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COVID-19 in Maryland

Sen. Hettleman: After Breakthrough Case, a Renewed Dedication to Fighting COVID

Patient Rights photo by Myriam Zilles.

By Shelly L. Hettleman

The writer, a Democrat, represents District 11, part of Baltimore County, in the Maryland Senate. 

It all started with a scratchy throat and a dull headache behind the eyes. I had a few in-person, inside meetings coming up, so I decided to be safe and take a home COVID test that I found at the third pharmacy I visited. I followed the instructions and nothing — it said that I didn’t have COVID.

And for a few days, my throat got a little scratchier and my head a little achier, but nothing dramatic. I continued my exercise routine, went on a 5-mile hike in the woods, and then heading into our family vacation and expecting visitors, I decided to take another home test. This time, the two pink lines (indications that COVID is present) were bright and defined and I was floored. I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, I was able to make an appointment early the next morning for a rapid test and a PCR test to confirm — and both did: I had COVID-19.

I thought I had been careful. I’d been fully vaccinated and I had worn a mask, but I had definitely been out in the world with more people around and it was impossible to ask everyone I was around if they’d been vaccinated. After all, I live my life in the community — I want to be out and about — meeting constituents, visiting businesses and being out in the world. It’s been a long year and a half. But…we’re not done.

Sen. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County). File photo

As I am recuperating from this virus — and, to be clear, I had a mild case (but I still have some residual effects), I am thrilled to see many decisions that acknowledge the reality that we are far from being out of the woods. Baltimore County Public Schools is requiring that its staff and teachers be vaccinated or subjected to regular testing in order to continue employment. Many private employers are requiring vaccinations and masking, but there is still more that we can do.

While I applaud the governor for being consistent in his message to get vaccinated and requiring vaccinations of certain employees in certain settings (like nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons), I don’t think we have gone far enough. We should have a mask mandate and we should be doing everything humanly possible to reach people who are not yet vaccinated and making it really difficult not to be.

If you want to be in settings with others, let’s make it a requirement to be vaccinated. Why, for example, are we leaving it up to each individual school district to decide how to protect children — we should have a state policy that is consistent in its requirement that the professionals who are around children (many of whom are ineligible to be vaccinated at this time) be vaccinated and masked. There is also no good reason why children who are age 12 and over shouldn’t be required to be vaccinated to attend school. We require vaccines for other highly transmissible diseases, why not COVID?

Some may use my getting sick as validation that the vaccines and masks don’t work, but I assert that my having been vaccinated and masked is my protection from death and serious illness. And, thankfully, no one (that I know of) that I was around has tested positive for COVID.

As members of a community, we have an obligation to one another. We’ve decided that in order to protect ourselves and one another, we have to get some vaccinations — think polio, smallpox, etc. And we’ve made it a requirement that in order to participate in certain communal activities, you have to be vaccinated. Government has no more basic requirement than communal wellbeing. This should be no different. This isn’t about freedom and it’s not about choice. It’s about being a responsible citizen and looking out for one another. It’s about our safety.

I’m recuperating and I’ll be fine. I’m sharing this story because there are lots of folks who don’t know anyone who’s had a breakthrough case. I know of at least three others who have been vaccinated and gotten sick. If you’re vaccinated and masked, it’s less likely to happen, but you can’t be sure. My quarantine is completed and, thankfully, I’m well on the road to recovery and I’ve been able to salvage some of my family vacation. I’m very grateful to continue my work out in the world — but I’ll do so with a little more caution, a mask, and a plan to get a booster shot this fall.


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Sen. Hettleman: After Breakthrough Case, a Renewed Dedication to Fighting COVID