Francis Koster: We’re at war with COVID, but ‘patriots’ won’t wear masks, get vaccinated

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 19, 2021

By Francis Koster

Sometimes I will be in a large gathering of thousands of people, and the speaker will ask all veterans to rise and be recognized for their patriotic service.

And then they say, “Let’s applaud our patriots.” The audience always applauds. When I stand, people will come up later and say, “I appreciate your service.”

Since our nation’s founding 245 years ago, 646,500 members of our military have died defending America. It sounds terrible, but over the past one year 667,000 Americans have died from COVID. The disease has killed one in 500 Americans — more than all those who died defending American independence over 245 years.

When I enlisted in the Army upon graduation from high school in 1960, all young men were required to register for the draft or be prosecuted and fined up to $250,000 and/or sentenced to jail time of up to five years.  

The law creating the draft was passed because Congress felt that in times of war the needs of the nation were more important than the desires of individual citizens. You did what you were told, including leave home for an unknown amount of time to fight and maybe die to protect your fellow Americans.

If you did not register for the draft, your family was ashamed.

I am confused. We are at war with COVID, but people calling themselves “patriots” will not wear masks, or get vaccinated. Back in the day, they would be called cowards or draft dodgers, and flee to Canada while 667,000 fellow Americans died in one year.   

Rowan County has 122,000 residents older than 12 who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. As of Sept. 15, just over half who should have stepped up to be vaccinated did so.

Of Rowan County’s total population, 24,000 have caught COVID and 364 have died. About 8,400 survivors will have expensive healthcare problems for life.     

The virus has evolved into a more contagious and deadly form. Our hospitals are drowning in sick people. Nationally, over the past 4 months, 98% of those infected and hospitalized had not been vaccinated. Those people who did not get vaccinated have incurred medical bills averaging around $25,000 — and in most cases will have to have those bills paid for the government, raising taxes for the rest of us.  Yeah, they’re “patriots.”

I am a former pediatric health care administrator. I have seen parents cry after they held their child’s hand for the last time. You do not forget things like that — it marks your soul. 

As folks with strong opinions about “freedom” debated how to get kids back to school, almost a quarter of a million kids during the first week in September got infected with COVID-19 — just about one-third of all newly reported cases.  

Is your definition of “patriot” someone who sacrifices to protect others or does it mean “you cannot tell me what to do”?  Are we now a country where practicing selfishness that harms others has become something we ask people to rise and be applauded for?

Koster, who lives in Kannapolis, spent most of his career as chief innovation officer in one of the nation’s largest pediatric health care systems.