On August 18, 2021

Stopping Covid-19: We can, if we have the will

By Angelo Lynn

Editor’s note: This commentary is written in collaboration with The Boston Globe, which has provided news reports, charts and graphics on the Covid-19 virus to participating papers throughout New England. Their initiative seeks to more fully educate the public about the virus and the benefits of getting vaccinated. Each participating paper was asked to write a local commentary to add to the Globe’s collective reporting.

As the Covid Delta variant sweeps through the nation and into the lives of every American, one single fact should shock Vermonters and all Americans out of our slumber: collectively we have the ability to control the spread of this pandemic and to limit the deadly impact of the Delta variant.

We have the ability to prevent another round of business lockdowns; many more months of remote work; another school year where remote learning may be the best option to protect children too young to get the vaccine.

We just have to believe in the science.

Today, after nine months of vaccinations, we know the Covid vaccines work and they’re safe.

We also know the Covid-19 virus and its Delta variant are highly transmissible and deadly. In the last year of ex-president Trump’s presidency, more than 400,000 Americans died of the virus, and when Trump left office on Jan. 19, 2021, the U.S. was at its peak in terms of Americans dying each day from the disease. The U.S. recorded 4,460 deaths due to Covid on Jan. 12, 2021, with an average of over 3,500 Americans dying each day that January. Those were dark, grim days.

With President Biden’s change in tone and emphasis on wearing masks and social distancing after his inauguration in late January, virus deaths dropped dramatically. By Feb. 20, the daily deaths had dropped in half to 1,893. A month later, after vaccines became available to the most vulnerable, the daily deaths dropped to 875 on March 23. By May 20, when the vaccines were widely available to those Americans over 65, the number of Americans dying from Covid each day had dropped to 565. By mid-summer, the number had bottomed out at 116 on July 24. In Vermont, this past summer, we went for weeks without a Covid-related death.

The Delta variant, however, has changed that trajectory. It appears to be even more transmissible and even more deadly. And while the vaccines slowed the deadly impact of the virus substantially, almost eradicating it in places like Vermont, we know the Delta strain is spreading and finding those who are not yet vaccinated.

The science is unwavering, as is the math.

In Vermont, for instance, 98% of those infected with the coronavirus from January through August 2021 have been among the unvaccinated. Fully 96% of those hospitalized with the virus have been unvaccinated, and 98% of those Vermonters who have died this year of the virus were unvaccinated.

But we also know the vaccines are not 100% effective. But for the vast majority of Vermonters who have at least one vaccine shot, the effects of the Delta variant (for those who have contracted it) have either been asymptomatic or very mild cases that usually don’t require hospitalization.

Those are the simple facts.

There is no political statement connected with that reality; it just is.

And here’s another fact: if 80-85% of the nation had been persuaded to get vaccinated (as we all do with polio, measles, mumps and smallpox), the nation could have more affectively limited the spread of the Delta variant. The virus would snuff itself out if it couldn’t find hosts in which to incubate.

But that is not America’s reality: today only 50.7% of Americans are fully vaccinated. That mean there are states where 30-40-50% or more are still not vaccinated; those people are acting as human petri dishes in which the virus grows and mutates — and reinfects the rest of us.

Why aren’t people getting vaccinated? Partly it’s politics, partly it’s fear based on misinformation. Getting the vaccine, of course, should never have been a political issue. Just as getting a vaccination shot to prevent polio or the chickenpox is accepted fact for all the good that both vaccination shots provide.

Unfortunately, American lives are being compromised because too many Americans, mainly Republicans, made getting a vaccine shot a political statement.

That started when ex-president Donald Trump tried to make his re-election campaign about denying the severity of the virus; not wearing masks; not social distancing.

Why? Because he was fearful the American public would blame him for its spread and so he wanted to distance himself from it in all ways possible — and embracing measures to prevent the virus would be an admission that its deadly spread happened on his watch.

Any reasonable president would have rallied the nation to mask up, to social-distance, and once the vaccine became available to rapidly dispense it to all Americans with blanket encouragement to get vaccinated for the sake of the nation.

It should have been the patriotic thing to do.

But with Republican encouragement, now at the state level, the nation sees Republican governors preventing schools, cities and businesses from being able to protect their citizens, students and employees to the best of their abilities. Superintendents and businesses are rebelling and refuting state dictates that threaten their health. Such is the nonsensical counsel that some Republican leaders are still advocating.

Vermont is far more fortunate. Republican Gov. Phi Scott has not only embraced the science, but also the notion that it’s in the public interest to protect each other; he knows it makes the state healthier, safer and our economy more resilient.

As a nation we can and must embrace the same sensible tactics in our battle against Covid-19 and the Delta variant: get vaccinated, mask up when needed, be smart about social distancing and avoid crowded environments where the contagion rate is high. It’s just common sense.

But there is no time for delay or complacency. The Delta variant is spreading rapidly and state and national policies have to react to its spread. If it’s necessary, temporarily implement masking policies again — we shouldn’t hesitate to do so. And if stricter masking policies are needed in our schools to keep our children in school and safe, let’s prepare for that likelihood now.

At over 85% vaccinated, Vermonters stand apart in doing what’s right to protect each other for the common good. If we increase that to 90% vaccinated, we can demonstrate how states can not only provide a safe environment, but also be freer from worry and limitations.

If you haven’t gotten your vaccine shots, please consult with your doctor, work through your concerns, and get vaccinated for your own sake as well as to protect your friends and neighbors. If we work together, we can defeat this virus and we can build a stronger state — and country. But if we go our separate ways, reject the science and inflame the risk, this virus will be around a long time causing needless death and heartache.

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