My Turn, Dari Caldwell: Fight the coronavirus, not each other

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 29, 2021

By Dari Caldwell

My name is Dari Caldwell, chairperson for the Rowan County Board of Health, nurse, Rowan resident, grandmother to three beautiful babies and the former president of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. With my family, I have been fortunate to serve this community for 15 years.

At our most recent meeting, board members assessed some of the unsettling data about current local trends with COVID-19: exponential increases of new cases, a testing positivity rate of 20%, increased hospitalizations and increases in cases among children in our community. Our hospital is struggling under the weight of new patient admits and a full emergency department. 

Your Board of Health’s singular responsibility is to protect the health and wellness of our community by preventing illness and promoting good health behaviors. When we reviewed the data that the health director puts together, we weren’t thinking about numbers or statistics. We were thinking about individuals, families, neighborhoods and the incredible hardships that everyone has endured over the past 17 months. The pandemic has been more challenging than we could have ever imagined. It has disrupted our lives, limited our social connections and affected our livelihoods.   

The amount of information and guidance about protecting yourselves is overwhelming and often confusing. For that reason, the board wants to provide their perspective on only two actions. 

First, if you have not been vaccinated, please consider doing so. It is the most effective strategy to protect yourself and others. Talk with your healthcare provider or someone you trust and get credible scientific information to help you with your decision. The overwhelming majority of recent hospitalizations and deaths have been people who are not vaccinated, including a worrying trend of individuals at younger and younger ages.  

Second, again, we strongly ask that everyone in our community please wear a face covering, whether you are vaccinated or not, if you are not able to physically distance from others and particularly when indoors or around those that have high-risk health conditions. The issue of masking has been particularly challenging due to frequent changes with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. However, our best evidence indicates that wearing a mask protects both the individual wearing it and the people around them.

Our community has always come together to deal with challenges. We don’t have to agree on every aspect of public health strategy. We do have to agree on the importance of protecting everyone and the necessity of providing grace and understanding for each person’s beliefs. The Rowan County Board of Health believes in this community and our collective will to prevail through these hard times.

No one of public health strategies is 100%, but that does not mean they are not worth doing. We need a layered approach to protect ourselves and our community — much like following the speed limit and safety features and practicing defensive driving reduces the incidence of car accidents as well as the fact that added layers of protection from having airbags and wearing a seatbelt also help protect against serious injury in the event they do happen. Every additional tool you can use will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and decrease the potential for serious illness. 

We are a community first, fighting together against COVID-19 and not each other.   

Dari Caldwell is chair of the Rowan County Board of Health. See all Board of Health members here: