MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Healthy and in their 30s, Christina and Josh Tidmore figured they were low-risk for COVID-19. With conflicting viewpoints about whether to get vaccinated against the virus filling their social media feeds and social circles, they decided to wait.
On July 20, Josh came home from work with a slight cough initially thought to be sinus trouble. On Aug. 11, he died of COVID-19 at a north Alabama hospital as Christina Tidmore witnessed a doctor and her team frantically try to resuscitate her husband.
"She would say, 'I need a pulse. 'I would hear, 'no pulse,' "Christina Tidmore said through tears. "They were trying so hard."
"Nobody should go through this. He was only 36 and I'm 35 and we have three kids."
She is now imploring young adults not to dismiss the risk and to consider getting vaccinated.
"Josh was completely healthy, active, not a smoker." He would have turned 37 on Saturday.
Doctors say they are seeing a spike in cases among young adults and children as the highly contagious delta variant sweeps through unvaccinated populations. Medical officials say there is conflicting information on whether it makes people more severely ill or whether young people are more vulnerable to it, but it's clear the contagiousness means more young people and children are getting sick.
"There is no question that the average age of people who are being hospitalized is going down," State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday.
"I don't know if it's clear that delta is worse in that age group or worse than any of the strains we've seen before. … But what you have though is one that is just much, much more transmissible. Because seniors are the ones that are predominately the vaccinated population in our state, the most vulnerable are these younger people. So you see them getting infected at much higher rates than we had before."
In the past four weeks, people ages 25 to 49 years, made up 14% of all COVID deaths in the state. And people 50 to 64 years made up about 29%.
The state is also seeing a surge in COVID cases among children, although deaths so far have been rare. The state this week set a record for pediatric hospitalizations with 50 children hospitalized with COVID-19.
In the past four weeks, 6% of cases of COVID-19 in Alabama have been among children under five while 8% have been among children between the ages of five and 17, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
"I am very concerned that the children of Alabama are experiencing more illness and hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19. Children can and do contract and spread COVID-19 disease. COVID-19 can be a very serious illness in children with at least 6% of children experiencing long-term consequences of this disease," said Dr. Karen Landers, a pediatrician with the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The Alabama Hospital Association said this week that 85% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
Christina Tidmore also had COVID-19 but recovered. She said she and her husband were not against vaccines – their children are current on their childhood immunizations.
But the couple was unsure about the coronavirus vaccine due to conflicting viewpoints on their social media feeds and in conversations.
She said that they didn't "know hardly anybody that had gotten real sick and figured we would be OK." Josh himself in the spring shared an article critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci, writing, "this is why I don't believe 99.9% of what's said about this virus."
Now, eligible family members are getting their coronavirus shots.
"It's just a fight out there. This side and that side, and political garbage. … You don't know who to believe," she said. Christina Tidmore said she has no doubt that they would have made a different choice now, knowing so many more people who have contracted the virus.
A jokester with a heart of gold, Josh loved to help others and to make people laugh, especially kids. He sauntered into Easter and Christmas gatherings wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume and ran around hugging family members. He would cheerfully photobomb beachgoers. He didn't hesitate to rush to help a motorcyclist injured in an accident near the north Alabama church his grandparents founded.
"He could make you feel better when nobody else could. He would listen. He genuinely cared about everybody," Christina Tidmore said.
The family is relying on their faith to get through and Christina Tidmore wants to share her husband's story to help people — as Josh would have wanted.
"If you can try to save your life, then you probably should," she said of vaccinations.
"I have lots of feelings and lots of regret and lots of what ifs," she said. ""you don't want to do that. You don't."