Great Britain had great plans for June 21. English citizens had been calling it “Freedom Day,” the day that nation’s COVID restrictions would be lifted after the pandemic’s long siege. A well-managed vaccine rollout has more than half the population fully inoculated, and everything appeared to be moving in the right direction.
Upon the emergence of the COVID-19 variant dubbed “Delta,” however, the U.K.’s plans have changed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has delayed “Freedom Day” for another four weeks, with a potential for more if the variant is not better contained.
The Delta variant of COVID first emerged from the coronavirus wave that subsumed much of India earlier this spring. Reports strongly suggest that it is far more contagious than the original version of the virus, and is doing more damage to those who become infected. It took four weeks for Delta to become the dominant COVID strain in Great Britain, and at present it has spread to more than 60 countries worldwide.
The U.S. is one of them. At present, the Delta variant represents approximately 10 percent of all new infections here, and that rate is doubling every two weeks. “Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday that a coronavirus strain known as the Delta variant is likely to become the dominant source of new infections in the U.S.,” reports CNN, “and could lead to new outbreaks in the fall, with unvaccinated Americans being most at risk.”
There were almost 13,000 new cases of COVID diagnosed yesterday, and 145 recorded deaths. While these numbers represent an astonishing decrease from the horrific toll the nation endured last winter, the number of new daily infections remains simply unacceptable in a country so flush with vaccines that medical experts fear whole batches will go bad for lack of use.
As of Monday, almost 44 percent of the U.S. population over 12 years old has received both doses of the vaccine, and 52.5 percent has received one. Children under 12 remain completely unvaccinated. In a nation of 328 million people, slightly more than 174 million have gotten at least one dose. This, for lack of a better phrase, is a dramatic chink in our COVID armor, especially in the face of an exceptionally virulent variant like Delta.
As with all things these days, the question of “why?” boils down to the deliberately deluded garbage politics of the right. A Washington Post analysis shows COVID rates plummeting in states with high numbers of vaccinated people, and rising in states with fewer vaccinated people. This is simple math, really, but disquieting to confront in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant.
So where are the politics? Where they always are: in the states. “The top 22 states (including D.C.) with the highest adult vaccination rates all went to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election,” reports NPR. “Some of the least vaccinated states are the most pro-Trump. Trump won 17 of the 18 states with the lowest adult vaccination rates.”
Adherence to nihilistic anti-science Trumpism is not the sole factor for the lower rates in these various states. Less than a quarter of Black people have received at least one shot as of last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the lowest among the ethnic and racial groups listed. A large part of the problem is access: There have been a number of issues with the vaccine rollout, particularly impacting people who lack access to transportation or cannot take time off work to get a shot. Meanwhile, some vaccine hesitancy persists within Black communities; it is an understandable byproduct of generations of unspeakable abuses of that community by the medical field.
However, among the largely white Trump supporters who are refusing the vaccine, the hesitancy has a very different root. Many people across the country appear to be saying no to the vaccine because doing so will shore up their pro-Trump street cred. The conspiracy theories that have enveloped the effective distribution of this medicine to Trump supporters have morphed into their own sort of bent, all-encompassing multiverse, where all the “answers” are spelled with the letter “Q” and mask mandates are equated with the Holocaust.
It is not difficult to foresee what comes next. If COVID holds to its pattern of finding all the gaps in our defenses, and if Delta is as bad as they say, we can expect to witness the return of terrible infection numbers to the regions that continue to shun the vaccine. By all accounts, the vaccines remain highly effective in their ability to stave off the Delta variant, especially if those receiving two-dose vaccines make sure to get both shots.
The United States is reopening from shore to shore, and there is great gladness for it. Vaccinated people are being told with high confidence that they can return to a semblance of normal … but with less than half the country fully vaccinated, and with a stunning portion of that half clinging to their Trump-spawned delusions, I still fear that we are reopening too soon.
The rise of the Delta variant makes this concern all the more pressing. If Trump had a single care for the people who make him possible, he would embark on a vaccination campaign in all the states he carried in 2020, but he will not do this unless forced to. He will squat in his Bedminster lair plotting revenge, even as those he owes his power to die preventable deaths every day.