"If you don’t think COVID’s real, I don’t know where you’re living at," Knox County Judge-Executive Mike Mitchell said.
Mitchell, along with Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. and Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus, said in interviews with The Times-Tribune Friday that the vaccine is the way our communities can bring the COVID-19 numbers down and try to get past this pandemic.
"We’re seeing an increase in people wanting vaccinations," Mitchell said. "To where they were hesitant before, they’re seeing the realization that COVID’s here, COVID’s going to be here, it’s not going away. I think everyone is starting to come to terms on that."
Mitchell noted a county employee who had been nonnegotiable over getting the vaccine, but just recently said he was going to get the shot.
"He's faced the realization," Mitchell said.
"It’s positive to see people aware of what’s really here," he added.
Razmus shared similar sentiments.
"I think there was some vaccine hesitancy because politics have come into play but I think our community is starting to recognize when we make the New York Times that we’ve not done everything we can do to put this behind us," Razmus said.
Similar to other government officials, White received the vaccine when it first became available to him.
"I really saw vaccinations as the way that we could get back to normal and prevent future outbreaks of COVID," White said. "I’ve had numerous employees and friends who have really had a hard time. I’ve had friends that we’ve lost to COVID. I suspect with the numbers that we have now, and this far into this pandemic, I suspect most people in our community are in the same shoes."
White agreed that the community needs a higher vaccination rate to make a change.
"Our vaccination rate as of the update we got this morning (Friday), was 36 percent, 36.1 percent maybe. There are communities in other parts of the state that have near 70 percent vaccination rates," White said. "I think that’s the biggest thing that could be changed to try to beat COVID all together."
Whitley County vaccination rate was up to 36.5 percent as of Monday's reporting.
Mitchell said Knox County, which according to the CDC has a 34.9 percent vaccination rate, is working on an incentive program to entice people to get the vaccine. More details about that will be released when the program is ready.
White noted he sees mask mandates and the lockdowns as methods to slow the spread of COVID, but not permanent fixes.
"Population immunity is the way that we can get past it and move on with our lives. I think you only get that through either having COVID and having natural immunity of some sort - there’s debates about how effective that is - or by being vaccinated," White said.
Razmus identified our current state as the worst our communities have been since the pandemic started and White described the local COVID numbers as "frightening".
"You’ve got people on both sides, some don’t believe in the masks and some do believe in the masks, I think people ought to make those personal choices theirselves, but there’s a responsibility that comes with it and your actions," Mitchell said. "I think as a whole, everybody’s coming to the realization that COVID’s here to stay. We need to do everything we can to curtail it from spreading any further."
Editor's Note: The Times-Tribune reached out to Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison for comment, but did not receive a response as of press time Monday.
Staff Writers Emily Adams-Bentley and Jarrod Mills contributed to this article.