A friend’s little girl couldn’t come out to play with my daughter the other day. She had the sniffles, and Dad was playing it safe, because his next door neighbors all have COVID. One of them works in an elder care facility, where my friend says the virus is moving like wildfire.
Meanwhile, a relative just wrote to me with an email headline reading, “It’s in the building…” She works for the town, and her fellow employees at the tiny town hall are going down with COVID one by one by one, popping like virus firecrackers. State law prohibits closing the town hall under the present circumstances, so someone always has to be there during business hours. Rust never sleeps; neither does COVID.
Back in April, when the BA.2 COVID variant was on the loose, I wrote, “Almost 42,000 people were newly infected yesterday, a two-week uptick of 42 percent.” How quaint. There were more than 126,000 new infections yesterday, three short months later, with more than 41,000 of those requiring hospitalization. These are the BA.4 and BA.5 variants at work, the newest dominant strains in the country.
“Nearly two-and-a-half years since the coronavirus pandemic began,” reports CNN, “the most infectious and transmissible variant yet has arrived. Repeated Covid-19 waves have left millions of people dead, with only vaccines helping to blunt the toll. Now the virus is spreading again — evolving, escaping immunity and driving an uptick in cases and hospitalizations. The latest version of its shape-shifting, BA.5, is a clear sign that the pandemic is far from over.”
Well, if that’s the case, what are we doing about testing? Track and trace? The FDA has urged vaccine makers to create Omicron-adapted boosters, which could be released this fall, but as Scientific American pointed out earlier this month, that is “too late to prevent the current surge in cases resulting from the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.”
Where is Congress in all this? “A congressional deal for billions of dollars in additional coronavirus funding appeared all but dead Thursday,” reported The Washington Post on June 16, “after Senate Republicans accused the White House of being dishonest about the nation’s pandemic funding needs…. Biden officials said last week they had no choice but to repurpose about $10 billion from other covid priorities, such as testing, to purchase more coronavirus vaccines and treatments, since Congress had not been able to reach agreement.”
That was more than a month ago, and nothing has happened since.
This is all dangerous on a variety of levels we have all heard about before. COVID has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S alone. Those who are immunocompromised or dealing with certain pre-existing conditions are acutely vulnerable, even if fully vaccinated. As feared, the variants are finding their way straight through the vaccines. As the hospital beds fill up again, those with heart disease, cancer, or other maladies become crowded out, and necessary medical procedures are delayed. These people may not die of COVID, but if they die due to pandemic-related delays in care, then COVID killed them all the same.
“State and local public health officials say they also must now factor in a reality that is obvious along the streets from Seattle to New York City: Most Americans are meeting a new Covid wave with a collective shrug, shunning masks, joining crowds indoors and moving on from the endless barrage of virus warnings of months past,” reports The New York Times. “Complicating the country’s understanding of this BA.5 wave is a dearth of data. Not since the earliest months of the pandemic has there been so little precise information about the number of actual infections in the United States.”
So here we are. Donald Trump’s towering legacy has rendered science — along with Band-Aid level preventive technologies like face masks — completely politically toxic. This was done in the service of capitalism, full stop. BA.5 is a global crisis — upon its appearance, new cases worldwide jumped in one month from 477,000 a day to 940,000 a day — and yet we barely hear a whisper about it. More infections also means more variants. The silence from Democrats, the “party in charge,” is equally deafening. Talk about masks? In an election year? Perish the thought.
“There’s a lot the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can do to slow the BA.5 subvariant and prevent deaths,” reports David Axe for Rolling Stone. “But both the FDA and CDC have dragged their heels. The FDA still hasn’t taken arguably the most important steps — approving both second boosters for Americans under age 50 and new booster formulations for subvariants such as BA.5. The CDC meanwhile isn’t clearly communicating to the public just how serious BA.5 is.”
We think we’ve paid the piper with this thing, put in our hard time and did the lifting, but we haven’t. Not really, not yet. It’s July, hot as Hades, and new infections are still exploding. I can quote Eddard Stark as much as the next fellow — “Winter is coming” — but we are apparently lining up once again to do it the hard way.
“Warnings are wind,” to crib another line from Game of Thrones, and at present not even the winds are blowing. How much we come to regret our inaction will be counted in corpses once the snow melts and the flowers poke through the turned dirt of freshly dug graves. Again.