We have reached yet another new pandemic stage. Wednesday’s 7-day average of new American cases, according to The New York Times, was 41,310, more than any day before June 30th or between May 19th and July 20th. Deaths, with daily average 249, are doing much better, and hospitalizations, with 25,917 on most recent data date July 20th, are somewhere in the middle. Vaccinations have leveled at 530,000 per day, less than one-sixth of the April 13th 3.384 million peak but still remarkably high given how many people, 49% fully vaccinated and 7% more having had one shot and needing another (60% and 9% of adults), have already completed that.
There have been numerous recent articles about our current situation, many misleading and poorly summarized. Where actually are we?
First, the pandemic is now a problem of the unvaccinated. Per the Center for Disease Control, at of July 6th only 5,186 out of 156 million fully vaccinated Americans have contracted Covid-19. While more who have had the shots have been transmitting the disease to others, their chance of getting it themselves is tiny.
Second, even the more contagious Delta variant is no real danger to the vaccinated, even those who have had the Johnson & Johnson one-shot formula. We may well establish a need for booster doses, but we haven’t yet, and if so they will probably be more akin to tetanus and polio vaccines than anything urgent.
Third, there is another Covid-19 version, named Beta, which is rare here. Per Emily Anthes in July 19th’s New York Times “The Beta Variant: What Scientists Know,” it has been around since last year, yet has only one of every thousand American infections. At one point it accounted for 95% of South African virus samples, but has failed to have anywhere near Delta’s growth or the original strain’s total cases.
Fourth, the worst American infection rates are all in red states. The highest are now in southwestern Texas, the Jacksonville area, and all over the three columnar states Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. That coincides with low vaccination levels, which in turn correlate strongly with percentages of Republican voters.
Starting with the above, what should we be doing and not doing?
First, there is a case for requiring fully vaccinated people to wear masks, but it is weak. It prevents requiring others to trust, and it cuts down transmission of the virus by those who have had the shots. Otherwise, all points are in favor of continuing to end that as a requirement.
Second, businesses are completely entitled to set rules. Whether for employees, customers, or walk-ins, they can decide what to require, including mask wearing and documentation of vaccination status. There is nothing immoral or overly invasive about asking for the latter.
Third, we can debate the issue of paying unvaccinated people to get that done, but we need to do that quickly. I think that, beyond incentives worth about $50 apiece or less, that is inappropriate, as it establishes doubt about the medicine’s value and rewards the wrong people, but it still may be worth it, as more of them are getting sick and dying every day.
Fourth, we cannot justify mandating that people get the vaccine, but can restrict public access to locations and resources on that basis. It is past time for our governments to clearly state these two things.
Fifth, getting vaccinated is a choice, but an obvious one. At least it is from my standpoint. However, the past five or six years have taught us how powerful tribal identities can be even here, and how they can, in George Orwell’s words, convince many pursuing them to “reject the evidence of (their) eyes and ears.” If those seeking to belong are willing to die for that, it is their business, but it gives the appearance of dragging the rest of us down. That is sad, but, along with the first four points, it is reality, and we need to, like it or not, accept it.