Chania Batten has just as much reason to feel pandemic fatigue.
As a car service nurse at the only hospital in rural Roan County, West Virginia, she patiently answers questions for months, dispels misinformation and reassures skeptics that COVID-19 vaccinations are the key to defeating the coronavirus.
Batten winces at the thought of a pandemic entering a new calendar year.
“This is unpleasant,” said a mother of two small children. “We all want to get back to our lives.”
Shortly after the first vaccines were approved a year ago, West Virginia briefly led the nation in vaccinating humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the state quickly ran into a wall of resistance, and its rating began to decline. It’s unclear how much it fell due to discrepancies between state and federal data, but the fight in Roan County suggests there is a lot of room for improvement.
Only about 45% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Almost a third of the state’s 55 counties are less than 50%, according to the CDC.
The reasons why residents try to take the vaccine vary. And Batten, one of those who stood at the forefront of the long and difficult battle to persuade people who are often impossible to convince, probably heard most of them.
“To be honest, there are still a lot of questions about the vaccine and what it contains,” she said. “There are many people who are still scared because there is not enough information for them. You have all this paranoia. “
But now that the omicron strain has suddenly swept across the U.S. population, there is an increased need to get people to adopt the only known effective method to fight the virus.
Public hospitals continue to experience stress, warning that the number of patients is increasing and the number of staff is decreasing. Projections show that the number of people hospitalized for the virus during the holiday season will approach the record number of more than 1,000 set in September.
Roan General Hospital operates the main COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Roan County, an hour north of the state capital, Charleston. It is located on a hillside in Spencer, with a population of 2,000, where Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and other holiday songs are played from speakers throughout the town square. The 484 square miles district has 14,000 residents.
Aside from the usual hospital shift, there were times when Batten was the only nurse serving the passage, sometimes with as many as a dozen cars in line.
“It can get overwhelming,” Batten said, holding his notebook in the cold December air. “But this is my job.”
Batten said she still enjoys the job and, if she had to, would go door to door trying to convince people to get an injection. But in this part of West Virginia, little seems to be going well.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice tried to play gifts and appeared with a tough bulldog named Baby Dog to convince people to take pictures. He handed out hundreds of thousands of state dollars in pranks to vaccinated residents. Last month, he handed a check for $ 50,000 to a Roan County High School to encourage students and teachers to get vaccinated.
The hospital’s marketing campaign for the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations includes daily social media posts, radio ads, and doctor reviews. But hospital CEO Doug Benz said he was not sure how the messages were being interpreted.
“In fact, I think sometimes the media hurts things because people are so deeply involved in politics,” Benz said recently in his office. “Instead of making a rational decision, they feel they have to stick to some principle. There is a lot of misinformation out there. And, unfortunately, I think that we just don’t have the trust that we have in our government, in the media, because people have to believe it. “
Nurse wear is evident. In 2020 alone, 1,700 nurses decided not to renew their licenses in West Virginia.
Batten, who recently recovered from her battle with the virus, does not expect to join those who stop trying.
“You still come here and work and do your job, but there are people who don’t want to come and get vaccinated,” Batten said. “Or they don’t see what other people are going through, especially people who have lost loved ones in the hospital.”
Despite efforts to spread awareness, many people don’t even know that an open clinic is available. Batten says people ask her about the vaccine when she works at the hospital. Others face other obstacles, either due to age or transportation problems.
But there are also voices of resistance. For moral, personal or political reasons, some people say they are not going to get vaccinated.
The nonprofit Roane General Hospital has a total of 25 emergency beds to serve the entire county. In November, the hospital expanded its facilities by over $ 28 million.
However, a new strain of the virus threatens to overwhelm them.
“I don’t think the general public understands what’s going on inside the walls of hospitals, in emergency departments and inside hospital floors,” Benz said. “It’s a different world. At Roane, we have limited resources. We have limited specialists. Nevertheless, we are forced to provide assistance at the ICU level, with a high degree of visual acuity, with the resources that we have. It’s not always perfect. But we have no choice. “