What began March 25, 2020 was unlike anything we have experienced in this country in living memory. The coronavirus pandemic restrictions that went into effect with the first statewide “stay home and stay healthy” orders issued by Gov. Jay Inslee have been lifted after 15 long months. Businesses that struggled and somehow survived have the green light to open at full capacity July 1.
Welcome back. We begin a new chapter in the dizzying reality that is COVID-19.
The time for summer reunions and celebrations is here at last. We can meet friends for dinner in crowded restaurants, or simply enjoy the air conditioned-cool of watching movies as intended on the big screen. We can go to baseball games in stadiums packed with unmasked cheering fans or revel in the power of live performance found in music, theater and dance again.
Many people will return to the office after working remotely and be among co-workers not seen in person for a long while.
It won’t be quite the same, but not just for the obvious reasons.
Most of those people will have been vaccinated against Covid, while some can’t be and some will have refused.
I think it is important to consider that each of us had a unique experience and most of us likely struggled to some extent over the last year and a half. After so much time spent in relative isolation, withdrawn into our homes and safe within our social bubbles, re-entry into society is bound to be a little awkward at first. The point is it’s different for everyone, because the withdrawal was different for everyone.
Some of us are still recovering from Covid and left with lingering long-term effects like loss of taste and smell, and worse.
Some of us are grieving people we lost to a brutal disease that killed over 600,000 Americans and counting.
Some of us were left alone to mourn the loss of loved ones who died from other causes, denied the traditional comforts of ritual that funerals, memorials and celebrations of life provide.
Like the foreign terrorist attack of 9/11 and the domestic attack on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, Covid drove home the message to me that the unthinkable not only happens but is to be expected.
I am still awestruck by how much the pandemic divided us. What could have been a united, positive response to a mortal threat instead became a divisive and destructive wedge issue almost custom-built to divide and conquer us for political gain.
What so many of us still continue to call a personal choice — wearing a mask, social distancing, getting vaccinated — is by definition a civic duty because it has tangible, public consequences. The rationales behind refusal hardly matter; the damage is done.
Of course, not everyone can wear a mask or get a vaccine because of their own medical issues and the danger to them continues because of those who are able but unwilling, happy to let someone else take the risk while they reap the benefit.
COVID-19 is real, it’s dangerous, and it’s preventable. Yet vaccine rates are slowing all over the country, and it is the unvaccinated who are now getting the disease and continuing to spread the even more contagious delta variant as the virus mutates.
Technically known as the B.1.1.7 variant, delta is about 60% more transmissible than the original alpha coronavirus that emerged in China in late 2019. Delta is now the dominant strain in the United Kingdom, where it supplanted the alpha variant in a matter of months, and it’s expected to do the same thing here.
The delta variant now makes up around 20% of newly diagnosed cases in the U.S. It arrived in Pierce County in January.
Experts here are concerned because people infected by delta wind up in the hospital at twice the rate of alpha infections, and what treatments we have don’t seem to work as well against it.
The good news is we can do something about it.
Vaccines still offer protection against the delta variant ranging from 60% to 88%, slightly lower than rates against the alpha variant.
And it’s working. At the end of June, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department found no COVID-19 outbreaks at care facilities, businesses or hospitals for the first time in more than a year. The county 14-day average daily case rate fell to 90 by press time, down from 350 in December. The average rate of residents who have received at least their first vaccine shot climbed to 61.6%, creeping up to the state goal of 70%.
But the vaccination rate remains low in younger age groups: It’s just 40.9% for ages 18-29.
TPCHD continues to offer free walk-up or drive-through vaccine clinics around the county for anyone 12 years or older, or it can direct you to a local source.
Just go to tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture or call 253-649-1412, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week.
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