Editor, The Messenger,

As Black-Eyed Susans begin to bloom and the summer sun lingers in the sky a little longer, we are also enjoying more time with each other. Restrictions surrounding the pandemic are beginning to ease, and people are meeting up and hugging each other. I’m really looking forward to spending more time in-person with friends, seeing coworkers in the office again and attending all of the wonderful events in this region--I bet you are too! If you haven’t done so yet, I would love to encourage you to consider the health recommendations surrounding COVID-19, including getting the vaccine if you are able.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccines are safe, effective, and available to anyone over the age of 12. Once fully vaccinated, you can resume the activities we have all been missing without needing a mask, except where still mandated by law, including businesses and workplace policies. We finally have live music and festivals to look forward to again, but these things will only remain if we continue to follow the guidance provided by the CDC.

This region has always demonstrated great resilience. Our communities are strong and we pitch in to help each other--it’s one of the things I love best about living here. One way we can do this is to get vaccinated to keep the people around us safe. Over the past year we saw an outpouring of mutual aid, community leaders, and organizations working together to provide resources, and compassion and support from all those surrounding us. We also saw so much loss and grief, and we’ve missed each other terribly.

Getting vaccinated does not mean you need to return to business as usual, but it does mean making a small yet powerful commitment to keeping our community safe. But, if you are looking forward to doing the things you’ve missed, getting vaccinated is the safest way to do those things, both for you and the people around you. We are resilient, but our regional healthcare system may not be able to support surges in the virus due to more infectious variants. And we sure don’t want to go backwards and lose the progress we’ve made.

If you are already fully vaccinated, please talk to your neighbors, your family and your friends about getting the vaccine. It’s free, even for people who don’t have health insurance. The Ohio Department of Health has an easy portal to learn about the vaccines available, which you can access here: https://gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov/ to find a vaccine provider near you. Please continue to do all that you can to keep our region safe as we get back to doing the many things that make Southeast Ohio such a wonderful place to call home.

Debbie Phillips

CEO of Rural Action

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