Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.
When I think of Ocala, I think of our warmth.
We strive to be the quintessential southern town of front porches, open doors, and neighborly chats. We want you to feel welcome, to sit and stay awhile. We are hearty handshakes, bear hugs, and “How’s your mama doing?”
This neighborly warmth was on full display during quarantine in April 2020. Ocalans found ways to buoy each other’s spirits by hosting socially distanced happy hours in our local parks, throwing outdoor tailgate parties with music from local musicians and shopping local from the restaurants and retail locations suffering mightily from the shutdown. We made sure that we were all being taken care of mentally, physically and economically.
This warmth is my favorite aspect of my hometown, but I’ve recently realized it has its limits.
Though a solution to curbing the rise of COVID-19 cases is readily available through a vaccine, close to 45% of our county’s population has yet to receive the shot that would stop the spread of this deadly virus in its tracks.
This vaccine hesitancy coupled with the more contagious Delta variant has resulted in a staggering 27% positivity rate for cases in Marion County. As of Aug. 5, there were 230 hospitalizations for COVID-19 with between 215-222 of those cases unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, according to Trinity Clinic.
The vaccine not only protects you from getting the virus, and if you do get it, from experiencing severe symptoms and hospitalization, it also protects our most vulnerable citizens—the immunocompromised and children too young to receive the vaccine.
The more people who are vaccinated, the better chance there is to slow transmission. Increasing vaccinations will not only crush this recent surge, it will help to prevent more aggressive variants from developing in the future.
I am both an ardent rule follower and a thorough researcher. Throughout every stage of the pandemic, I wore my mask everywhere, washed my hands incessantly and kept Clorox in business. I was intent on doing my part to keep myself, and most importantly, my two young children, healthy until I could receive the vaccine.
As news of the vaccine’s development came, I dove into researching how it was made and what its effects might be. I read the conspiracy theories regarding reduced fertility, microchipping and government tracking. I called friends in the medical field to ask their advice. I did my homework.
I received the vaccine on the very first day the governor allowed my age group to receive it. I was giddy with excitement despite my paralyzing fear of needles. I was certain this would be the end of this nightmarish year, and I could breathe a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be bringing this deadly disease home to my children.
It never occurred to me that my fellow Ocalans wouldn’t follow suit, and this pandemic would continue to rage on because of some of our citizens’ indignation.
Politics, misinformation and an “It won’t happen to me” attitude have weaponized this miraculous antidote.
For many, it has become a symbol of governmental tyranny; however, nearly every American has mandatorily received vaccines for polio, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP) and Varicella (chicken pox).
Our city proudly proclaims both our patriotism and our love of God, yet we have turned the other cheek when it comes to protecting our fellow citizens who cannot receive the vaccine because of age or prior medical conditions.
COVID-19 is not just a problem for the unvaccinated. As cases swell in our county, our healthcare system becomes incredibly strained. When our hospitals are full, people can die from delays in treatment for heart attacks, strokes, car accidents and surgical emergencies. Vital medical resources may not be readily available because the system is so overworked.
It also adversely affects our economy. Workplaces are staggering under the weight of absenteeism due to COVID. This is not fair to the employers or the employees that have gotten the vaccine. And ironically, some of the same people who complained about the government shutting down the economy are now shutting down the economy with their stubborn refusal to get vaccinated.
This situation Ocala finds itself in is truly a matter of life or death. We cannot make this vaccine about politics—it has to be about people.
Please, go get the shot. Encourage your friends and family to get theirs, too. Let Ocala be the center of welcoming warmth once again—hearty handshakes and bear hugs with no masks or social distancing in sight.
Have your own observations about Ocala? Share them with Sadie at email@example.com.