S.E. Williams

It is disappointing to be amid another holiday season with the country still aggressively battling the coronavirus and its ever evolving mutations.

If there is any good news in this, it is that the COVID-19 vaccinations and associated boosters have given us hope that even though we appear to be moving head-on into another of the virus’ many spikes, those who have availed themselves to the protections of the vaccines—though they may still get the virus—significantly increase their chances of avoiding a serious form of the illness and/or death.  

Yet sadly, many of our family, friends, and neighbors in the region—for one reason or another– continue to resist the vaccines’ protections.

There are many reasons people are holding out against vaccines and I understand it is important to value individual choices. However, it would be disingenuous not to at least point out the reality of how such decisions have broader implications to the community at large because not only do they gamble with their own health but the health of anyone they encounter as well.

In recent months it has been no secret that the majority of those filling the hospitals wards, being assigned to ICU beds, and succumbing to the virus, are predominantly the unvaccinated.

As we slide deeper into winter and spend more time inside while the annual flu season collides with COVID-19 and its warrior variants, Delta and Omicron, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky has warned the nation, “The Omicron variant of the coronavirus will continue to spread in the United States over the next few weeks, and it’s not something to ignore.”

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During a White House press briefing last week she noted how the surge could last for months, adding, “Early data suggest that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta, with a doubling time of about two days.”

Walensky then called on the American people to get fully vaccinated or receive their booster shot to protect themselves from the Omicron variant. She advised  everyone gathering with family and friends to get vaccinated or boosted.  

If the COVID-19 related experiences of 2020 and 2021 has taught us anything, it is that this virus is deadly. That it is robbing us of family, friends and other members of our community—old and young. It does not care whether we are rich or poor, Black or White, Democrat or Republican, highly educated or a high school drop-out, housed or homeless, incarcerated or free. It is truly a common denominator and based on cumulative data, counties in the inland region have experienced more than their share of COVID-19 loss.

Last week, using data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the online publication stacker.com  published a list of the counties with highest COVID-19 death rates in California. The counties were ranked based on the highest death rate per 100k residents as of Dec. 14, 2021.

Riverside County ranked #12. Its cumulative deaths per 100k was 219 (5,414 total deaths). This was 15.9% more deaths per 100k residents than California overall. The report also showed new deaths over the previous week up 13% with 26 new deaths. There was also a 13% increase in new cases.

For its part, San Bernardino County’s cumulative COVID-19 death rate placed it #2 in the state with 276 deaths per 100k. This represents 46.0% more deaths per 100k residents than the state. The county lost 13 additional residents to COVID last week and saw an increase of 3,383 new COVID-19 cases.

This is Christmas week and I do not write about these numbers to put a damper on the holidays. Instead, I highlight them as a way to impress upon the community the magnitude of the loss this inland region has already experienced and how important it is to follow all COVID-19 protocols when gathering with loved ones this season.

For the unvaccinated, regardless of your reason for not taking the vaccine, the goal is for everyone to stay healthy and safe as we continue to navigate this pandemic.

On behalf of the IE Voice and Black Voice News I wish everyone a joyous and “COVID-19 free” holiday season in the hopes that next year when stacker.com publishes it ranking of counties with the highest cumulative death rate per 100k residents, Riverside and San Bernardino will be near the bottom of the list of counties in the state instead of the top—sometimes, last place is better.

Of course, this is just my hope. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager in the telecommunications industry before retiring to pursue her passion as a reporter and non-fiction writer. Beyond writing, Williams’ personal interests include stone-carving, drumming and sculpting.