Hello! Hello out there! Hello? (knocks on mic) Is this thing on? Can you hear me in the back? Ready?
IT’S NOT OVER YET.
There were more than 65,000 COVID-19 cases reported on Friday, and almost 60,000 cases reported on Saturday. The seven-day average for infections stands at 56,348, with a national total soon to top 30 million. Almost 1,000 people are dying per day, and more than 542,000 are already gone. All of those numbers are incredibly awful. It’s not over yet. Not even damn close.
Cases have spiked in 21 states, most significantly in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island and Michigan. Overtopping all is Florida, where scenes of beaches, bars and streets packed with unmasked Spring Break revelers make for a galling counterpoint to the experts on TV split screens pleading with viewers to locate a molecule of responsibility. Most of those party people are not from Florida, and when they return home, at least some will almost certainly take COVID with them wherever they go.
Cognitive dissonance abounds in Michigan, too. The state reported 2,660 more new cases and 47 more deaths as of Friday, a spike that momentarily leads the national pack. Several regions in the state have been moved back up to the highest measurement level of risk. “We may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on Friday. “The only way out is to move forward and to do it together.”
An odd declaration, that, since it was Governor Whitmer who on the same day announced that Michigan stadiums and arenas can begin allowing people inside as of Monday (albeit at 20 percent capacity). For a state standing at the highest risk level in many places, with infections and deaths spiking, the cognitive dissonance of Whitmer’s warning in combination with her stadium/arena decision is bewildering. Unfortunately, Whitmer is not alone.
“The concern is that throughout the country, there are a number of state, city, regions that are pulling back on some of the mitigation methods that we’ve been talking about: the withdrawal of mask mandates, the pulling back to essentially non-public health measures being implemented,” COVID expert Anthony Fauci said at a Friday briefing. “So it is unfortunate but not surprising to me that you are seeing increases in number of cases per day in areas — cities, states, or regions — even though vaccines are being distributed at a pretty good clip of 2 to 3 million per day. That could be overcome if certain areas pull back prematurely on the mitigation and public health measures that we all talk about.”
It has been a year of COVID-19, and still there are leaders who refuse to see this situation as it is: 1 to 0. Either we manage this thing properly or we don’t. It is not 1.1, a little give and take because we’re tired of the restrictions. COVID has proven every day that it will take that 0.1 and run up our noses with it, and it is happening again.
Beyond the basic fact of saving lives and protecting health, the need to knuckle up and crush this thing is pressing because of what happens when we don’t: variants. An unchecked virus like this allowed to breed and breed will eventually mutate, and mutate again, until it becomes something our science has not seen. This is already taking place.
“The highly contagious variant first identified in the U.K. likely accounts for up to 30% of Covid infections in the U.S. Health officials say the variant could become dominant,” reports CNBC. “The variant is seen as the cause of Europe’s third coronavirus wave. Several countries including France and Italy have imposed new lockdown measures to mitigate virus spread as cases surge.”
Thus far, vaccines have proven to be effective against the variants, according to experts like Fauci. CNN reports that, regarding the U.K. variant, “vaccines appear to protect well against B.1.1.7 and treatments such as monoclonal antibodies also appear to work against this particular variant, Fauci said. That makes it more important than ever to get people vaccinated quickly, he said.”
If we lose the vaccination footrace with COVID, however, those vaccines could become little more than vials of tap water in the fight against an onslaught of highly contagious, highly lethal variants. In no small part, the crashing negligence of the previous administration has us already in a place where variants have happened. Keeping more from becoming active is one of our most important tasks as a species right now.
The task is daunting, because it is not just COVID in the United States we must reckon with. Two known variants have already risen from the United Kingdom and South Africa, and Brazil has become a horrifying petri dish for more, including a ruthless variant designated as P1.
“Brazil is experiencing a historic collapse of its health service as intensive care units in hospitals run out of capacity, its leading health institute, Fiocruz, has warned,” reports the BBC. “Covid-19 units in all but two of Brazil’s 27 states are at or above 80% capacity, according to Fiocruz. In Rio Grande do Sul state there are no intensive care beds available at all. The warning came as the country registered its highest daily death toll yet with 2,841 dying within 24 hours…. The latest surge in cases has been attributed to the spread of highly contagious variants of the virus.” (Emphasis added.)
“PAY ATTENTION,” comes the Twitter warning from noted epidemiologist and health economist Eric Feigl-Ding. “There is one crisis we all needs to pay attention to — and that is the unprecedented Brazil surge of the P1 variant, overloaded hospitals, & sharp mortality spike. If more contagious P1 out of control worldwide, we are all endangered.”
P1, first discovered in Brazil, is much more contagious than the original COVID-19. According to Forbes, “To date, at least 48 cases of the variant have been reported in over 16 states, and is now present in at least 25 other countries.” P1 is present in Florida, right alongside all those Spring Breakers, and has most recently been found by Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. The New York patient is a resident of Brooklyn with no travel history.
This is the last thing folks want to hear right now, but it is the truth and must be spoken at top volume from all the rooftops: We must stay the course.
Now, when the sun is coming back and the vaccines are flying. Now, even as your head is filled with wind and straw from the desolation of this year. Now, though your children are climbing the walls and gnawing on the furniture. Now is the hardest part, because of all that, and because it is not over yet.
Not only must we stick to the dreary business of COVID self-defense in all its grinding forms. We must, as a nation, become an ambassador of those vaccines. We must give them away by the millions to other nations, particularly those acutely afflicted, as soon as we are able. If we do not, nations like Brazil, the U.K., South Africa, and others will keep introducing COVID variants into the global slipstream, and we could wind up all the way back to where we started, but with a million dead to contemplate in the obsidian darkness of another long winter.
Please do not choose that fate.