Bearing Witness to the Pandemic September 2021

As the month begins the US passes 40 million confirmed cases with 650,000 deaths. Experts predict we will end the year with fatalities topping 750,000 from the start of the pandemic. Who could have predicted or even imagined these grim numbers when all this started in early 2020? Members of former President Trump’s COVID task force had estimated that 100,000-240,000 citizens might eventually die. The final numbers may be an order of magnitude higher.

The US is averaging about 150,000 new cases a day early in the month. The average daily death rate continues to rise from the 4th wave due to the Delta variant, or more accurately due to the unvaccinated which allowed it to get rolling. The death toll hit 1,500 per day with most of these in the unvaccinated South. The state of Florida experienced an average of 325 per day from nearly 20,000 new infections, all while its Governor DeSantis continues to rage against school boards and mayors. In some parts of the state, only 1 in 3 residents are fully vaccinated and 90% of those hospitalized from COVID are unvaccinated.

School seasons have begun across the nation with many conservatives refusing to protect students, teachers, and their families by attempting to invalidate or defy orders to wear masks or require vaccinations. Wearing a mask in public is such a simple thing to protect someone else and the common good. And it allows schools to reopen and education to restart. This is not conservatism or patriotism at all. It is the opposite. It is a shame. It is a tragedy.

Meanwhile, educational consultants report that the pandemic has amplified performance gaps  along racial and socioeconomic lines where many students are falling up to a grade level behind while hundreds of thousands of others have completely dropped out and are missing. It’s no wonder that stressed out school teachers, administrators and board members are quitting in droves across the country. Another lasting impact of COVID.

Public meetings of school boards and city councils concerning mask mandates remain so contentious and full of misinformation that YouTube has blocked access to some of them because they violate community rules about false claims.

As schools reopen around the country, the least inoculated states are reporting the highest rates of infection among children. And some kids are dying.  New pediatric cases reached a record 250,000 for the first week of September bringing the total to over 5 million. Like adults, the hospitalization rate for infected unvaccinated kids is about 10 times that of their vaccinated peers. Thankfully, more large school systems across the US, such as LA,  are requiring vaccines for all students teachers, and staff. Sadly in Texas, a mask-averse, vaccine-hesitant community failed to require masks, much less vaccines, until two elementary teachers died.

The CDC published a report confirming that unvaccinated people are over 10 times more likely to die from COVID compared to those fully vaccinated.

The UN program to distribute vaccines internationally, COVAX, slashed its forecast for the remainder of the year of doses that will be available to poorer countries. The WHO restated its opposition to administering booster shots in the wealthier nations when billions across the developing world have not had a single shot. No one should be surprised when yet another variant comes racing out of the third world because with such low immunity the virus had more time to mutate.  The US is reported to have donated over 140 million doses to over 90 countries. Of the 5 billion doses administered so far, about 80% of them have gone to upper and middle income countries. About 2.3 billion people around the world are said to be fully vaccinated, leaving  some 5.5 billion who are not. Another 1 billion globally are estimated to have been infected by COVID.

The effectiveness of the existing vaccines against the Delta variant have a 35 point spread difference that continues to widen after 6 months. Not surprising, more developed countries around the world, like Israel, are speeding up booster shots.

President Biden this month declared what many of us are thinking; that our patience is wearing thin with those who refuse to take a shot and thus risk themselves, others and the economic recovery. He then issued the most significant federal executive orders and agency rules since the pandemic began. Biden proposed a Labor Dept. regulation that would require all employers with over 100 employees to require workers be vaccinated. He also said that all federal workers will be required to vaccinate as well as all health care workers, and called on states to require schools to do the same. Republicans, who by their resistance to support masking and vaccinations brought the county into a 4th deadly wave that is now killing children, whined about the loss of their freedoms. But what about the freedom of the rest of us to not be exposed to the variants they allow to propagate? And they are paying the price for it. Their political base is dying from COVID, even radio pundits and demagogues who denied the pandemic was real and rejected vaccinations.

As the month nears its end, over 2,000 a day are now dying from COVID. While still below the heartbreaking rates of 3,400 in January, the numbers are still horrific. Especially because most of them did not have to die if they just would have been vaccinated. And in some states nearly one-third of all new cases are children.

Some hospitals have declared a state of crisis care which allows them to ration limited health care resources. This of course because ERs and ICU’s are full of sick largely unvaccinated COVID patients. Non-COVID patients, both vaccinated and not, who need emergency services are suffering and even dying due to delays in treatment.  Routine care, surgeries, and other procedures continue to be postponed across the country which will result in more suffering and deaths that could have been avoided.

Hospitals around the country are reporting a surge of verbal abuse, threats of violence, and physical assaults on their staffs. So many that employees are being offered panic buttons while on duty to report an attack. Most assaults are related to patients and families suffering from COVID. Most of these are the unvaccinated, some of which who continue to deny they have COVID.

Hospital employees are also feeling the additional pressure of becoming fully vaccinated or losing their jobs. Most facilities are reporting over 90% compliance, but that means hundreds if not thousands are facing disciplinary actions or termination for refusing to get the shot.

An FDA convened panel formally recommended that those over 65 or who are immunocompromised and risk severe illnesses be eligible to receive third booster of the Pfizer vaccine. This creates yet more controversy about vaccines as President Biden only a few weeks ago said that everyone should soon be able to get a third vaccine. The panel said there was little evidence that a third booster was beneficial for most of the population, many who are still within their first six months of receiving their shots.  Existing vaccinations are said to still provide excellent resistance to severe illness that leads to hospitalization or death.

The CDC met a week later and approved Pfizer booster vaccinations for all those that the FDA had recommended, plus those who were at high risk such as those in health care, nursing homes, or who are 50-64 with underlying health conditions.

With children 12 and older approved for receiving the vaccine, Pfizer announced that the vaccine also works for kids 5-11. They will now seek US authorization since their study is the first step for authorization for that age group. The vaccine is reported to be 1/3 the dosage for adults.

The economic recovery is slowing with millions of people refusing to reenter the workforce and millions of consumers refusing to spend or travel as they once did.  Millions of jobs are going unfilled and segments of the economy are reporting shortages of goods and services. The unvaccinated are largely to blame for this. They are not just risking their own lives but the livelihood of many others.

The Biden administration announced new rules for international travelers. All adults entering the US will have to be fully vaccinated in addition to showing proof of a negative test 72 hours before departure. Those not fully vaccinated will need to show a test within 24 hours of departing, undergo testing upon their return, and be subject to contact tracing. It is hoped this will allow more international leisure and business travel which remains down by over 50% from pre-pandemic levels.

Another grim statistic of the 2020 pandemic year. The FBI reported that killings in the US rose by a heartbreaking 30% last year. It was the largest one-year increase ever reported.

Growing research points out that those who care enough about themselves, their families, and communities to wear masks and get vaccinated are the most anxious and scared. And the irony is that those who refuse to mask up or get a shot are the least worried for themselves or loved ones. when they should be. Over 60% of vaccinated say they are highly worried, but only 25% of those who are unvaccinated say that.  That just proves that those who are vaccinated are justified to be worried when so many who are not vaccinated go about as if everything is normal, taking few precautions.

How did things get so upside down in America I do not understand. God, please have mercy on us all that in each our own ways allow grace to soothe our aching spirit.

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 American Association of Pediatrics at show showing trends in the number of cases in children ages 12-17.

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