According to researchers at John Hopkins University viruses mutate frequently, a structural change that is part of the virus life cycle. It enables them to become more transmissible and virulent. We are now experiencing this with the Delta variant. It is twice as transmissible, and perhaps more virulent, than the original COVID-19 germ. In the last two weeks of July, between 80 and 87 percent of all new U.S. cases (92,000) were caused by the Delta variant. The hospitalized were predominately unvaccinated.
The Good: As of this writing over three quarters of American adults (77 percent) have either gotten the vaccine or say they are likely to, up 2 points from mid-July, with the number of Americans who say they will not get the vaccine declining to 15 percent.
Equally good, among the unvaccinated, approximately half say an employer mandate or a raise or bonus for vaccinations would convince them to get the shot. After the federal government made the decision to require its employees to receive the vaccine, private companies began following suit. United Airlines, Tyson Chicken, Microsoft, Uber, DoorDash, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Walmart, and more are requiring their employees to be vaccinated; some provide cash bonuses for doing so.
We are in a war with a virus that is stronger than we are. Hospital overflows in the South are indicative it can again shut us down. Other than avoiding contact with one another (masking and distancing), the only real weapon we have are the COVID vaccines.
Over 4.43 billion COVID vaccines have been administered worldwide. If something bad was going to happen, it clearly would have surfaced by now.
The Bad: Last year Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, promoted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. The event attracted 200,000 people, producing a super-spreader event and about 19 percent of total U.S. COVID-19 cases (260,000 Americans nationwide). This year she is riding in the event. It is expected to bring around 700,000 people into close contact in South Dakota, threatening yet another super-spreader event. Noem says this about public health research and guidelines: “It’s not science, it’s fiction.”
South Dakota is expected to generate $800 million from the event. The state has suffered 125,581 cases with 2,050 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Ugly: Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gregg Abbott of Texas are both running for re-election (DeSantis seeing himself as Trump’s heir-apparent if the former president decides not to run in 2024). They have both unconscionably politicized children for their respective political benefits by playing to their bases.
While they are not aggressively promoting vaccinations in their states, both governors, like their mentor Donald Trump (and Rupert Murdock, owner of Fox News), have been vaccinated. While their lack of aggressively promoting vaccinations is “bad,” their unabashed manipulation of children for their respective political purposes is venal.
Florida is now the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., accounting for 20.4 percent of new U.S. cases. On August 1, it broke a record for COVID hospitalizations of more than 10,000 people.
Pediatric hospitals in Florida have become overwhelmed with young COVID patients. The state has the highest number of children hospitalized with the virus in the country. Florida public school districts, in response to the surge and CDC recommendations, began requiring facial coverings for students returning to schools this fall. DeSantis not only barred the mandates, he threatened to cut funding from districts that proceed with their mask mandates.
While several Florida school districts are keeping their mask mandates in place, with two even suing the governor, his Trump-like attempt to shift the burden to parents (someone else) to keep their children safe is unconscionable. He’s the head of a state with access to all the public health data and resources. Scapegoating parents exacerbates the venial nature of his policy.
As Texas cases and hospitalizations soar to levels not seen since last February, Governor Abbott is blocking local mask and vaccine mandates while “protecting” the “rights” of the unvaccinated to remain free from vaccinations. He, in direct contradiction to the CDC guidance that recommends “universal masking by all students,” called a special legislative session to “ensure kids can return to school this fall without any mask or vaccine requirements.” He, like DeSantis, is placing the burden on parents, who don’t know how to deal with a pandemic, to decide how to protect their children.
Texas educators and lawmakers are calling on the governor to end his executive order blocking mask mandates in schools, as children under 12 are not yet eligible to be protected by COVID vaccines.
The Texas Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers released a survey in which 78 percent of its membership want the governor to rescind his order and let school districts mandate masks if they choose.
And, a county judge cleared the way for two Texas counties to require masks in public schools (and municipal buildings), overriding the governor’s order.
These polices can galvanize a political coalition of parents. While this would be an unfortunate burden, they would be a force to be reckoned with, one capable of restoring sanity in states like Florida and Texas.