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TIM BURKE: Unexpected passing of a loved one causes reflection

It is one of the worst types of phone calls you will receive. The wife of a good friend called me last week to tell me that my friend had suddenly passed away.

He was a retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detective who had moved to Pahrump several years ago.

While they lived in Vegas, I would often tell him and his wife how much I enjoyed living here, how the homes were not on top of each other, how friendly the residents were, and how the pace of life was just calmer.

When he and his wife both retired from the LVMPD, they sold their Vegas home and moved to Pahrump. They fit right in and loved living here.

A couple of years ago, they decided they needed to move to Chicago, their original hometown before moving to Vegas 25 years ago, because her Mom was getting elderly and wanted to spend time with her while she could. I knew they would miss Pahrump but understood why they moved.

Getting that phone call was a shock. He had two sudden cardiac arrests, his brain had ceased functioning, and his wife had to make the gut-wrenching decision to stop life support. He was one day shy of his 53rd birthday.

The unexpected death of a friend or loved one is painful, but this has happened just a couple of times in my circle. COVID-19 has changed that for many families. Our community was shocked last week by the sudden deaths of two well-known residents. The Pahrump courthouse lost two people in January that worked within its walls. According to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, bailiff Gerald “Bear” Smith died on January 18 at Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas due to COVID-19 related complications. Nye County Deputy District Attorney Don Chairez also died, just three days after Smith, on January 21, also from complications related to COVID-19, according to a statement from the Nye County District Attorney’s Office.

The town of Pahrump website states that as of Jan. 28, 2021, Pahrump has had 2,332 cases of COVID-19 positive tests and 65 deaths overall. The number of positive tests for all of Nye County is 2,558 for the same reporting period. Our population demographics show that the odds are high that many community members could get seriously sick and even die from COVID-19. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as of July 1, 2019, almost 32% of our population was over the age of 65. The data also shows that in the under 65 age category, over 19% of our residents have a documented disability.

The CDC categorizes these two areas as “high risk” for COVID-19 infection. The risk for a severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at the highest risk. For example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. The most significant risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older. Adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19.

The highest risk medical conditions are cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down Syndrome, heart conditions, an immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from a solid organ transplant, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking, and Type 2 diabetes.

Last year, governments locked down and shuttered businesses to halt the virus’ spread but with controversial results. COVID-19 vaccine development was fast-tracked, and vaccines are now slowly distributed as they become available. The distribution plan follows a government-mandated priority list.

First on the list to receive the vaccine are those that work in the “Frontline and Essential Workforce” category. After that, the general population will receive vaccinations in this order: Over age 70, individuals between 65 and 69, ages 16 to 64 with underlying conditions, those with disabilities, and if you are under age 64 and healthy, you are last on the list to get the vaccine.

There will be individuals who choose not to get the vaccine at all for personal reasons. You may be uncomfortable with receiving a vaccine that was developed so quickly. You may not believe in vaccinations at all. You may think that the pandemic is a hoax. It doesn’t matter what your reason is to get it or not get it. It is a personal choice.

When I received the news of my friend’s passing, I wondered if something could have prevented the heart attack. An EKG, a heart stress test, an MRI of the heart region? Unfortunately, people who often feel perfectly healthy don’t suspect that something may be wrong until it’s too late. Taking a vaccine is different than a sudden heart attack. You take a vaccine to prevent illness. With COVID-19, you do have a choice in trying to avoid dying.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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