President Biden will address the nation tomorrow on the ongoing COVID pandemic. Early reports suggest it will be a somber affair, bereft of the optimism that suffused the country at the outset of the summer. The president will lay out a “six-pronged strategy” for dealing with COVID through the fall, a strategy that will not include a national vaccine mandate, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
What happened? The Delta variant, in combination with an intractable segment of the population that rejects science because they think it voted against Donald Trump, happened. There were more than 152,000 new infections yesterday, and the economy — which was widely expected to be in high gear by Labor Day — is once again throwing smoke from the vents.
Worse, kids are taking this latest surge straight in the teeth. Pediatric cases of COVID have erupted since children started returning to school. Weekly cases of COVID among children topped 250,000 for the first time since the pandemic began, and a full quarter of all COVID cases for the week of September 2 were among kids. This will likely continue to be a crisis until children under 12 are able to get vaccinated, and the crisis is landing right in the middle of classrooms.
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Biden has quite a daunting task before him, made all the more perilous by the fact that Delta is not the only dangerous COVID variant in play, although it is overwhelmingly the most prevalent in the United States, still accounting for 99 percent of cases here. Variant Mu, B.1.621, is one example of the new breed. Mu was first identified in Ecuador and Colombia in January. The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially designated Mu as a “variant of interest,” a rating one step below “variant of concern,” the highest rating for danger to the populace. (Delta is a variant of concern.)
According to the WHO, “A SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape; AND identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.”
Put simply, there is some fear within viral research circles that the mutations found in Mu may allow the variant to interfere with our vaccine-enhanced immunity. This has been the nightmare scenario since variants first began appearing, and they began appearing because the virus was allowed to run rampant without serious checks for so long.
At this juncture, the Mu variant has spread to more than four dozen countries. It has been found in 49 of the 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, but excepting Nebraska (Hawaii disputes the existence of Mu in that state). One health care facility, Houston Methodist Hospital, currently reports some 50 patients who have been infected with the Mu variant.
Thank goodness there are serious conservatives taking this seriously… ha, I almost made it to the end of that sentence, because seriously, we’re pretty screwed. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio climbed up onto his Twitter perch on Monday to proclaim, “Vaccine mandates are un-American.” Some good folks on that social network took pains to remind Jordan that no lesser light than George Washington, “the commander in chief of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, made the bold decision in 1777 to require that his troops be immunized after a smallpox outbreak devastated the nation,” according to The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, demand for Ivermectin, the livestock dewormer that does not cure COVID no matter what you’ve heard on the radio, is exploding in the portions of the country where vaccine refusal has become some bent badge of honor. And even in Chicago, QAnon supporters are bombarding AMITA Resurrection Medical Center, demanding that doctors administer Ivermectin to a fellow-Q patient there. As of this writing, the doctors have refused to accept medical advice from that group.
Not to sound the dire note, but we could look back at the end of this summer as perhaps one of the greatest missed opportunities in history. Remember the spring? It really felt like we had a handle on this thing, with vaccination rates soaring and infection rates plummeting. I was actually looking forward to sending my daughter back to school in school. Now, I pick her up wondering if this is the day she gets sick, or gets me sick, or gets her Nana sick. I wear my mask any place I expect there will be people, and I don’t get strange looks, because most everyone else is masked as well.
There is cause to believe the Mu variant may actually find itself getting suppressed by the Delta variant, as if all this wasn’t strange enough. Survival of the fittest is also apparently the rule with viruses, and Delta is showing signs of “outperforming” Mu. John P. Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Newsweek, “The key thing is, it’s just not spreading much.”
This would be happier news, but for the fact that we are currently getting run over by Delta, with no clear resolution in sight. Optimistic voices are at pains to tell us this pandemic will end someday, because all pandemics do. I look forward to the day with great relish.
Between now and then, however, I think the president is going to have to revisit the levying of a national vaccine mandate; right now, his White House says they do not have that power, but this may have to be revisited. Businesses, schools, and other institutions will likely have to do the same. Another lethal variant wave like the one we currently endure may leave no choice in the end. It’s getting positively existential around here.
This article has been updated.