Pandemic Progress

One year ago today, the mask mandates were still relatively new, and it was a novelty to see that someone had placed one on the mouth of our neighborhood cannon. Here are my husband and son posing with it.

I haven’t posted a general covid-19 update in a while, but I do want to keep track of what’s happening when, throughout the pandemic. Someday I will want to remember what was happening at each stage of the pandemic year(s).

Covid tests have become easy to get. At least, they are here, but I assume it’s similar through much of the country. My city has kiosks open every day in various locations for easy, convenient, and free tests for anyone who wants them. I remember last summer, when even symptoms and a doctor’s order didn’t mean you could actually get tested. So we’ve made huge progress there.

The really big news is vaccinations. The United States has gone from having one of the worst organized pandemic responses in the world to having a higher percentage of people fully vaccinated than almost any country in the world. What a difference a new presidential administration makes!

We currently stand at 30% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated. Alexandria’s percentage is slightly higher at 32%, but I don’t think the numbers can be compared; Alexandria is counting the percentage of people age 16 and older, not the total population. No vaccine has yet been approved for people under the age of 16.

Appallingly, some of the poorest countries in the world have the lowest numbers of vaccinated people, because the vaccines are just not available there. I have heard that we are going to be shipping doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — not yet approved for use here in the U.S., but being used successfully in many parts of the world — to India, which is being particularly hard hit right now.

Even within the United States, we don’t have equity. White people and those on higher socioeconomic levels are more likely to be vaccinated. Some of this is because of unequal access to the vaccination in particular and health care in general. But there are still many people who could get the shots but refuse to. Some just don’t trust the government and the medical community to be telling them the truth about its safety. Some are waiting until it has full approval from the FDA (currently it has emergency approval only). And others, despite a worldwide death toll of more than 3 million people, refuse the vaccine because they still insist that covid-19 doesn’t exist, but is a myth told by Democrats to keep Donald Trump from winning the election. (Which, of course, they believe he won anyway.)

The really way-out-there types believe all sorts of nonsensical, conspiracy-theory QAnon-like lies that are being spread about the shots. I’ve heard that it injects a chip into your body so that Microsoft founder Bill Gates can track your movements. Puh-lease. If Bill Gates wanted to track your movements, he could do it much more easily through your laptop or cell phone. Then there’s the Mark of the Beast theory: the vaccine is an instrument of Satan, and those who get the shot will break out with the Mark of the Beast. Another group says it causes female infertility, though there is no evidence of this; the heads of one private school in Florida are so convinced of this one that they have forbidden teachers from getting the shot, because they actually believe that the teachers and any female students who are near them will be rendered infertile. Where do people get this stuff?

In any case, as more and more people are vaccinated, lockdown restrictions have been easing around the country. A year ago, they had just gotten started, and we’d been told, in some parts of the country, that we should wear masks whenever we left our homes. One of the most frustrating thing about restrictions in the U.S. is that each state sets its own rules, which may or may not follow the national Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Even those guidelines are suspect; sometimes they seem to be based more on what’s politically expedient than on what’s scientifically appropriate. But some states ignore them altogether. South Dakota set very few restrictions in the first place; Georgia and Texas lifted their mask mandates much too early. And in various parts of the country, calls to reopen schools, churches, and businesses have resulted in increased spread of the virus.

Here in Virginia, our governor — the governor of a U.S. state who is actually a medical doctor — has only recently eased up on some of the restrictions, in line with the CDC’s new guidelines. Restaurants can have more people eating inside, but are still not allowed to operate at capacity. People can remove their masks at small indoor gatherings, if everyone present is fully vaccinated. Large crowds are still required to wear masks. Locally, schools here are open in person on a limited basis, with some students still taking classes from home full-time and others in the classroom two days a week and learning from home the other days.

I worry that some of this may be premature. Until we know for sure whether vaccinated people can contract and spread the disease, I feel we should be erring on the side of caution and keeping our masks on. But I can’t fight the CDC, even if I do think the decision was not made for purely medical reasons. Personally, I am continuing all of my covid safeguards at least until my son is fully vaccinated. I am now fully vaccinated, with the Pfizer vaccine. My husband has been fully vaccinated (with Moderna) for some time. Jon Morgan has had his first dose of Pfizer and will get his second shot next week, on campus.

Once he’s fully protected, we might consider traveling somewhere this summer. Nothing too far away (Europe is still banning Americans, so that’s not on the table anyway.) I am so ready for that day when we can feel free to move about the country.

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