“If matters continue as they are,” I wrote on July 6 about vaccinations and the Delta variant of COVID, “a bright new line will be drawn between ‘Two Americas’: The Vaccinated vs. the Unvaccinated.”
The Wall Street Journal this morning would seem to agree: “The Delta variant is hardening a divide between people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and those who aren’t, prompting hospitals to brace for new case surges and health authorities to redouble vaccination efforts. Now the most common strain in the U.S., Delta is spreading as public life resumes at restaurants, sporting events and other public settings across the country.”
There are two stark truths here: The vaccines work, and the Delta variant is chewing through the unvaccinated within the population with a level of relentlessness that threatens to undo any progress we have made to date. The number of deaths from COVID are way down across the board, which is nothing but good. The longer this thing is allowed to burn through unvaccinated hosts, however, the more likely new variants become, and one of them could eventually blow past our vaunted vaccines like they were so much tap water.
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Every person who died of COVID in Maryland during the month of June was unvaccinated. Ninety-seven percent of those who died from COVID in Louisiana since February were unvaccinated. In Alabama, 96 percent of those who have died from COVID since April 1 were unvaccinated. “In Los Angeles County, nearly every COVID-19 case, hospitalization and death is in unvaccinated people,” Reuters reports. “Of the 1,059 new cases reported that day, nearly 87% were in people under the age of 50.”
New cases are up 70 percent because of the variant and the stagnation of new vaccinations; nearly 32,000 new infections were reported yesterday, a two-week increase of 140 percent. “There is a clear message that is coming through,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky told reporters. “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Walensky is not the only expert voicing deep concern over the downward path we appear to be taking. On Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN, “I am worried about what is to come because we are seeing increasing cases among the unvaccinated in particular. And while, if you are vaccinated, you are very well protected against hospitalization and death, unfortunately that is not true if you are not vaccinated.”
At about the same time Murthy was speaking to CNN, former head of the Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb was delivering a similarly dire warning on CBS: “This virus is so contagious, this variant is so contagious that it’s going to infect the majority of them — most people will either get vaccinated or have been previously infected or they will get this Delta variant. And for most people who get this Delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital.”
There are people who have not gotten the vaccine for various understandable reasons … and then there are the (often Trump-supporting) others, described by an Arkansas ER doctor named Ken Starnes. Starnes works near the border of Missouri and Arkansas, and confronts with dreary regularity the mulish indifference to science and the well-being of others presented by those who won’t get the shot because they won’t because they won’t, so there.
“When I was in college I did telemarketing for a while,” Starnes related to Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce. “In those jobs they give you a sheet of things to say to overcome objections when people don’t want to buy from you. But how do you overcome an objection when they don’t give you one? They just look at you [and] shrug [their] shoulders. I tried giving them the science. I tried mild anger and looking at everybody over my glasses like their disappointed father. They are just not gonna do it and nothing I say is going to change that so it makes me wonder whether I even need to keep trying.”
Matters are not faring much better abroad. In the U.K., today is being called “Freedom Day”: the day when virtually all COVID restrictions are lifted. The day finds new British Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who received both doses of the AstraZenaca vaccine, infected with the virus. (He reports his symptoms thus far are mild.) Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak have been told by health officials to quarantine at home because of their exposure to Javid. Meanwhile, new COVID cases in the U.K. have spiked to levels not seen since the last wave hit there in January.
In Africa, catastrophe looms. “The Delta variant is sweeping across the continent,” reports The New York Times. “Namibia and Tunisia are reporting more deaths per capita than any other country. Hospitals across the continent are filling up, oxygen supplies and medical workers are stretched thin and recorded deaths jumped 40 percent last week alone. But only about 1 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. And even the African Union’s modest goal of getting 20 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of 2021 seems out of reach.”
And as for Donald Trump, the author of so much of this misery? He continues to hold court at his Bedminster club, spinning fabulations for whomever comes to kiss his ring. On Sunday, he put out a statement claiming people were refusing to get vaccinated because “they don’t trust the Election results.” EXACTLY, Donald, and you are to blame for that. Your big lie already has a gruesome body count to its name, and that number climbs by the day.
In 1972, a clutch of brilliant group dynamics scientists from MIT authored a study that claimed “industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources,” according to Vice. A new study of that 1972 paper comes to an utterly chilling appraisal: The report is devastatingly accurate, as all the predicted pieces are falling into place.
The worst outcome — extinction — remains avoidable, but only if human beings take the wheel in immediate and dramatic fashion. COVID is but one test we face. Combined with the others — most notably the climate crisis and the economic worship of “growth” against the backdrop of a collapsing global ecosystem — it appears grimly clear that too many of us simply won’t work to fix these things because they won’t because they won’t, so there. Hell of an epitaph for a species.