Editorial: Vigilance still needed to fight COVID

The COVID pandemic remains with us, as evidenced by recent news. But just like the virus itself, the nature of the threat continues to evolve, as do our strategies to confront it.

We’re more or less at the stage of learning to live with COVID as a fact of life, monitoring and treating the virus. As always, the first and best defense is vaccination, and according to the Columbus/Bartholomew County COVID-19 Community Task Force, 65% of county residents are now fully vaccinated. There also have been 22,285 confirmed COVID cases in the county, and the death toll locally stands at 243.

And though the rate of deaths and hospitalizations has declined from last winter’s peak numbers, no one should imagine that people locally are no longer getting serious cases. In fact, hospitalizations last week hit a nearly three-month high. Through June 22, the daily census of COVID hospitalizations at Columbus Regional Hospital peaked at 16 patients on June 21, according to the task force.

Summer has throughout the pandemic led to a steep reduction in cases, which rise again when the weather turns cold. Public health officials will be watching closely in the coming months to see if that pattern shows signs of repeating.

Meantime, the announcement days ago of FDA approval of a vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old stands to make a big reduction in community spread when the school year resumes. That is, if parents opt to vaccinate children. Public health officials recommend that, as The Republic’s Andy East reported.

“I believe that parents should get their children vaccinated, period,” Bartholomew County Health Officer Dr. Brian Niedbalski told East. “That goes for all childhood vaccines. If there is a vaccine, such as the COVID-19 vaccine, that can prevent serious disease or death in a child, then I believe that choice should be strongly considered by parents.”

Niedbalski isn’t being alarmist when he talks about the risk of death from COVID among children. As East reported, the Indiana Department of Health says at least 29 Hoosier children have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic, including two in Bartholomew County. Likewise, those who have been hospitalized at CRH this month have included at least one person younger than 17 and at least one person 18-19 years of age, the local task force reported.

Also last week, the county timely received a $330,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Health that furthers efforts to control COVID. The money will fund salaries for as many as three full-time county health nurses, pandemic planning at schools and bolster vaccination efforts for a variety of communicable diseases, East reported.

At the height of summer, when school’s out, the days are long, the weather is hot and cases of COVID are way down, it can be easy — tempting, even — to daydream that the pandemic is behind us. It is not.

Our reason and experience tell us that just like the seasons, the COVID situation will change, as will our response to it. The advice may change, but best practices won’t: Be vaccinated, boosted, and follow the recommendations of public health officials. We continue to trust and support the doctors and nurses who continue the admirable, selfless work of controlling this deadly virus to the best of their ability.