Bearing Witness to the Pandemic April 2021

April 1- 10, 2021

The month begins with 30.5 million cases and 550,000 deaths in the US. The average daily death rate is still hovering around 500 from over 65,000 new cases each day. This is still too high but a huge improvement from last fall and early winter.

Nearly 20% of all Americans, over 65 million, are now said to be fully vaccinated from over 150 million shots. A large majority, nearly 70%, of those over 65 and most vulnerable have received at least one dose. Nearly 4 million shots are being administered on some peak days across the country. What an accomplishment that gives us all hope we have turned the corner.

With a plentiful supply of vaccines, President Biden moved up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible to April 19 from May 1. Some states have also opened up their vaccinations to those as young as 16. The requirement to register is finally being dropped as many sites now welcome walk-ins.

It cannot come to soon as states like Michigan are definitely in a deadly fourth wave where rates of new infections have nearly doubled. New variants and a public that is less vigilant with relaxing restrictions are said to be the cause. Younger people continue to be the victims of this wave more so than the aged. The good news is that they are far less likely to be hospitalized or even experience symptoms. But that is also the bad news is that because of this they are likely to pass virus to others unknowingly.

Some public health officials worry that this could be the most perilous time. With large sections of the population vaccinated and acting less cautious, some still refusing to be vaccinated, and others thinking the storm has passed so why worry, the nation could be surprised with a resurgence if we are not vigilant.

Large percentages of minority populations of color as well as white Christian Evangelicals are still resisting vaccination. This despite increasing calls by their church leaders to take the damn shot. A rash of falsehoods, lies, and conspiracies about COVID and vaccines are circulating across social media. As example, nearly 1 in 4 Americans think the pandemic was likely created intentionally or that 500,000 deaths is a hoax. Researchers have found the former President Trump was responsible for much of this misinformation if not disinformation.

Christians around the world celebrate their most holy holiday, Easter, for the second year under restrictions of the global pandemic. Church services and public gatherings have been banned in many countries, with a few US churches offering outdoor sunrise events. The Pope used the occasion in his address to plead for more vaccines to be distributed to the poorest countries.

During a recent two-week period fewer than 2 million doses provide by the international COVAX program were cleared to ship to less than 100 countries in the developing world; an appalling low number of doses compared to the number available to rich countries. It is estimated that less than 7% of the world’s population has received a dose. And only 2% of the nearly 700 million doses produced so far have gone to Africa.  Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, reminded the vaccinated world that so much of the unvaccinated world threatens not only them, but us, as it could breed new mutant variants that our current vaccines might prove ineffective at countering.

President Biden echoed similar concerns about those in the US who drop their guard down too early, or decide not to get vaccinated at all, are threatening members of their own families, schools, churches, and communities by creating space for new variants to emerge. Polls indicate that nearly 3 in 4 Americans approve the way the new president is handling the pandemic and speaking truth by leveling with the nation.

Europe is facing their third wave, having avoided one of the waves in the US last year that occurred because of Trump’s recklessness. Britain and France are in near lockdown conditions as are some eastern and southern European counties like Poland, Ukraine, Greece, and Italy.

While much progress has been made in the northern hemisphere, Brazil and India are now seeing out of control surges. The death toll in Brazil has surpassed 350,000 with some 4,000 new fatalities each day. India reported over 100,000 new cases in a single day.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who was Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, said what most of us already knew. Trump’s negligent dismissal of science, followed by his distortions, lies, lack of precautions or action on warnings were responsible for the majority of deaths in the pandemic. She said the 300,000 deaths could have been otherwise avoided. Three hundred thousand.

Politics have entered the debate over the need for digital health passports that declare the holder has been vaccinated. Can schools, colleges, airlines, travel providers, passport control, restaurants, shops, businesses, etc. be able to require their students, customers, tourists, or patrons prove they have been vaccinated? It is not that unheard of as for decades travelers to many parts of the world have had to show their immunization records as have students entering schools in the US.

The economic recovery from the pandemic is accelerating, at least in those countries which are using debt to fuel it, like the US which is expected to grow by over 5% this year. However, the IMF says that the global economic recovery is more like a bi-polar “K” with the rich doing well, even better than before the pandemic, but the poor doing worse.  Treasury Secretary Yellen warns that there could be a long term crisis with permanent scarring creating greater inequality, poverty, and instability that threatens all economies of the world.

The college admission process for millions of high school graduates may forever be changed by the pandemic. With requirements for SAT and ACT tests dropped by many universities, some elite colleges are reporting record applications. However, acceptance rates are much lower and competition much more severe, especially for the disadvantaged or marginalized students. Yet, many students report taking a gap year with the risk that they will never resume their pursuit of a higher education that has become ever more so competitive and expensive.

