For those of you who don’t know me or my family, we were hit fairly hard by COVID-19. My mother spent six days in the hospital and more than two weeks at Southern Kentucky Rehabilitation Hospital recovering from it. My wife spent about four months hospitalized with COVID before she died from complications.

One of my children and I had milder cases of COVID, and my child developed a post-COVID condition of tachycardia that still limits their ability to be active. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports post-COVID conditions can occur in people four or more weeks after acute COVID infection, including in people who have had mild or even asymptomatic infections.

Symptoms can include cognitive difficulties, fatigue, headaches, dyspnea and palpitations.

On June 13, the Daily News reported that almost 500 southcentral Kentuckians have died of COVID, including more than 160 in Warren County.

The delta variant of COVID has reached the U.S., and it could be more contagious and cause more severe illness than the original strain of COVID. It may have double the risk of hospitalization compared to the alpha strain (or U.K. strain). COVID is still here in Kentucky. On June 15, the governor’s office reported 290 new cases of COVID and eight more deaths.

Vaccination rates in the U.S. vary from Vermont at 62%, Washington and Oregon at 51% and 50%, to Kentucky at 41% (30th by state) and Mississippi at 28.5%. In southcentral Kentucky, the Daily News reported June 13 our region was doing worse than the state average with Warren County (35%), Barren and Butler counties (34%), Allen County (30%), Edmonson County (29%) and Hart County (26%) more in line with the vaccination rates of the 10 least vaccinated states in the nation.

The two-dose vaccines decrease the risk of COVID infection by more than 91% in those fully vaccinated. In vaccinated people who do catch COVID, they are much less likely to get seriously ill. USA Today reported that in Minnesota a group of nine hospitals said less than 1% of currently hospitalized COVID patients have been vaccinated and at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center only 2% of COVID patients hospitalized in the past month were previously vaccinated.

Our nation has now suffered more than 600,431 deaths because of COVID and 33,649,352 cases of COVID infection. Even though most of my immediate family has had COVID, my wife requested all of us to get the vaccine when we could and we have.

I also asked my two closest friends with whom I spent time to get the vaccine, and they and their wives have done this. We probably need close to 70% of people to get vaccinated to expect to have herd immunity.

The Bowling Green school district recently announced no masks or social distancing will be needed this fall. I would tend to agree with that plan for vaccinated students and staff, but I feel unvaccinated students and staff should either wear masks and socially distance or consider continuing online education to protect themselves and their families and the other students and those students’ families.

Unless you have a medical condition preventing you from taking a vaccine, I recommend you take a vaccine if you are over age 12 to protect yourself, your family and friends, your co-workers and fellow students and strangers in your own community. One of the last things my wife wrote was “In short, it is up to you to protect yourself and others.”

– Dr. David Shadowen is a Bowling Green physician.