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To many of us, it feels like spring in Humboldt, like almost overnight everything has come to feel brighter and warmer. But instead of emerging from winter into a world that feels new, we're emerging from a pandemic-induced isolation into a world of old habits, in which we can once again hug our friends, host a dinner party or sit down in a restaurant.

But unlike a shift in the season, it's also very clear this isn't a communal experience.

In recent weeks, as many of us have been dipping a toe — or cannon balling directly — into the waters of our renewed senses of security and freedom, Humboldt County Public Health has continued to report new COVID-19 cases every day and the county lurched past another grim milestone, recording its 50th, 51st and 52nd deaths from the disease. Two of the latest local residents to die with COVID-19 were in their 80s and the third was in their 70s, according to public health.

We note their ages not to diminish the impact of the loss of life, but to highlight the fact that all three had been eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for six months but never got it. (None of Humboldt County's 52 residents who died COVID-related deaths were vaccinated, per Public Health, though most never had the chance, having died before vaccines became available.)

It's certainly possible they had a history of allergies or other medical issues that caused their doctors to recommend against the vaccine. But it seems far more likely they followed the lead of politicians, friends and social media threads, and made a personal choice to pass on vaccination. That was their right. It's also sad.

Hot takes and political ideologies have a way of ruling the day, the cacophony of those with the loudest megaphones drowning out the more reasoned, informed and trustworthy voices in our lives. Those booming voices can have a chilling effect on real conversations among the people we know, who might hesitate to declare their allegiance to one camp or another, not wanting to potentially alarm or alienate someone else.

This week's cover package attempts to give that megaphone to some of our neighbors. For weeks now, we have solicited submissions from readers detailing why they chose to get vaccinated and how the vaccine has changed their lives. We hope you'll read them and consider their experiences, especially if you're among the 45 percent of Humboldt County residents who are eligible to receive a vaccine but have not yet gotten a shot.

We also hope you'll take the time to read the two personal essays from Journal staffers detailing their experience talking to vaccine hesitant loved ones. These conversations can and do a make difference, and we probably all need to have more of them.

We'll also take this opportunity to reiterate the Journal's stance on vaccines: We believe in them. Our entire staff is fully vaccinated, each of us having done our own research and made our own decisions about what's right for our health, as well as that of those around us and the greater community. We believe the science has shown the vaccines to be safe and effective. And while there are unknowns about the long-term impacts and efficacy of the vaccines, we believe those pale in comparison to what we already know about the risks and potential long-term health impacts of catching COVID-19.

And so, the Journal has decided that when we host our annual Best Of party next month — a chance to join and toast all the people, things and places our readers have voted the best in Humboldt — it will be a vaccinated-only affair. We believe it's the only way to keep everyone safe and to make sure COVID-19 doesn't spread on our watch.

Even as we resume gathering, reuniting and celebrating, it's important to remember this pandemic is not over. As sure as spring will turn to summer and summer to fall, the virus will continue to circulate in Humboldt County and beyond as long as there are unvaccinated people for it to infect.

While for some that is their personal decision, many others who remain vulnerable don't have a choice, including children under 12, who aren't yet approved to be vaccinated, as well as those whose immune systems are supressed. People will get sick. Some will die. And as long as the virus has a human chain of infection as its lifeline, there's the very real chance it could mutate into a form the vaccinations don't protect against and the full shadow of a pandemic winter will fall on us once more.

The stakes remain painfully high and we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to at least talk about them. After all, we are still all in this together.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the Journal's arts and features editor. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her @JFumikoCahill.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

Kimberly Wear (she/her) is the

Journal's digital editor. Reach her

at 442-1400, extension 323, or kim@ Follow her on

Twitter @kimberly_wear.

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About The Authors

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

Kimberly Wear

Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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