions. They were fully vaccinated, and the required tests upon arrival in the U.S. were negative.

On U.S. soil, they were shocked at lack of compliance with time-tested public health measures like adequate masking and social distancing. “You can’t get into a grocery store in Costa Rica without a mask,” said my cousin.

So remind me again, which is the Third World country? By the way, they were grateful for receiving the vaccine, supplies of which my cousin noted were a gift from the U.S. The Costa Rican government is now going all-out to get people vaccinated, she added.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. school boards across the country are being harassed for efforts to control COVID in the schools in campaigns coordinated by those who say they value “freedom.” Gosh, one can almost hear Mandy Patinkin uttering that famous line in the Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It certainly doesn’t to Jeffrey Sachs, president of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, who expressed his view of that so-called freedom in a recent opinion piece: “The US has proved itself to be the land of a very peculiar notion of freedom: the freedom to harm others, to put the poor and frontline workers in mortal danger, and to spread misinformation. Freedom, in short, without a glimmer of responsibility.”

In his view: “The selfishness of it all has been staggering. Poor people and people of color in disproportionate numbers, and frontline workers, were repeatedly ordered to go to work in unprotected settings at workplaces where even basic face mask protections were widely flouted. We have watched as brave public health workers have faced abuse and even death threats, and shop clerks and customers have been pummeled, simply for asking others to put on a face mask.”

He went on to point the finger at some clergy who have endangered their congregants by demanding the right to hold indoor church services even as the pandemic raged in their communities, when they could have moved the services outdoors or online.

Yes, I am biased on this subject, too. I have a daughter who has been a front-line medical worker throughout this pandemic. High stress has been a constant. To the deniers, I can only say please don’t talk to me about your freedom to put her at risk.

Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.

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