Y’know how sometimes in movies and TV shows (even Star Trek), they give you a “fake out” ending where you think the good guys have won, but suddenly the villain escapes or comes back to life or something and there’s an even bigger challenge to the hero leading up to the exciting climax?
Welcome to the summer of 2021.
A year ago, operation “Warp Speed” seemed to be our only hope to overcome this incomprehensible global pandemic. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths were reaching terrifyingly historic levels, and those of us who weren’t calling the whole thing a hoax were praying daily that a vaccine could be developed in the nick of time the way Dr. McCoy used to do on Star Trek.
Then we got the vaccine—four of them, in fact!—Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, and many people took their shot(s). But almost inconceivably, many did not. Actually, it’s not so inconceivable when you consider that the name “Warp Speed” carries with it the implication that the vaccines were rushed out rather than what really happened…which was actually building on a vaccination technology that had been decades in the making and testing and just needed a push over the finish line.
Remember how everything seemed to be so honky-dory this past July 4 when infections and hospitalizations (and deaths!) finally started to drop to encouraging levels? Many cities with mask mandates had already dropped them for outdoor activities and were starting to lift them for indoor areas, as well.
But then, the Delta Variant arrived. It sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it? Trekkies know “delta” as the quadrant of the galaxy that Voyager was stuck in for seven seasons. And “variants” are a big thing in the Marvel Universe thanks to the events of Loki. But don’t let the familiar-sounding terms lull you into a false sense of security because the Delta Variant of COVID-19 is deadly serious.
Just how deadly serious hit home to the fan film community this past week with the announcement of the passing of MICHAEL SYLVESTER from Coronavirus. Michael lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and before anyone says, “Oh, he must have been one of those anti-vaxxers/COVID-is-a-hoax idiots,” Michael took the virus VERY seriously. He always wore a mask in public (even in a state where such a thing is sometimes mocked), washed his hands constantly, and according to his close friend ERIC L. WATTS, Michael was indeed vaccinated.
A man celebrated and loved for having a big heart and wonderful sense of humor, Michael has been involved in the fan film community for a long time, working on the crew of STAR TREK: RENEGADES back in 2014-2015. Later on, he appeared in seven of VANCE MAJOR’s early MINARD saga fan films and then starred in the two-part MELBORNE fan film “Storm Front” in 2017 and 2018…
Although I didn’t know Michael personally, Vance wrote about his friend:
Micheal was a great man of passion, and he touched so many lives. This is a great loss, as he was one of the most compassionate men I knew. I’m very honored to have known him and humbled to have called him a brother.
Indeed, it was only last month that Michael began creating an upbeat weekly podcast called Geek Review where he would watch and analyze episodes of Vance’s various fan series. And even though his views never quite ticked into the triple-digit range, Michael was undeterred and released four episodes on Vance’s No Budget Productions – FilkFerret Productions YouTube channel. Michael always appeared to be upbeat and positive, with a wonderful, outgoing energy.
But on August 5, he posted this heartbreaking video to his Facebook page…
If you don’t want to watch it (it’s very emotional), Michael was devastated to learn of the death of a close friend of his, but the impact was multiplied when he tested positive for COVID and needed to quarantine for 14 days, meaning he would have to miss the his friend’s funeral.
A week later, Michael’s wife informed Vance of her husband’s passing.
It can happen so fast. That was the case with ASHLEY WYLES, who will be playing an Orion bridge officer in some upcoming AVALON UNIVERSE fan films.
At the end of June, Ashley was enjoying her second taste of fan film production at WARP 66 STUDIOS in northern Arkansas. A month later, she was IMing me some professional headshot photos she’d just had taken because Ashley is planning to start looking for acting gigs in the film industry, a childhood dream she finally decided to stop postponing and just go for it.
On August 5 (there’s that damn date again!), Avalon showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN let the team know that Ashley had been hospitalized with COVID. Being a part of that chat group, Ashley saw the post and recorded us all this quick update (which I’m posting here with her mission)…
Wow. That was such a change from Ashley’s usual boisterous and bubbly energy level, and we were all deeply worried for this wonderful woman who had become such a part of the Avalon family. Over the next few days, Ashley’s organs became septic and began to shut down. There was a blood clot in her lung, and her heart was beginning to fail.
