There is much good news on the COVID-19 front, but you don’t need me to tell you that. You can just look out your window. Or better yet, open the door and walk outside. Life as we used to know it is slowly returning to something approaching normalcy thanks, in large part, to the miracle of medical science.
Deaths are down, hospitalizations are down, cases are down. And, as a result, restrictions are down.
According to the generally cautious folks at the CDC, you can now go to the movies, go to a ballpark, eat at your favorite restaurant, send your kids to camp, send your kids to school next fall (many Colorado counties will still offer remote learning, but let’s hope that’s a stopgap), see friends, go to your favorite coffee shop/workplace. At my favorite coffee shop/workplace, they just removed the sign requiring masks for entry. The Colorado guidelines are basically in line with the CDC’s.
There’s a catch, though. You knew that. And it’s a deeply troubling catch. Call it catch COVID-19 — in which the good news could be, and should be, so much better. Because those recommendations are largely based on whether you’re fully vaccinated.
If you’re not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommendations are pretty much what they were before — wear masks inside, don’t gather in large groups, socially distance, etc. You know the drill.
Now, try to imagine where we’d be without the vaccines. Sadly, it’s not as hard as you’d think. About half the people in the country are still vaccine-free, some of them from lack of access, many of them because they don’t trust the vaccine, and many of them simply to own the libs.
Here’s a thumbnail view of the status of the pandemic today: According to the New York Times COVID tracker, which rates the risks in cities and counties across the country by using available data, it rates the virus risk in Denver as “very high.”
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That is, unless you’re fully vaccinated, in which case the risk, we’re told, is “minimal.”
The contrast could not be more stark. Add one more category to the Two Americas list. One half of the country is protected. One half is not. And the question you have to ask yourself is whether, given this situation, the center can hold.
Many vaccinated people are still wearing masks because the habit is hard to break and because there are variants out there and because, as my cold-prone law professor daughter explains, she hasn’t gotten a cold from the kids since the mask requirement was put in place.
Many people who are not vaccinated — you know, those on the so-called honor system. which they haven’t even been asked to sign onto — don’t wear the masks. You’ve seen the fights on airplanes. You’ve seen certain members of Congress risk fines.
A study in the Washington Post breaks down the risks. It has come up with a non-vaccine-adjusted measurement that shows that those who are not vaccinated are at 73% percent higher risk of contracting COVID-19. For the unvaccinated, the adjusted national death rate is basically unchanged from two months ago, the adjusted hospitalization rate the same as three months ago.
In the Post’s adjusted rates, the unvaccinated in several states are seeing the pandemic spread not unlike it did during the winter surge. Among those states the Post names are Maine, Rhode Island, Washington and, yes, I hate to say this, Colorado. The adjusted rate in these states, according to the Post, is double the national rate. In Colorado, 61% of those eligible have received at least one shot, higher than in many states. That still leaves millions unvaccinated, though.
When we remove restrictions, are we giving the wrong message that, since we’re seeing improvement everywhere, that the so-called vaccine hesitant can keep on hesitating, procrastinating or plain resisting because, you know, freedom? At this point, though, with the vaccines working so well, is there any real choice?
We’re still seeing something like 450 deaths daily around the country, and, in most cases, those who died had not been vaccinated. That number should go down as more people get vaccinated, but how many simply won’t? And how will the virus spread among the unvaccinated, and what does it mean regarding the spread of dangerous variants?
Is it time finally to go to vaccine passports, as New York is doing? The EEOC has issued guidelines for how companies could mandate that their workers on site be vaccinated. The point of the vaccines, just as the point of wearing masks, is to protect yourself and also to protect others — the others, at this point, mainly being those who haven’t gotten their shots. We have people turning down shots in America while much of the world, particularly in poorer countries, is begging for the vaccine.
We’ve seen the great lengths states are going to in order to persuade people to get vaccinated. Colorado has joined the get-a-shot-win-a-million-bucks sweepstakes mania.
Jared Polis put it this way: “If you have been delaying plans to get vaccinated or are still on the fence, now is the time to swing big. It could transform your life. This is $1 million, cash in the barrel that you can use today. Buy a new home. Take that vacation. Take six months off. Do whatever you like. One million dollars goes a long way.”
But as a revealing article by John Ingold in The Colorado Sun points out, a Democratic governor may not be the best messenger. Ingold puts the question nicely: “In Colorado in 2021, how you vote is how you vax.”
There are other gaps in vaccination rates, particularly among minority groups. But the role of politics is undeniable.
Although Joe Biden won Colorado easily in 2020 — thankfully, we have mostly steered clear of the dangerous Big Lie virus — he did so by winning only 24 of the state’s 64 counties. And according to the Sun analysis, only two of Trump’s 40 counties — Mineral and Douglas — have vaccination rates higher than the state average. We’ve had a pretty good idea of this for a long time. Even before the vaccines were available, the polls were clear that Democrats were far more likely to be vaccinated than Republicans.
But I’m not sure it was this clear: Nine of the top 10 counties for vaccination rates in the state went for Biden; 29 of the 30 counties with the lowest vaccination rates went for Trump.
The political divide in this country— and the urban-rural divide in Colorado — are bad enough. But that shouldn’t be a matter of life and death.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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