April 11 – 17

After a very few reports of unusual blood clots occurring in women, the FDA and CDC have ordered the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine be paused across the country. Of the nearly 7 million who have received this vaccine, representing less than 5% of total vaccine shots given out, there were 6 adverse reactions and one death from blood clots. This is extraordinary low number for a vaccine, but still alarming. In Europe some countries have also halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, it is clear to all that the risks from COVID are far far greater than those from this or any vaccine.

Vaccine manufacturers are urgently working on new versions to fend off variants that are on the rise across the globe. The expectation now emerging is that most people will need to receive a booster shot within the year because the first vaccine wore off or new variants have made it ineffective.

The week ends with the global death toll from COVID surpassing 3 million from a confirmed case count of about 14 million.  The true number is believed to be far higher because of government concealments and reporting irregularities.  After falling in recent months the daily rate in fatalities is on the rise again averaging some 12,000 per day. New cases around the world are also rising above 700,000 per day.

Countries like India, Portugal, and Brazil are suffering the most with a slow vaccine rollout and record high rates of infection.  India is reporting over 200,000 a day as the latest surge overwhelms their fragile health care system. As a results major cities are in lockdown and millions of migrant workers are leaving cities returning back to their rural villages, likely taking the virus with them.

Despite still being in the middle of a health emergency, Republican lawmakers across the country continue to work to limit the power of their governors, cities, and public health agencies to issue emergency restrictions like those required in a pandemic. For these partisans, denying the risk and harm from the pandemic, and protecting business instead of constituents, is more important than public health. The right of private businesses, schools, shops, employers, restaurants, and other organizations to require their customers, patrons, and employees be vaccinated is also being contested.

Predictably, the rates of inoculation between red and blue states is becoming wider. Liberal states on the coasts have the highest rates while conservative Midwest and southern states report the lowest.  In some polls nearly half of Republican men said they would not take a shot for themselves. Two in five Republicans say they are reluctant or hesitant.  So I guess they won’t do it even for the benefit of their families, community, health providers, local economies or nation at large. Real patriots and good Christians these folks are.

With vaccines plentiful, the homeless on the streets of American cities are now seen getting vaccinated.  Those incarcerated in prison are as well. However, both populations have been grossly undertested, or underreported if they were, despite being high risk.

Nearly 90,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in a 12-month period ending during the middle of the pandemic. This was a 29% increase from the previous year. It is thought that this is another consequence of the pandemic where many suffered from mental health issues, a loss of job, higher stress levels, all while access to treatment programs and social support networks was limited.

The economic response to the pandemic by the Federal government continues to fuel an inequality in wealth. People with too much time and too much money are creating inflation and asset bubbles in the prices of art, cryptocurrency, real estate, nonfungible digital tokens, and of course the stock market.

It has been clear for sometime that the country is not suffering equally and we are not all in this pandemic together. As in much of our history and country, there are the haves and have nots. The disparity in changes to employment status, incomes, net wealth, access to health care, home prices, academic performance of children, and life expectancy all tell a story of two Americas.

Despite an emphasis on getting vaccinated the rates of testing have declined. This is bad news for catching variants as the virus spreads and mutates. The reluctance of some to get vaccinated, much less tested, is only giving the virus more runway to develop mutations which can invalidate all the work and suffering we have experienced to date.

The first reports of breakthrough infections are emerging where those who were vaccinated still come down with COVID.  Nearly 30% of those infected were asymptomatic, which is both good and bad as they were not sick but could still spread it to others not knowing they were carriers. Sadly, almost half of these were healthcare workers. But the rates are extremely low with less than 6,000 cases reported from 76 million people who have been fully vaccinated. That is less than 1 in every 13,000 vaccinations, or 0.008%.

The week ends with nearly 200 million shots into arms increasing at a rate of an average 3.4 million per day. It cannot come fast enough as new infections are rising to over 70,000 per day due largely to new more contagious variants in the US from the United Kingdom, which is not thought to be the most prevalent strain in the US.

April 18 – 24

The US hits a milestone of one half of all adults, about 130 million Americans,  having received at least one dose. Nearly one third are now fully vaccinated. This week all Americans become eligible for receiving the shots.

But a worrisome sign is that demand for vaccines is falling rapidly in many states and stalling in others, with reservation slots in clinics going unclaimed. Some counties are even turning down new shipments of the vaccines allotted to them. In a month’s time it seems we have gone to a panic because of a lack of vaccines to an overabundance due to a lack of demand.