On August 8, clergy were called to the hospital to pray with Ashley, and preparing to give emotional support to Ashley’s young children. But the following day, with the help of medicine, doctors, nurses, her fighting spirit, and (Ashley is convinced) the grace of God, she had fought her way through the worst of it and recovered enough to be discharged…but she is still facing some potentially some life-long complications from this infection. As it is, during her five days in the hospital, Ashley went to 136 pounds all the way down to 113. That’s 4 pounds a day!
I checked in with Ashley as I was writing this blog, and here’s how whe answered when I asked how she was feeling: “To be honest, I have slept almost all day. Being on straight Norepinephrine for days really messed with my heart. But I feel a lot better. It’s just a matter of regaining my strength.”
In case anyone is wondering, Ashley had not been previously vaccinated because of a compromised immune system from a preexisting medical condition (more than one, actually). So Ashley is one of those reasons why you can’t just say, “Well, if someone chooses not to get vaccinated, then getting COVD is their problem, not mine.” It’s everyone’s problem…or at least, it should be.
One of the reasons is that being vaccinated isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card…at least not with the Delta Variant. Last month, another Avalon cast member, TYLER DUNIVAN, lost his father and sister-in-law to COVID within a week of each other, and both had been vaccinated.
This is VERY serious, folks, and I plead with anyone who traveled to Las Vegas for this past weekend’s Creation Star Trek convention to PLEASE get tested before you return to your families, co-workers, friends, etc. I know that many (most?) fans who went to the con were vaccinated and got tested while there. But a lot of those fans have children at home who are too young to be vaccinated yet. (That’s the main reason I didn’t go, despite having been invited to host the fan film track.) Others might live with people who, like Ashley, can’t receive a vaccination.
And while I know that masks were required for attendees within the convention itself, once outside the designated areas, I saw many photos of fans having meals together in close proximity and riding together inside of cars and vans, smiling maskless for group selfies.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t eat together and have fun, or that they should wear their masks 100% of the time. But please be aware that even if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still carry the Coronavirus inside you. Ashley asked me to share the following with my readers:
From the time of you being infected, there is a 14-day window where you might not even have symptoms, but you could be spreading it. And then once the symptoms show and you’re feverish or coughing or sneezing, you’re still contagious. But the real danger is those first two weeks when people think they’re feeling fine, but they could be spreading this virus to their loved ones. And they’re not taking this seriously.
One such fan with a young child at home is Vance Major, who was able to attend the Las Vegas con with the help of supporters via a GoFundMe campaign set up by ALEC PETERS. As I wrote up this blog, I was texting with Vance, who was finishing the final leg of his journey home on a bus between Dallas and Kansas City because his connecting flight was canceled and the next wouldn’t be for another two days. I was getting information about Michael Sylvester for this blog, and I asked Vance if he was planning to be tested for COVID before returning home.
“As soon as I get off the bus,” he responded.
So please, my friends, be like Vance! There are so many places where you can be tested. Is it worth the risk not to be tested? You’ve had an awesome weekend in Las Vegas, yes; now end it the right way. Make sure that nothing from Vegas came back with you from Vegas (other than autographs, photos, dealer merch, and maybe a couple extra pounds).
PLEASE get yourself tested as soon as possible.
IMPORTANT ADDENDUM – Reader Dr. Kenneth Hayashida, Jr., MD posted the following to the comments section, and I’ve decided it needs to be added to the blog itself:
I would like to suggest that folks returning from STLV consider two tests separated by about 3-4 days. Testing on the day of return can remain false negative because the event is 3 days long with the incubation time of the virus between exposure and first symptoms being between 3 to 6 days (depends on the variant). Therefore, it would be prudent for folks returning from the convention to limit social in-person activity for about 3-4 days after returning from Las Vegas and then testing a second time about 4 days after returning from Las Vegas.