Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
Micheal Freedy could walk into a room of strangers and come out with wedding invitations, his fiancee said. (Jessica DuPreez)

Micheal Freedy was not opposed to vaccination, his fiancee said. Like many Americans who have yet to get their coronavirus shots, the 39-year-old father just wanted to wait and learn more about how people reacted to the vaccines.

“All we were doing is waiting one year,” Jessica DuPreez, 37, told The Washington Post on Sunday.

Then everything changed. This weekend — DuPreez’s grief days old and her voice breaking — the Las Vegas mother of five gave interview after interview to spread the same message: Get the vaccine. She said Freedy came to the same conclusion early on in the fight with covid-19 that put him in an intensive care unit in July.

“I should have gotten the damn vaccine,” he texted DuPreez, according to a picture she shared with The Post.

Freedy, who is listed in her phone as “My Heart,” died on Thursday, leaving behind young children, including a 17-month-old.

“My kids don’t have a dad anymore because we hesitated,” she said on CNN as one child cried in the background. “ … I would take a bad reaction to the vaccine over having to bury my husband. I would take that any day.”

The highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus has brought new urgency to the nation’s vaccination efforts, with some hospitals filling up again and federal health officials warning that “the war has changed.” Multimillion-dollar lotteries, door-to-door outreach and pleas from doctors have failed to persuade millions of Americans, pushing governments and employers to increasingly turn to mandates for their workers. A little less than half the country is fully vaccinated, and 45 percent of the population is inoculated in Freedy and DuPreez’s home state of Nevada.

Despite new evidence that the immunized can still spread the virus, officials say the vaccines remain highly effective, especially at preventing death and severe illness. The vast majority of those with covid-19 who die or are hospitalized are unvaccinated.

Tracking coronavirus in the U.S.

Some holdouts are outright resistant: A Washington Post-ABC News poll found earlier this summer that 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated, up several percentage points from a few months earlier. But many are like Freedy — hesitant, worried about side effects, waiting even longer. With coronavirus cases rising again, officials are scrambling to persuade them.

Adding their voices to the message are people like DuPreez, converted by wrenching loss. She said she and her oldest son got vaccinated after Freedy became sick.

DuPreez said that she and her fiance — the father of her two youngest children — were never disparaging of science, just cautious. They wore face masks, she said, and sanitized their hands and shifted to pickup orders for their shopping. And when they went to San Diego with the kids in mid-July, the threat of the pandemic seemed to be quickly receding. Thousands had recently flocked to the Las Vegas area for a Garth Brooks concert and an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.

Then Freedy ended up in an emergency room with a horrible sunburn from their beach trip, his fiancee said. He was unable to eat or sleep and had the chills, but the doctor sent him home.

He returned to another emergency room when the symptoms persisted, where he learned that more than sun poisoning was at play: He tested positive for the coronavirus. Freedy went home again with instructions to drink water and isolate, she said.

Then, one day at about 3 a.m., Freedy woke DuPreez “panicking,” she recounted. He was struggling to breathe. When he tried to stand, he fell over. He knew something was deeply wrong. The couple rushed to yet another ER, DuPreez said, where staff members found that he had low blood oxygen and were surprised that he was even able to talk.

Freedy went on oxygen, then a machine to force his lungs open, DuPreez said. She tried to stay positive.

“Keep it in your head that you can come home in a few days, work as hard as you can and do all they tell you to,” she texted Freedy after he sent her worried messages about “the long-term effects of [what’s] happening to my body.”

Then, last Monday, there came a flurry of more dire texts: “911 911 911.”

Freedy was going to the ICU, immediately. “Alright well I tried,” he messaged his fiancee.

DuPreez began to cry as she recounted their last phone call.

“I told him to please fight so he can come home to us,” she said Sunday. “He said he was, that he promised, that he was trying, that it was just hard.”

The end was brutal. It was just like you see on TV, she said, with shouts of “He’s coding!” and people running in with paddles and calls for scalpels, pulse checks, desperate chest compressions. “And when you’re a spectator in it, there’s no trying to slide out the door. You just have to stay in the back of the room and out of the way.”

Freedy’s face turned purple, she said. And then he was gone.

The Clark County coroner’s office did not immediately respond Sunday to questions about Freedy’s death.

For DuPreez, taking her grief public has brought support but also vitriol that underscores the bitterness of the country’s divide over the pandemic and how to fight it.

She has largely stopped answering the phone and messages sent through her GoFundMe page, which seeks help for a family that lived “paycheck to paycheck” off casino jobs. She set her Facebook page to private and did the same for Freedy’s Twitter account as fat-shaming comments pinged in on the dead man’s phone.

For every nice note, she said, there are three or four nasty ones.

“If your fiance was stupid enough not to get the vaccine whilst working in a casino, that’s his fault,” read one message she shared with The Post. “You put yourself in this situation,” another read.

Others accuse her of playing into “fear propaganda” around the coronavirus and abetting the “mainstream media,” she said.

“There’s people who’ve told me that it’s a lie … that Mike’s still alive, that we’re just a made-up family, my child who cried on the news is an actor,” DuPreez said Sunday.

As DuPreez pushes on with the tasks of life between interviews, she marvels at the resiliency of her children, ages 17, 10, 7, 6 and 17 months.

“They′ll stop and they’ll cry and be upset and say how they miss him, and then they’ll be back to playing their games,” she said. “Just lost in their games. I’ve never been so thankful for an iPad in my life. Because if I could just get lost in a game like that, it would probably be way easier.”

As cases of the coronavirus surge across the United States, health officials and politicians discussed masking and potential restrictions on Aug. 1. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

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