If vaccination levels don’t exceed 70% it is feared by experts that we may never develop herd immunity. That will give the virus room to mutate and perhaps even become a variant that is resistant to the vaccines we have all used. Scientists have already been surprised by how nimble and quickly the coronavirus has been at changing itself. So if enough don’t get vaccinated to the present variants, a new pandemic could start all over again. Why don’t those who are hesitant to take a shot understand this? Or more likely, why don’t they want to understand?

In Europe the new variants are contributing to the deaths of nearly 20,000 people per week, more than a year ago. France is reporting over 50,000 new cases per week, due largely to low vaccination rates and increasing fatigue of lockdowns.

The humanitarian crisis in India gets more horrific each week, despite a lockdown of 3 weeks in many parts of the country. Nearly 350,000 new cases were reported in just one day this past week along with over 2,500 new deaths. In some major cities the positive test rates are a staggering 50%.  Officials there also blame the development of new variants. With 1.4 billion people, if the fires of the pandemic cannot be put out there, then the whole world remains at risk for the next year. President Biden understands this and has announced that the US would be sending urgently needed aid.

Federal and state officials have resumed use of the J&J vaccine after a pause of several weeks due to concerns about blood clotting in mostly middle age women. The pause was lifted once health officials came up with a treatment plan for anyone who came down with the unusual blood clots where traditional treatments made things worse. The J&J vaccine is an important tool for some segments of the population because it only requires one shot and is a more traditional type of vaccine, compared to mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna.

We are approaching some segments of the population having received their shots six months ago. As such, there is little data to how long the vaccines provide immunity. In this manner, we are all participating in a big walking clinical trial.

As the majority of older Americans are fully vaccinated, more youth are becoming ill and hospitalized, often from the faster-spreading variants. The good news is that a far higher percentage of those who are even seriously ill will not die, even if hospitalized, and go on to full recovery.

New research has found that older COVID long haulers can suffer harm to nearly every organ in their body.  Some initial survivors may die up to a year afterwards from complications and have a risk of death that is 50% greater than that of the flu. Special post-Covid medical clinics are springing up across the country.

The pandemic has incited all new relocation patterns across the country. There is an exodus out of large cities into smaller ones and resort communities. The pandemic seemed to have accelerated changes that were already starting to occur before it set in.

More businesses and educational institutions are announcing they require proof of vaccination cards for their workers, students, customers and guests. Not surprising, scams are springing up on the Internet offering fake cards. Only in America do we try to make money off of misery. Without a foolproof digital passport system in place for vaccinations, it is obvious that this requirement will be hard to enforce. So that means if you are at a job, class, event, or tour that mandates vaccination, who really knows if the person sitting next to you is really vaccinated..

April 25 – 30

Over 100 million Americans now fully vaccinated. Daily vaccination rates are running 2.5 to 3 million. However, rates are dropping due to those who remain hesitant to take a shot, estimated to be 20-25% of the population.

An astonishing accomplishment worthy of celebration is that over 1 billion vaccine doses have now been administered to over 570 million people around the world in just four months time. What a remarkable feat of science, policy, and manufacturing. However, more than 75% of all vaccines have gone to just 10 countries.

As a result, restrictions continue to come off across the country. The CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can now gather outside without wearing a mask when in small groups of families and friends who are also vaccinated. Restaurants and bars are opening back up. Travel is restarting. Amusement parks are opening. Roads are becoming congested.  The economy surged at a annualized rate of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of the year. The unemployment rate is now at 6%.

However, news from around the world is not so good. India is reporting 300-400,000 new cases per day with over 3,000 daily deaths bringing their total to over 200,000 fatalities. It is thought about 18 million cases exist in the country. Less than 2% of their 1.4 billion population has been vaccinated. How sad as the country is also the world’s largest producer of vaccines for others but has been unable to save themselves.  A new untested homegrown variant is responsible for many of the deaths. The effectiveness of existing vaccines is unclear. As a result, international travel to and from the country has once again been stopped.

Brazil is also suffering mightily having lost 100,000 lives in the past month, bringing their total to 400,000 deaths, second only to the US.  Patients there are younger and sicker when they end up hospitalized, compared to their first wave of infections.  In Europe the UK variant that is fueling the current wave is said to be 60% more transmissible and 67% more deadly than the original version of the virus experienced during the first wave.

It should be clear to everyone that until the virus is contained everywhere around the world, and new variants are thus unable to propagate, that we everywhere are also at continued risk. Those in America who think this is all over for us are likely mistaken.

The month ends with over 32.5 million cases reported in the US and some 575,000 fatalities. There are still some 40,000 patients hospitalized with COVID across the country, a number that does not seem to be improving.

The above news items have been taken from a number of local, regional, national and international news media  including print, broadcast, and digital sources, but no social media. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

The featured image is from the CDC COVID Data Tracker showing trends in the rate of vaccinations.

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