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Context matters: Let’s all realize where we are in October 2021. We are now aswirl in the worst, the deadliest pandemic in our nation’s history. The coronavirus wave that hit the U.S. in January 2019 has now killed upward of 700,000 American citizens or residents.

We’ve moved, in other words, beyond the previous killer pandemic, the 1917-1918 Spanish flu, which sent some 675,000 to their graves.

Yet too many of us seem almost blithe about this state of affairs. High school and college grandstands are elbow to elbow. Indoor and outdoor scheduled events abound — concerts, picnics, gatherings both large and small.

At these events, most go maskless. Who knows who has been vaccinated and who has not? In some circles it’s considered rude to ask.

While more and more young people are taken to hospitals and often end up on ventilators or outright dying in ICUs, school boards dither in laying down mask mandates for the classrooms. It’s county by county.

Currently, Cabell County has a mask mandate for schools’ indoor activities, as do Wayne County, West Virginia, and Lawrence County, Ohio, for so long as COVID-19 transmission remains high (designated red).

Breakthrough cases are occurring more often with the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19. A few weeks ago I didn’t even know what the phrase meant. Such cases exist when the virus “breaks through” the shield of a vaccine — either Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — and attacks the respiratory system.

Two neighbors of ours on West Pea Ridge, a young and ostensibly healthy attorney and an 18-year-old female high school senior, were each recently laid low by a breakthrough case. No, they did not need to be hospitalized, but yes, they got quite unpleasantly ill. Fevers, aching muscles, sore throat, the whole nine yards.

Their symptoms lasted about eight days. They had to quarantine beyond that. Notwithstanding the Pfizer shots they had received, they were also contagious for others. People in their respective households had to mask all the time inside the house and be extra careful of proximity to the infected.

As the weather turns colder and life heads indoors, the coronavirus becomes more ravenous. Outdoor temps and air movement are better for dissipating viral droplets from people’s breathing and speech.

My favorite metaphor for the virus comes from a public health official, who said COVID-19 “is like a forest fire hungry to find more human wood to devour.”

Looking ahead we can glimpse the usual fall-into-winter cascade of holidays and intimate gatherings of family and friends, from Halloween with its children’s parties and trick and treating in bunches, to Thanksgiving with 12 at table, to Christmas and New Year’s. How we like our parties, and the bigger the better!

While West Virginia’s death toll from the virus has passed 3,700, it’s strictly mix and match with stores and their masking rules. At our local CVS (29th Street) we see hardly anyone, staff or customer, without a face covering. Kroger in Barboursville is fairly good but not perfect.

Fast food eateries, for masking, are all over the map. Some excellent, others atrocious.

Gov. Jim Justice, where are you? Time to quit being cowed by the politically motivated anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. The current crisis calls for leadership, courage and rhetorical persuasion skills.

The people are dying, governor. We could well use a resuscitation of your earlier self when national media were touting your decisive insistence on masking, social distancing and hand washing. Bring back that script.

John Patrick Grace formerly covered health care for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He is currently a book editor in Huntington and teaches the Life Writing Class.

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