Bearing Witness to the Pandemic July 2021

As the month begins, the global death count from COVID passes the 4 million mark. Many think that number, already tragic, is far lower than the actual count.  The highest death rates are currently in the Southern Hemisphere. Some 3.3 billion doses of various vaccines have been administered, leaving the vast majority of the planet’s population vulnerable, nearly one and a half years after the pandemic began.

The US itself is still below a 50% fully vaccination status and vaccination drives are stalling out despite renewed attempts.  Most mass vaccination sites across the country have now closed, not because the pandemic is past, but because they have few takers. The number of daily vaccinations has dropped below 500,000. Call them hesitant, uninformed, misinformed or simply stubborn or stupid, but the result is the same. People are getting sick, going into the hospital and needlessly dying because of all this. Some of the saddest and most avoidable cases are kids at church school camps, that refuse to shutter for the summer or require vaccinations or masking, who get infected then return home and infect their families.

The argument to get vaccinated can be summed up in one simple sentence: over 99% of those who are now dying from COVID were unvaccinated. And 97% of those requiring hospitalization are unvaccinated.

The US has clearly entered a 4th wave of the coronavirus due to the far more contagious Delta variant which now counts for more than half of all new cases. After several months of falling infections the numbers have started rising again with an average at the start of the month of over 24,000 new cases a day. Yet, many states, like Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida, along with their elected officials are ignoring it, hoping it will just go away. It will not. Hospitals in these states are reporting a surge of more patients, especially those who are younger and sicker, that surpasses the previous peaks of last winter and spring.

Outbreaks are starting to reoccur in institutions with large numbers in close proximity to each other, such as prisons. More states are being put on travel advisory and warning lists. Requirements to wear masks  are reappearing in some localities, despite the CDC relaxing its guidance for schools this fall to require masks.

President Biden has called out anti-vaxxers and their social media platforms for spreading  outright lies that are resulting in needless deaths.  The hypocrisy of so-called conservative and patriotic news pundits on Fox News, along with many Republicans perpetuating misinformation and conspiracies about vaccine safety, is becoming one of the saddest chapters in American history. There is nothing conservative nor patriotic about their actions and words.

America has once again devolved into two Americas, those who are and are not vaccinated. The Surgeon General stated that this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated and that health misinformation is costing lives. The CDC says we are not out of the woods yet.

Vaccine maker Pfizer has surprised US officials by announcing plans to distribute a third dose as a booster, once approved. The company says that the booster within 12 months of the last of the two original shots can help prevent infections from more transmissible new variants like the Delta mutation.  Antibodies wane over time, but since there are no conclusive studies of when they fall below a critical level, a booster shot seems prudent. Pfizer reported that efficacy of the vaccine peaks in the first two months, but then begins dropping off at the rate of about 6% very two  months thereafter.

Another sad statistic due significantly to the pandemic is the surge in deaths during 2020 due to drug overdose, like meth and fentanyl. It rose by nearly 30% to over 90,000 last year. Unemployment, family stress, despair, and the closure of treatment facilities are all said to have contributed to the rise as well as more potent and deadly street drug combinations.

Loneliness may also have been a factor. The Labor Dept. reports that last year the share of employed people working from home nearly doubled to over 40%.  They also found people spent more time last year in non-social settings by sleeping, watching TV, and playing computer games.

A horrific finding is that average life expectancy last year in the US dropped by a staggering 1.5 years. This was the largest drop since the carnage of WWII. And even worse is that this was the average. The drop for Black and Hispanic Americans was almost 3 years. Heartbreaking.

During the middle of the month, as Delta variant infections explode among the unvaccinated across the country, mask mandates and other restrictions are reappearing. But the same GOP politicians who laid the seeds for doubt which caused many not to get vaccinated are now leading the charge against these new measures by restricting the authority of local governments and health departments. Go figure. Another example of fake conservatives demanding their liberties and freedoms but shunning the civic responsibility and burden for consequences that comes with them. By the end of the month some Republicans and their talking heads were begrudgingly encouraging people to get vaccinated. I guess they were smart enough to figure out that killing off  your base does not make good politics.

