How journalist Helena Oliviero presses on

Helena Oliviero, reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Helena Oliviero is a longtime staff writer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She first started reporting about COVID-19 in December 2019 when the first cluster of coronavirus cases was reported in Wuhan, China. She's been writing exclusively about the toll of the virus since a pandemic was declared in March 2020. She works to put a human face on statistics to help deepen our understanding of what's happening. (Ryon Horne / AJC)

I distinctly remember the first time the coronavirus came across my radar.

I called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back in December 2019 to discuss the latest flu numbers. But the person I wanted to talk to was busy and wouldn’t be available anytime soon. She was on a call about a cluster of coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China. A new coronavirus? I asked. What’s that?

This new coronavirus would soon sweep the globe and upend our lives in ways we never could have imagined.

By March, my husband and I were working from home, and our daughters were going to school online. In an instant, it seemed, we were weighing the risks of virtually everything we did.

Over the past year and a half of writing about this unpredictable virus, I’ve talked to researchers, doctors, nurses, nursing home administrators, long-term care residents and a host of other everyday Georgians. I have felt a deep responsibility in keeping up with the virus’s toll on the state. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ExploreHelena Oliviero's 3-part series "Too Young to Die: A young man's fight with a relentless case of COVID"

In many ways, it’s a scary time. But the pandemic also brought my family closer together as we spent more time exploring state parks together or streaming old television series (Gilmore Girls, for my younger daughter and me; The Sopranos, for just the adults – how did I miss these the first time around?)

We look for silver linings and try to do our best to find joy and to keep the faith.

Sure, some days are harder than others.

I talk to people suffering from COVID-19, to families who have lost loved ones, to people of all ages who are “long-haulers” and still dealing with debilitating effects of the illness – brain fog, profound fatigue and pain – several months after the initial infection.

I interview exhausted, traumatized nurses and doctors who can’t sleep and have panic attacks because they are so haunted by the horrors they’ve experienced – watching patients gasp for air and take their last breaths alone in the hospital.

For me, as someone who has been writing about the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives, getting vaccinated was a relatively easy choice. Whatever tiny risk my family and I faced from getting the vaccine was outweighed by a much higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

I know people have struggled with this decision. And I know it has polarized us. I try to provide information that, hopefully, allows everyone to make an informed decision.

Over the past month, the pandemic has taken a sharp turn for the worse. The delta variant, the most transmissible and dangerous strain yet, is spreading quickly. The vaccine doesn’t prevent every infection, but the vaccine is remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and helping prevent the spread of the virus. At this point in the pandemic, the vast majority of those who require intensive care because of COVID-19 complications are unvaccinated.

Hospitals are now filling up with younger COVID-19 patients, many in their 30s, 40s and 50s. There’s also been a sharp rise in the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19.

Children under 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine, so they rely on people around them – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, teachers and coaches – to get vaccinated and protect them.

Only 61% percent of adults in Georgia have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration has granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older. Hopefully, this will instill confidence and encourage more people to get vaccinated.

I want this pandemic to end as much as anyone else. And yet, it feels far from over.

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ExploreRead journalism by Helena Oliviero