The Wall Street Journal provides a window into the tragedy unfolding in Arkansas with a story about Greenwood, where a prominent architect died of coronavirus in July and vaccine skepticism is still rampant.
Michael Lejong fully intended to get vaccinated for Covid-19, his wife said, standing in the pavilion that the prominent architect designed for his hometown.
But he was relatively young, very healthy and not overly concerned about the virus. He wanted to get his shots separately from his wife, so he could care for her if she had adverse side effects. She got hers immediately in April and he put his off.
In late June, he began feeling sick and tested positive for Covid-19. A week of mild symptoms turned into extreme fatigue. On July 3, he was admitted to a nearby hospital with low oxygen levels; on the 15th, doctors put him on a ventilator. He died four days later.
The death of the 49-year-old Greenwood native, father of two, community leader, mountain biker and outdoorsman, has rattled this western Arkansas town, where it seems like nearly everyone knew Mr. Lejong. It comes amid a spate of other recent deaths and skyrocketing hospitalizations in a region where many are deeply skeptical of the Covid-19 vaccines, and doctors and political leaders are trying everything to persuade a reluctant populace to take them.
“It’s personal now because he knew so many people,” said his widow, Katie Lejong. “Before, it was happening somewhere else.”
The Journal reporters also talk with one of the most extreme examples of vaccine skepticism I’ve seen: a nurse who is undergoing cancer treatment whose unvaccinated father and stepmother recently died after contracting the coronavirus.
[Nurse Shanda] Parish, who considered her father her hero, is devastated, she said, clinging to waves of numbness between grief and anger. The deaths have caused a rift within the family, whose children remain split on their views of the vaccine.
Ms. Parish said she still won’t get it; she simply doesn’t trust a newly created vaccine. She doesn’t regret that her parents didn’t get vaccinated, she said. It was their choice. Instead, she regrets that she was quarantining ahead of a cancer treatment when they fell ill and couldn’t be involved in pushing to get them hospitalized sooner.
Ms. Parish’s last interaction with her father was a voice mail from the hospital, of him moaning and gasping for breath. “It doesn’t even sound human,” she said. “I don’t like hearing it, but I can’t delete it.”