My dad, Noel Carpenter, wanted to live to at least 100. He talked about it often, and lived as if he would. Though at 86 his pace was slower, my dad still acted on his ambitions and dreams.
Noel was passionate about two things: family and cars. He showed up religiously every Saturday morning near his home in Paso Robles for the classic-car meet-up, driving his 1938 Ford street rod. Every week, Noel also interviewed local car enthusiasts, photographed their cars, and painstakingly put together a low-tech newsletter called the Creekside Gazette that he distributed at the Saturday meet-ups. Through the Gazette, car owners learned more about each other and developed lasting friendships. The last time he attended was November 6.
Later that day, my dad developed cold symptoms, and the next day my mom took him to the ER with acute respiratory distress due to Covid-19. Both he and my mom had been vaccinated in March, but had not thought the booster was necessary.
My parents live on the same property as my brother and his young family, and it turned out that my niece and nephew, ages 11 and 9, had contracted Covid over the Halloween weekend. The vaccine had just been approved for 5- to 11-year-olds on October 29, but it took another week or so for it to be available to them. As soon as my niece and nephew developed symptoms on November 2, my brother’s family took PCR lab tests and waited two days for results, while doing their best to isolate from my parents just in case. Unfortunately, it was too late. Both my parents became infected, although my mom thankfully had only mild cold symptoms.
I spoke with my dad the night he was hospitalized, and we both were optimistic that with a little oxygen he’d recover. We both said, “I love you,” before hanging up.
By morning, Noel’s condition had seriously deteriorated. By the following day, he had contracted pneumonia and the disease had damaged his kidneys. My family and his doctor made the tough decision to bring him home in an ambulance rather than put him on a ventilator. He made it home, but died the next night, five days after he was infected, while my mom and I held his hands.
I’m telling you this story because we are at a critical point in the pandemic. This holiday season, many people are planning family gatherings after a year-long hiatus. Across the world, people understandably feel a desire to connect with family. At the same time, my own family’s experience has further energized my commitment to the Healthcare Foundation’s vaccine outreach work. While breakthrough cases are now common, science shows that the vaccine exponentially reduces hospitalizations and deaths. Our work promoting the vaccine—first and second shots for everyone age 5 and older, and boosters for everyone age 16 and older—now has for me, as for many of you, a deeply personal meaning and urgency.
This week, the Healthcare Foundation is helping to fund the Rapid Test Equity Coalition. This is a collaborative effort with IsoCare, CURA Project, and West County Health Services to distribute 128,000 urgently needed BinexNow rapid tests for free to low-income residents throughout Sonoma County—before family and holiday gatherings.
While many of us have incorporated rapid testing into our plans for gatherings or events, at a cost of $25 for a packet of two tests, many people in our communities cannot afford this important safety precaution. The Rapid Test Equity Coalition will distribute 3,200 BinexNow boxes, with 40 tests in each box, through the Redwood Empire Food Bank and grassroots community-based organizations throughout the county. It is our passionate hope that by providing 128,000 rapid tests at no cost, families will test just before multiple-household gatherings, thereby empowering themselves with potentially life-saving knowledge.
I am personally more devoted than ever to our collaborative efforts to build wellness and crucial safety nets such as this initiative into our community. We all want his holiday season to generate happy memories—and working together, we can achieve this.
Please consider a gift this holiday season to the Healthcare Foundation in support of vaccine outreach and education, the Rapid Test Equity Coalition, and other programs that we fund through your generosity.