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COVID and cold and flu, oh my! Winter sickly season has arrived in Kansas, so look out for yourself

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COVID and cold and flu, oh my! Winter sickly season has arrived in Kansas, so look out for yourself

Nov 29, 2023 | 4:33 am ET
By Clay Wirestone
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COVID and cold and flu, oh my! Winter sickly season has arrived in Kansas, so look out for yourself
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With the arrival of winter, respiratory illnesses are spreading, writes opinion editor Clay Wirestone. You should take care of yourself to prevent or treat them. (FS Productions/Getty Images)

I write to you this morning through an apathetic fog of mild illness.

No, the illness doesn’t appear to be COVID-19, at least according to repeated tests construed via intrusive nasal swab. Given my receipt of a booster late last month, I’m well-protected against that virus for the time being. More likely I’m fending off the cold our son grappled with Thanksgiving week, that familiar conglomeration of sore throat, runny nose and tiredness known as creeping crud.

Illness has likewise spread through fellow Kansas Reflector staffers. Across Kansas and the United States, a new COVID variant has picked up steam in recent weeks, under the unassuming name of HV.1. Worse news comes from overseas, where Chinese emergency departments have overflowed with children suffering severe pneumonia. Meanwhile, a patient has been diagnosed with a new form of swine flu in Britain.

In other words, welcome to the winter sickly season.

Just because it arrives every year doesn’t mean we should become complacent. No one should want to be sick. It’s awful and unpleasant, and regardless of what your high school P.E. teacher might have said, there’s no virtue in pushing through it. None. Vaccines, masks, resting at home, whatever measures help you prevent or treat illness, take them.

Take it from Leana Wen, a public health professor and Washington Post contributing columnist.

“Before 2020, there were plenty of highly contagious respiratory viruses that are still around today,” she wrote this month in the Post. “But COVID changed the equation by making us aware that we could take steps to reduce transmission of these diseases. In particular, it made vulnerable people more cautious; COVID still poses a danger to them, and other infections could result in severe illness as well.”

I bring this all up because our national nervous breakdown over the pandemic has obscured certain basic facts. Namely, you can become severely sick with an array of bugs other than COVID. Influenza was never anything to play around with. Even the boring old cold can be fatal to someone in precarious health.

We’ve never, as a society, taken our health seriously enough. We didn’t have the makings of a true national health insurance system (a no-brainer to bolster businesses and individual freedom alike) until the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

– Clay Wirestone

We’ve never, as a society, taken our health seriously enough. We didn’t have the makings of a true national health insurance system (a no-brainer to bolster businesses and individual freedom alike) until the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Here in Kansas, legislative leaders steadfastly refuse to expand the Medicaid program for low-income people, regardless of federal funding to do so. House Speaker Dan Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson have slandered the program as “welfare” for able-bodied adults, as though people earning low wages deserve medical bankruptcy.

Expansion, Hawkins said in September, was his “red line.”

Why should keeping people well and healthy and able to work and contribute to this great state be anyone’s “red line”? Does Hawkins believe that God sends viruses to punish the poor?

He’s far from the only one to spout ill-tempered gibberish about health care. Since writing about receiving my most recent booster, I’ve marveled at the bizarre behavior online from those who believe, 1 million dead Americans to the contrary, that COVID-19 was somehow a hoax and the vaccines somehow dangerous (yes, we learned they confer largely seasonal benefits and need to be updated, but such has been the case with flu shots for decades). The social media platform formerly known as Twitter overflowed with hair-on-fire responses.

Never mind that others had criticized my column for going too far in the other direction and suggesting that the pandemic was over. For the conspiracy theorists, recommending that people protect themselves with a vaccine made me the enemy.

After replying to a fair number of messages, I decided to poke fun at those who act too big and tough and strong for a simple shot.

As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well. For a group of folks who proclaim an absolute right to make their own health care decisions, the replies to this post didn’t much respect my right to protect myself — from both the virus or their ignorance.

“Ok Sally Jessy Raphael,” wrote one —referring, I suppose, to my glasses.

“You guys trying to keep the fear alive and cling to this ‘pandemic,'” wrote another.

“I prefer my genetic altering to occur naturally,” wrote yet another, spreading a conspiracy theory.

Another perspective came last week from author and activist Rebecca Barrett-Fox, whose Kansas Reflector column about COVID-19 took issue with my piece and explained why she and a like-minded community dedicated themselves to mitigation measures. I might not agree with all of Barrett-Fox’s points. But I know that she’s making the same decisions that all of us do when faced with an uncertain world. We look at the risks and decide how much of those risks we can tolerate. We then protect ourselves accordingly.

Some of us, like Barrett-Fox, make those decisions consciously. Too many make those decisions unconsciously, by taking no action at all.

If you don’t want to be sick — and believe me, right now I would rather not be — there’s no shame in wanting to preserve your health. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We may all have different responses on how far we want to go in doing that, but surely we can all respect one another’s basic motivations.

Now pardon me while I head back to bed for some rest.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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