As the summer of 2020 was winding down, the United States was bracing for the third, and hopefully final, wave of Covid-19 that experts warned would come with temperatures dropping in the fall and winter. Then the vaccines would be ready. Then everything would return to normal, to the extent that “normal” was still a thing.
As the summer of 2021 winds down, the post-pandemic version of normal, the one buttressed by quotation marks, remains out of reach. The vaccines came, but tens of millions of Americans opted not to take them, clearing the way for the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus to cause a late-summer surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that dwarfs what the nation was enduring at this time last year.
On Labor Day 2020, the seven-day average for new Covid cases in America stood at just over 39,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. On Monday, the number was more than three times where it was at the same time last year, at just over 137,000. Meanwhile, 100,000 Americans were hospitalized with the disease, compared to 38,000 at the same time last year. Daily average deaths are far, far higher, going from 802 in 2020 to 1,385 this year. (You read that correctly. We’re losing 1,385 human lives a day to a disease for which a highly effective vaccine is near-universally available.)
The Delta variant is not only more transmissible than the garden-variety strain of the disease the nation was contending with a year ago, it’s affecting a far greater number of children, who largely remain unvaccinated. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children were responsible for just over 1 in 4 new Covid cases during the week ending September 2nd. In Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order preventing school districts from imposing mask mandates, over 50,000 students have been infected in the past few weeks alone, leading over a dozen school districts to close temporarily. Texas isn’t alone, of course. According to The Wall Street Journal, over 1,000 schools in 31 states have closed for Covid-related reasons since the school year resumed. Covid-related deaths among children are rare, but children infected in school are able to transmit the disease to family members at home.
These statistics are a devastating reminder of the nation’s failure to stop the spread of the virus that has now killed just shy of 650,000 Americans. Nevertheless, Republicans remain opposed to mitigation measures like masks and vaccines. Abbott in Texas has outlawed mask mandates and vaccine mandates. So too has Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose administration even threatened to strip funding from school districts who refused to comply with his order banning mask mandates. In one noncompliant district, Miami-Dade, 15 staff members died from Covid-19 in the 10 days following the reopening of schools on August 23rd.
Texas and Florida bookend the southern portion of America that has borne the brunt of the pandemic, and which, not coincidentally, features a disproportionate number of states with vaccinations rates below 50 percent. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee all rank in the bottom 10 in the nation, with none of them eclipsing 42 percent, according to The New York Times. Those states rank, respectively, 2nd, 4th, 13th, 10th, 6th, and 8th, in rate of new cases per 100 residents.
The situation isn’t much better in conservative strongholds elsewhere in America. In Idaho, public health leaders on Tuesday enacted “crisis standards of care” in hospitals flooded with Covid patients, while warning residents they may not be able to received the type of care they’d normally expect if they need to be hospitalized. Idaho’s vaccination rate stands at a paltry 39 percent, tied with Alabama, Mississippi, and Wyoming for the worst in the nation.
“We have 75 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Tuesday. “If we get the overwhelming majority of [these people] vaccinated, we could turn this around even as we go into the cooler weather of the fall.”
This is a big “if” considering the amount of vaccine misinformation still being pushed throughout right-wing media and legitimized by conservative lawmakers hellbent on opposing anything Democrats support, even if that thing is as basic as people not dying. Nineteen months aver the first American died of Covid, we’re still living widespread vaccine hesitancy and a pandemic that has only gotten more catastrophic. This is what’s “normal” now.