DON’T ASK, DON’T YELL:  Five minutes ago, I wasn’t competent to drop the phrase “viral load” into a sentence. But in the intervening 300 seconds, naturally, I have become an instant expert.

To the extent that the so-called Delta variant — which first arrived on the world’s doorstep in December 2020 — has emerged as the COVID equivalent of “the fast zombie” it’s because of its viral load. It’s COVID on steroids. On meth. And in a really bad mood. 

Credit: Dario Castillejos/ Cagle Cartoons

Based on recent studies — a phrase that should always elicit deep skepticism — it turns out that a person infected with the Delta variant has generated 1,260 times more COVID virus in their body than someone infected with the very first COVID strain that showed up. And that’s about 10 times more than the Alpha variant, which until recently was the one kicking our ass.

Perhaps people are confused by the term “variant.” It suggests a gentle gradation of threat levels, akin to having your dog get in a fight with a racoon instead of a possum, or perhaps even a skunk. Not even close. Imagine driving your car into a wall at 20 miles an hour. You might walk away. How about at 200 miles an hour? Or 2,000?

What we don’t know, admittedly, is a whole lot. But based on preliminary research, the Delta variant is 50 percent more contagious than the other kind; and based on a study from Scotland, if you get it, your chances of getting hospitalized are twice as high. All this, we are told, makes it twice as transmissible as the other variants. 

The Big Wow here is that even if you have been vaccinated, you can still be infected and pack just as much “viral load” as someone who has not. Even if we stood dutifully in line to get our two shots, we can still be the unwitting suicide bomber out there, clueless about what we have in our backpacks.

So, yes, that means face masks. Let me say it nicely: Please. Let me say it not so nicely: Shut up.

I had a conversation this week with a man who for the past 11 years has led a union representing 750 school district employees. Mandated vaccinations and masks, he told me, did absolutely no good and were a violation of our inalienable rights. This was all part and parcel, he explained, of the Marxist regime running the show. A UCSB professor, always impeccably polite, has taken to testifying at Board of Supervisors and City Council meetings, explaining how the whole COVID thing is part of a government plot to make people dependent upon handouts.

Such conspiratorial thinking is the last refuge for people who can’t face the reality of chaos and disorder. To them, I point out that 85 percent of the COVID patients admitted have the fast-zombie variant. To them, I’d also add, one of seven patients had been vaccinated. And the numbers are going up. 

On July 1 — a couple of weeks after Joe Biden and Gavin Newsom declared “Mission Accomplished” — Santa Barbara reported nine new COVID cases. At that time, we had only 57 active cases countywide, 10 of whom were sick enough to be hospitalized. Four of those were in the ICU. 

As of August 3, we had 430 active cases, 31 of whom were hospitalized. And five of those were in the ICU. 

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The vampire was not dead. It was only sleeping. Anyone who watches bad horror movies would have known better. In this context, the stake we need to put through the vampire’s heart — imperfect as it admittedly is — is the vaccination. Maybe Cottage Hospital will need to restart its fabulously successful drive-through clinic by Patterson and Hollister, a model of brisk efficiency coupled with warm compassion. 

Of the 114,091 total pokes in the arm administered by Cottage Health practitioners, almost 100,000 took place at this clinic. All the pokees waited the requisite 15 minutes for adverse effects, making congenial small talk with the 643 volunteers mobilized into action to make this all happen. Not one of the vaccinated experienced the dreaded anaphylactic shock that sometimes occurs. Two patients — just two — exhibited mild reactions and were taken to the ER for evaluation. Both were released. 

Get the stake. When you have vampires to kill, you can’t afford the luxury of worrying about splinters. And based on Cottage’s experience, there were no splinters.

In the meantime, of course, we have the Fiesta debacle, sad, stupid, and, in hindsight, utterly predictable. Recent events have demonstrated that no, in fact, the show doesn’t need to go on. Like everyone else, I have been beyond desperate to get outside and crack a few dozen cascarón eggs over the heads of loved ones and total strangers. But with no parades and no mercados, there could be no cascarones. Let’s face it; a Fiesta without cascarones is like Easter without Easter eggs, Thanksgiving without the turkey, and Halloween without trick-or-treaters. 

In hindsight, the lack of public discussion by politicians, public health officials, and the media about holding so vast a super-spreader celebration — however truncated and amputated — has been appalling. The public messaging from Old Spanish Days, the group organizing Fiesta, hasn’t been much better. OSD hosted a press conference on the Mission steps this Tuesday at high noon to affirm the show was still going on while imploring the community to behave safely. Then after 5 p.m. that same day, an email quietly squeaked out stating that the public was being disinvited from Fiesta Pequeña and that the Noches de la Ronda — held in the Sunken Gardens — were deep-sixed.

By dribs and drabs, it would soon emerge that the afternoon events in the Sunken Gardens were also being scrubbed. County Public Health officials had quietly suggested it would not be advisable to hold these events in the current context on county property. Even more quietly, the folks at OSD decided to agree.

Clearly, it’s the right call. But what took us so long to get there? 

And if you crack an egg, wear a mask.


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