The recent and dramatic surge in COVID-19 has many people feeling frustrated. Frustrated over the large numbers of unvaccinated who have supercharged the highly contagious virus. Frustrated that they still have to be worried about being a carrier of the disease even if they are vaccinated. Frustrated that some of those precautions they thought they were done with — masking, social distancing and the discouragement of large indoor gatherings — have resurfaced.
An excellent piece in The Atlantic, titled “How the Pandemic Ends,” makes a compelling case for being patient.
The fourth wave of COVID-19, fueled by the delta variant, has been worse than many expected. Except for death numbers, it’s as if we are as bad off as we were during the peak outbreak last January and February. Mississippi is right in the middle of this wave, breaking records this month for infection numbers and hospitalizations.
There are two reasons why the death counts are not as high. The medical community has learned, through trial and error and the incredible speed with which knowledge can now be shared, how to treat this new disease more effectively. In addition, a sizable portion of the population has acquired some level of immunity, either through vaccination or through infection from previous strains of the virus.
What makes the delta strain so troublesome is how contagious it is: about three times higher than the original strain. As The Atlantic science writer Ed Yong puts it, “If no other precautions are taken, Delta can spread through a half-vaccinated country more quickly than the original virus could in a completely unvaccinated country.”
What this most likely means is that all of us will catch COVID-19 at some point. We can better ensure our survival by being vaccinated and by taking other sensible precautions to reduce the amount of viral load we inhale. It’s also important to take these measures so as to spread out the rate of infection. Better to have a more manageable if prolonged pandemic than a huge wave that shuts down schools, overwhelms hospitals and health care workers and decimates parts of the economy.
Vaccines, masks and the like may be only buying time, but as The Atlantic article says, there are lots of good reasons to buy this time. One of them is it extends how long this nation has to win over more of the unvaccinated to get the shots. Not all of the unvaccinated are dig-in-their-heels “anti-vaxxers.” Some of the hesitant are simply unsure about the safest thing to do. Their comfort level with the vaccines will improve over time, as will their calculation over what course of action is least risky. We’ve already seen this change to some degree with the uptick in vaccinations since the fourth wave took hold.
The odds that COVID-19 will completely disappear are diminishing, according to the researchers with whom Yong talked. Vaccination, though, is the game changer that can turn a deadly disease into a mostly seasonal nuisance, like the common cold.
“There will be a time in the future,” Jennie Lavine, an infectious-disease researcher at Emory University, told Yong, “when life is like it was two years ago: You run up to someone, give them a hug, get an infection, go through half a box of tissues, and move on with your life.”
That destination is a certainty, as no pandemic lasts forever. How many deaths and how much severe illness we experience along the way will depend on how willing individuals and those who govern this nation are to follow the science. And how patient they are willing to be.
Last year, we were buying time waiting on vaccines. Now we’re buying time to wait for more people to get vaccinated, not just in the U.S. but around the globe. We might have expected as much, but we’re learning as we go.
- The Greenwood Commonwealth