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Summer is only halfway done, but the carefree Covid season is over.
“This is not a problem we can take years to solve,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told Jake Tapper after releasing a 22-page health advisory.
The White House blames Facebook, in part, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the platform must move faster to take down misinformation, before people see it and not after it’s been posted for days.
This is the strange and deadly new Covid conundrum:
- The vaccine saves lives and we have it. Public health professionals are crying out that every single new US Covid death is preventable by a vaccine the country has in abundance.
- Some don’t trust it. Much of the US in numerous groups can’t be convinced to take the vaccine despite the experience of the past year and a half.
- Freedom to infect. Some Republican lawmakers and governors seem to be actively trying to push Americans away from the vaccine the health community insists will save lives.
Convincing the unconvinced. I watched a very sad interview Friday on CNN in which sisters from Arkansas who lost their unvaccinated mother to Covid explained that she just didn’t think the disease would come to her.
“I tried being very factual with her about what we know about Covid and that you could get it from somebody that isn’t even showing symptoms yet,” Rachel Maginn Rosser told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “And I don’t really, I don’t know if her opinion really changed. She was – she was stubborn and so she made up her mind that she wasn’t going to do it, and so she wasn’t going to do it.”
Breakthrough cases. The vaccine does not entirely stop transmission. There are more and more stories of vaccinated people contracting Covid. But they are not dying or, for the most part, being hospitalized.
Three Texas state House Democrats who are fully vaccinated have tested positive, the Texas House Democratic Caucus said Saturday. They were part of a group of state House Democrats who flew from Austin to Washington, DC, this week to break the state House’s quorum and block Republicans from passing a restrictive new voting law.
The New York Yankees, for the second time this season, had so-called “breakthrough” cases of Covid in vaccinated players, which postponed Thursday’s planned game against the Red Sox.
The NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen posted about his breakthrough Covid and encouraged people to get vaccinated even though they might still get the disease.
“Every health care professional I’ve come across in the last few days tells me the two shots of Pfizer I got in February are what’s keeping a 52-year-old like me from a far worse experience than the awful one I’m having,” he posted on Instagram from quarantine.
Not hesitancy. Hostility. The anti-vaccine rhetoric pushed on Fox News and spread on social media sites like Facebook sounds absurd when it is carved into soundbites – listen here – but it is helping to turn vaccine hesitancy into outright hostility. Conservatives at CPAC last weekend cheered the idea of low vaccination numbers.
Cases were down. Now they’re up. Cases are rising, to varying degrees, in all 50 states, an abrupt switch from just weeks ago.
The US seven-day average of new cases hit a low the week of June 20, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In less than a month, that figure has more than doubled, to 26,306 daily new cases.
Vaccinations have stalled. The pace of new full vaccinations – about 302,000 per day – is less than a quarter of the high mark of 1.3 million vaccinations a day during the spring, according to CDC data.
Just under half the US population – 48.4%, or about 160 million people – is fully vaccinated. A higher rate – 56.6% – of the population eligible for the shots has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Re-Masking. In Los Angeles County, officials are reinstituting an indoor mask requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. More than 1,500 new cases were reported in Los Angeles on Thursday, up from just 210 in mid-June, according to data from the county, where more than 10 million people live.
“We expect to keep masking requirements in place until we begin to see improvements in our community transmission of COVID-19,” said LA County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, according to CNN’s report. “But waiting for us to be at high community transmission level before making a change would be too late.”
Los Angeles has a relatively high level of vaccinations. Other areas, while not as densely populated, are at risk because their populations aren’t nearly as vaccinated.
Vaccination helps slow transmission. “If you go look at the New England states and up in the mid-Atlantic states that are doing so well and where almost all the adults and adolescents are vaccinated, what that has the added benefit of is really reducing the overall level of transmission in the community,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s John King on Friday. “So that also protects some of the unvaccinated individuals.”
Anticipating hot spots. He added: “On the other hand, you look at the other extreme, places like Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, almost no one is vaccinated except the older Americans. What you’re going to see is transmission is going to accelerate and we’re going to see lots of adolescents and young people get sick.”
The Delta variant could be more transmissible in schools. More Hotez: “The thing that really worries me is here in the South, sometimes the school year starts pretty early in August. And now we’re going to have all those people mixing together in the schools. This is going to be tough.”
The schools question will be hotly debated again. Many Americans got more comfortable with the idea of in-person schooling at the end of the last school year, when cases were dropping, masks were commonplace and vaccine rates were rising.
There’s no indication the FDA will soon authorize Covid vaccines for children under 12, however.
And many Americans, vaccinated or not, gave up on masks after the CDC said they were not needed, outdoors or in, for most situations as long as a person had been vaccinated.
Forced freedoms. Republican-led states have tried to outdo each other in limiting the power of cities and counties to impose Covid restrictions in case of a new outbreak.
- Cities can’t impose lockdowns or issue new mask requirements.
- School districts can’t require masks, even though children are not currently eligible for vaccines.
- Adolescents cannot be required to be vaccinated for in-person public school, despite the long history of vaccine requirements for other diseases.
Now, in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey’s office has demanded that school districts drop a requirement for unvaccinated students exposed to Covid to quarantine. The districts are fighting the demand.
Nearby California about-faced on a strict statewide mask mandate for K-12 students and ultimately decided to leave the decision up to local districts.
One governor’s complaint. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed such a bill to keep schools from requiring vaccinations, although he’s also argued that the Food and Drug Administration must fully approve the vaccines quickly, which currently have only emergency use authorization, even though the government is urgently trying to get Americans to take them. Nearly half the country has!
“It is past time for the FDA to take into account that hundreds of millions of people have received these vaccines, and move it from an emergency basis over to a regular basis,” DeWine said this week, according to WBNS. “That will help us, in Ohio and across the country, to get more people vaccinated.”
DeWine has a valid point about the FDA, but his signing of the bill probably didn’t help with vaccine hesitancy, either. Ohio’s 46% vaccination rate trails the national average.