The rise in more breakthrough cases is causing more confusion as some think that this is why they should not bother with getting vaccinated. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are reports of vaccinated people getting infected and sick, it is extremely rare for them to become seriously ill that they require hospitalization or die from COVID. Just over 5,000 people out of 160 million vaccinations were breakthrough cases that were hospitalized or ended up dying.

More nations, organizations, offices, and venues around the world have announced they will require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to enter. Italy will require such to attend museums or dine indoors. Britain has also announced it wants to require proof to enter night clubs.

Despite a 4th wave well underway in the US, many of the temporary safety net programs put into place are expiring. This includes extended unemployment benefits, forbearance on student loans and mortgage loans, food assistance benefits, open enrollment for health insurance,  family and medical leave  provisions, and more. If there was any good news from the last year it is that these programs, many direct payment in nature, were reported to have pushing poverty to the lowest level on record.

More and more employers and institutions are now requiring vaccinations, especially those in health care. The Veterans Administration, Mayo Clinic, Google, Federal Workers, and New York City employees, are among the growing numbers. That said, a shocking 38% of nursing home workers are said to be not fully vaccinated. Some restaurants and bars are asking for proof of vaccination to dine.

The nation is becoming further polarized and divided between those who got the vaccine and are willing to wear masks and those who refuse to do both. Tempers and frustration with each other are on the rise across states, cities, and even within families. City and county council meetings have become raucous affairs across the country. In St. Louis County, after the county executive who is a doctor mandated indoor masking, his Health Director was said to have been verbally heckled by anti-vaxxers which caused him to lose it and finger the crowd as he left the podium.

In the middle of the month daily infections had risen to over 50,000 per day, then by the end of the month were at 100,000. Missouri, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alabama remain the leading states of infections and hospitalizations. Florida reported a record 10,200 people hospitalized adding over 1,500 per day. All while Governor DeSantis refuses to allow communities to enforce new health restrictions. Hospital morgues in Southwest Missouri are said to be full. Positivity test rates across much of those states are double digits, numbers not seen since last year.

Experts are now predicting that given current trends, and the reluctance of officials to mandate new restrictions or the public to follow voluntary guidelines, that the 4th wave will peak in another 4-8 weeks with infection rates of a million per week rivaling those early on in the pandemic. The good news is that they do not expect hospitalization and deaths to be as bad, despite nearly all of these being the unvaccinated. However, in one simulation daily fatalities could rise to over 1,000 per day which is even more tragic than before because nearly all of these could have been avoided, unlike before when the vaccine was unavailable. Some patients are reporting to be dying and swearing off the vaccine while still in denial of the pandemic as if it was a hoax.

As a result, schools are rethinking their plans for fall back to classes. Some businesses are also reversing plans to reopen offices and require employees to return. All this because of half of the US population who were too hesitant, uninformed, misinformed, unpatriotic, or hard headed to get the damn shot.

The EU passed the US in COVID vaccinations during the month, despite getting a slower start that the US. Rates in America hit a wall early in the summer, just as the Delta variant was taking hold. The EU reports that 58% of its total population, adults and kids, have received at least one shot. Some countries like Spain, Britain, and Denmark are much higher, above70%, while Eastern European countries like Bulgaria and Romania are far behind.

Reports of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated continue to emerge. A new CDC report has found that vaccinated people can still harbor tremendous amounts of the virus and shed it even while asymptomatic. The net is that vaccinated people may be as contagious as those who are unvaccinated.  And the Delta variant is said to be twice as transmissible as early versions. That has caused the CDC to reverse itself and recommend mask wearing for anyone indoors, with large groups, or outside their family protected pods. However, vaccines are still reliable in preventing those vaccinated from becoming severely ill, even though they may be vectors to the unvaccinated who can become so sick they require hospitalization. It is thought that even if the vaccines may not keep the virus from breeding in the nose, it does slow if not stop it from entering the lungs where it causes the most damage.

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 number of daily infections.

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