After losing her uncle and her Nan to COVID-19, and with two cousins fighting for their lives in hospital, Sarah* from Worthing is pleading with people to keep following lockdown restrictions.
“It’s hard to describe the grief and anger I feel,” she explains.
“You see groups of people gathering, talking, hugging and wonder what they’re doing.
“They have no idea of the helplessness of watching a loved one fight to breathe as they suffocate, or of the nightmares that come afterwards.”
Sarah understands this better than most.
“First we lost my Nan – a lady who was so strong. Never again will we see her smile, share a joke, hear her voice, get to hold her hand.
“She died alone because of COVID-19 we couldn’t be there.”
“Next we lost my Uncle,” she explains. He also tragically died alone in a COVID-19 ward with no family or friends to say goodbye.
Two of her cousins are also in hospital with coronavirus, fighting for their lives.
Neither has underlying health conditions.
It’s difficult not to share in Sarah’s frustration.
“People still gather, they don’t seem to care and they seem surprised when the transmission rate increases.”
“You need to wake up,” she pleads.
Duncan from Goring-by-Sea has also experienced the devastating impact of COVID-19 first-hand. He was only 46 when he was hospitalised with the disease.
“I have never felt so poorly in my life. It took eight steps to get to the toilet and every time I made that journey it felt like I had run a marathon,” he explains.
“My temperature was a constant 39.5.”
One of the scariest aspects of the disease is the speed with which it takes hold.
Duncan initially came down with a mild illness and “was hoping to be back at work the next day” as he didn’t realise it was COVID-19.
“I was feeling much better and thought that whatever I had just experienced was over and behind me. How wrong I was.”
He took a sudden turn for the worse and “felt myself slipping deeper and deeper back into the abyss.”
“I did not have the ability in me to go to the bedroom door and collect the plate of food which was waiting for me.”
At that point his family called an ambulance and he was admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
Residents are particularly being urged to follow the rules even after they’ve received their vaccination.
Sam from Crawley, understands the seriousness of catching COVID-19. Her boyfriend was admitted to hospital with the disease on New Year’s Day.
“I witnessed first-hand how quick this virus could attack a person’s body and debilitate them to the point of not being able to sit up, let alone stand,” she explains.
“The scary thing is, the early signs weren’t there. The symptoms came on at a rapid pace, as almost out of nowhere. He started with what he felt was like a cold but he suffers from sinus problems so this was nothing out of the ordinary.
She says: “I feel so fortunate to have had my COVID-19 vaccination.
“Having experienced the disease first-hand, I want to do whatever I can to stop the spread and prevent others from catching it.
“I think lots of people assume that once you’ve had the vaccine, life can return to normal straight away.
“It’s actually more important than ever to keep following the rules.
“The vaccine should stop us from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 but we can still potentially catch and spread the virus, especially if we’ve only had our first jab.
“I hope people don’t become too complacent. Your family and friends who haven’t had their vaccines still need you to help keep them safe. Don’t put their lives at risk now by breaking the rules and mixing with them.”
This point is reiterated by Dr Tony Hill, Interim Director of Public Health at West Sussex County Council.
He has this message for residents: “Please stay at home. The fewer times you leave your home, the less chance you have of catching and spreading COVID-19.
“It’s so important to self-isolate and book a test immediately, even if your symptoms are mild. This will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading in workplaces and communities.
“I know lots of our residents have had their vaccinations and many more will be receiving theirs in the coming weeks. Even if you have been vaccinated, you must continue to follow the rules. Whilst the vaccine should stop you from becoming seriously ill with the virus, you may still be able to catch and spread it to others. Please continue to protect your family, friends and community by following the rules.
“COVID-19 is devasting people’s lives. Even if you avoid becoming seriously ill, other people are losing their lives every day and we can help to prevent this.
“One in three people infected with COVID-19 will have no symptoms. You could be infected right now and not know so ask yourself would I be behaving like this if I had tested positive. Please act like you have it and keep West Sussex safe.”
The impact on people’s families has been huge.
John* from Pulborough, explains how much a COVID-19 diagnoses affected his young son.
“Once my wife was ill our ten year old son seemed very concerned. In fact throughout the first two days and nights that my wife had her fever he would check on her hourly and even woke up a few times in the night to ensure she was okay.”
Even with reassurances from both parents, John knows “he was thinking about the many thousands of victims to this illness.”
While neither John or his wife fell seriously ill, as breathing became a struggle they both knew it was a possibility that the situation could get much worse.
“We were never sure whether it would deteriorate,” explains John. “We both spent almost two weeks in this state. Thankfully we hit a certain level and that was it.”
Like the many thousands of people in West Sussex who have caught or lost loved ones to COVID-19, Sarah, Duncan and John are acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation.
“I implore you,” says Sarah. “If you don’t care about your own life then at least care about the lives of others.
“We shouldn’t need to be convinced to want to save our lives or those of the ones we love. We only get one life: it’s precious but it’s also so very fragile and right now it’s under threat.”
The Sussex Health and Care Partnership continue to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination programme across communities in West Sussex.
“Don’t become complacent,” is the message for those who have already received their vaccinations.
“You can still catch and spread COVID-19 even after you’ve had your vaccination,” says Dr Tony Hill.
“You must continue to follow the rules and don’t assume your family and friends are safe now you’ve been vaccinated. I know many older people who have had their first vaccine are hoping to see more of their grandchildren. I am urging you to wait.
“Please do not risk spreading the virus to your loved ones. Please continue to act like you have it, protect your friends and families and keep West Sussex Safe.”
*Some names have been changed.