We Are Number 1!

You have probably read the new NC data showing that Rutherford County has the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths of any county based on our population through January 17. Number 1 of 100 counties in the state. Number 1. Those are our friends. Our co-workers. Our family members. Lost to COVID-19.

We are also 14th highest in the state for numbers of cases per population since the virus began. Based on our population, we should be around 40th. But we sit dangerously in 14th place.

There was more data released as well. None of it is good for our county. You can read the data for yourself at Do read it. It is not pretty but it should be eye-opening.

We know intuitively that our rates of recorded deaths coincide with so many other rankings that cite Rutherford County residents’ poor health factors, such as the incidence of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. We also can connect our high death rates to unhealthy behaviors like tobacco use and a lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. It has been noted over and over that underlying conditions are the largest factor in the severity of the disease and other outcomes. Lack of routine clinical care and poor socio-economic forces play a big part as well. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, even in the good times. In the good times, our overall health ranking is between 68 and 74 out of 100 counties, based on several published reports. These are not good times.

But back to COVID-19.

I have never experienced anything as disruptive to daily life as COVID-19. For most of us living today, it is a deadly serious subject.

COVID-19 has affected all aspects of my life and the lives of those around me. I have friends who have lost their jobs. I have friends who have lost their parents and other family members to complications from the coronavirus. We all have heartbreaking stories of loss and it has hit very close to home here in Rutherford County. Families and health care workers are overwhelmed and our economy is suffering.

I have not been able to visit with my oldest daughter since December of 2019. She works in healthcare and it requires airline travel for us to visit. My youngest has been in isolation since March of 2020. She had one chance encounter in early January with the virus and became ill. Luckily, she is recovering well after days of wicked headaches and fatigue. Incidentally, her roommate didn’t get the virus. As a nurse, she had one of the first vaccines. But more on that later.

COVID-19 is unpredictable and highly contagious. We have seen evidence in our county of perfectly healthy, middle-aged residents falling ill and losing their lives to the disease.

At this time, prevention methods are limited to the 3 W’s. We’re having trouble in our county adhering to those recommendations. That is glaringly obvious and it is playing out horribly right in front of our eyes. Our county officials and health workers are running out of ideas to highlight prevention efforts.

The 3-W’s are not new. One of my first memories is a tonsillectomy when I was five. I remember three things from that surgery. I recall the smell of ether. I could identify it immediately decades later. And I remember that everyone in the room was wearing a mask.

I know now that they wore masks to protect me from any illnesses. I imagine they washed their hands before they entered the room, too. And no visitors were allowed. My PaPaw couldn’t bring me the popcicle that he promised. That was to protect me from others who might be ill. The 3 W’s are not new. Washing our hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing are proven, science-based methods to reduce the spread of illnesses.

Fast forward to 2021 and COVID-19. If, even after adopting the 3 W’s, a person contracts coronavirus, there are limited treatment options. Pharmaceutical companies are working fast and furiously to develop therapies and treatments, but we are not there yet. So, if we become ill, the consequences can be deadly and many who survive may experience a lifetime of impacts to their health.

So that is where the vaccine comes in.

I understand that some people are hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine. As US citizens, we are accustomed to exercising our freedoms of choice. We are independent, skeptical, and stubborn. I am, too.

But agreeing to take an approved vaccine is the most effective way to avoid experiencing the worst of the consequences of COVID-19. If we want to return to life without the worry of becoming infected, we need to move beyond our hesitation. And if we want the vaccine to be effective for the population, the vast majority of us need to get the vaccine.

The vaccines are safe and effective. Clinical trials were sped up because of the seriousness of the disease. Scientists from around the world came together and worked around the clock. They used scientific research that was already developed for similar viruses for over a decade. There were no steps skipped in the process. The vaccines were tested on as many people as in longer clinical trials to prove the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine. People of every age, ethnicity, and geographic area served as volunteers in the trials. We owe the scientists and the volunteers a debt of gratitude.

Science has proven that the available vaccines are 95% effective in preventing the disease. I can’t think of many other things in my life that are 95% effective.

I avoided the flu vaccine for years out of stubborness and independence. I figured I am healthy and could easily combat the flu if I became exposed. (I was, I did, and now I take my flu shot.) But the minute I am approved for a COVID-19 vaccine, I will be in line. Why? I trust the science and research that has been used to develop the vaccines. I don’t trust COVID-19 at all. It is unpredictable and dreadfully contagious. I don’t want to become a statistic in that long set of state data or another Rutherford County resident lost to COVID-19. And I don’t want you to be, either.

The vaccine is free to all, even if you don’t have health insurance. It is available at our area health department. You can sign up online on the Foothills Health District at As the supply increases, more and more residents will be added to the eligible list.

The Community Health Council of Rutherford County is also sharing the information and updates on our FaceBook page. We invite you to Like our page for updates on COVID-19 and other health issues in our county.

The Community Health Council of Rutherford County provides the structure for the leadership of major organizations to work effectively together to address Rutherford County’s key health concerns.

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