NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. February 2, 2021 – In challenging times, may kindness and cooperation prevail!
For far too long we have been laboring under painful business closures, our smiles obscured with masks, remaining at uncomfortable distance from our friends and fastidious hand washings. Despite our best efforts, the virus seems to be ever encroaching. I recently attended a local memorial service remembering the lives of those who have died from COVID-19. 73 crosses and stars of David dot the hill of the Old Barn storage area in remembrance of the victims. Many of these sadly died alone. The eulogies given at the memorial were reflections of deep relationships, deeds of service and lives well lived. In the midst of these sad tributes, there was a pervasive joy and a hope that there is a better future waiting for all of us. Certainly, vaccinations will be the vehicle for this county to become immune to the virus; however, there are other qualities that will bring healing to all of us. There is a spirit of collaboration, the building of quality relationships and an understanding of the value of respect for others.
The efforts of your Nevada County Public Health workers, in the midst of this viral surge is extraordinary. Although the stress is palpable and long hours toilsome, there is a profound sense of hope. One of the instruments of that hope is the availability of a vaccine.
Long before I was asked to become Nevada County’s Public Health officer, I was a participant in the Pfizer vaccine trial at UC Davis. I researched the science behind the genesis of the vaccine and was very impressed. I was surprised to learn that much of the original work came from a genetics lab that was instituted by a close friend, Dr. Bill Kelly. This same lab produced the template for the Ebola vaccine that has recently eliminated Ebola in eastern Congo. The COVID-19 vaccine is exceeding effective and the side effect nominal.
You certainly are aware of the glitches in vaccine availability and access but this will soon change. The vaccine will be distributed through collaborative relationships between Public Health, the hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and local healthcare providers. This growing list of partners are ramping up capacity to ensure that we can continue to get vaccines delivered as quickly as they are shipped to us. Through these collaborations, I am hopeful that we can return to somewhat normal actives by early summer.
I practiced medicine in Nevada County for two decades. In 2001 my wife, Carol, and I relocated to assist the Batwa pygmies of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda. The Batwa were in desperate circumstances, an income of $25/year and a life expectancy to only age 28. There were no paved roads, no running water, no electricity and diseases were rampant. The Ugandan government was not supportive, the Non-Government Organizations were not interested and there was violent conflict in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, only 2 kilometers away. The challenges were daunting and the circumstances discouraging but along came the support of Nevada County. Over 200 residents visited Uganda to assist in many ways, some staying a few weeks, others for years. Out of this collaboration has emerged a 175 bed hospital, ranked one of the best institutions in East Africa and a 400 student top flight nursing school. 1,200 children are now attending school. All of these developments could not have been possible without the cooperation and collaboration of Nevada County residents. This same spirit that elevated the Batwa out of their cycle of poverty can certainly overcome a virus and be an example of what can be accomplished through cooperation and collaboration.
We are all aware of the divisions in our nation. When one suffers, we all suffer. Whether that be a business closure, places of worship deserted, joyous events cancelled, or schools vacated. None of us are immune, we are all challenged in ways that just over a year ago, we never thought possible. The healing of a nation and the eradication of a virus can start locally.
Years from now, when we gaze in the rear view mirror what do we want to see? A county “white knuckling” it through a difficult time or do we want to reflect that in the midst of horrendous challenges, the county became knit together in ways that we never thought possible. Seamless collaborations and impeccable communications were developed and we adopted a respect for others that not only overcame a virus but will allow us to deal with issues that plague us all i.e. addiction, mental illness, homelessness and despair.
Many of us have put our dreams on hold for far too long but hope is on the horizon where our dreams will become a reality.
Dr. Scott Kellermann is the Nevada County Public Health Officer.