At this stage in the pandemic, one overriding thing matters: getting vaccine shots in arms. That’s what will end the pandemic. That’s what will stop the severe illnesses, the hospitalizations, the deaths, the economic devastation. Every delay in getting shots in arms is literally killing people.
To review the costs: As of the January 4 updates, Colorado had 343,435 known cases of COVID-19—technically, positive tests for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). A far greater number of people—we can only guess how many—got the virus but never got tested. (For reference, Colorado has over 5.8 million people.)
A substantial fraction of those who got infected—again, we can only guess how many—developed serious illness. A substantial fraction have had or will have serious long-term health problems because of the virus. We know 18,747 people were sick enough to land in the hospital—including the governor’s spouse.
We had 3,907 “deaths due to Covid-19.” However, as Jessica Seaman explains, many of the additional deaths in the larger category of “deaths among cases,” at 4,944, “are fatalities caused directly by the disease.” The issue, as Seaman notes, is that the “‘deaths due to COVID-19’ category comes solely from death certificate data, which has a lag of several weeks, so the count is expected to increase.”
Although Colorado’s trends have been moving in a less-horrible direction—we peaked at daily deaths with 77 on December 9—we continued to suffer double-digit daily deaths into year’s end.
The virus tends to hit the elderly much harder. People age 80 or older account for 54% of related deaths, people age 70 or older account for 78%, people age 60 or older account for 90%. So, in terms of number of life-years lost, the toll is lower than if the disease had killed the same number of younger people. But, as I’ve noted, that hardly makes the deaths less tragic. Time is sweeter when short. Thousands of Coloradans died prematurely, in pain, separated from their loved ones. This has been a year of profound suffering.
To get a hint of the economic damage, consider a chart shared by Alex Burness from TrackTheRecovery.org. Higher-income people, those making over $60,000 annually, suffered an 11% employment drop by mid-April but mostly recovered by Summer. Lower-income people (those making under $27,000), by contrast, took a 34% hit by mid-April and, as of mid-October, were still at nearly 18% lower employment compared to January. Presumably much of that is due to the devastation of the restaurant, theater, and other service industries. For many Coloradans, this has still been a year of extreme financial distress.
As if the pandemic weren’t bad enough already, Colorado became the first U.S. state to discover someone infected with a mutant strain of the virus first detected in Britain. Trevor Bedford, a scientists who specializes in vaccines and infectious diseases, thinks we have good reason to worry that this variant is more contagious. As science writer Zeynep Tufekci warns, “Increased transmissibility can wreak havoc in a very, very short time.”
Noah Smith, who calls the new strain “supercovid,” points out that the new strain makes a fast vaccination program all the more important. “The top priority in America right now is getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. And we’re just not doing it,” he warns.
The data researcher Max Roser summarizes, “Israel has now vaccinated more than a million people. More than 10% of the country’s population. Other countries take holidays and keep the vaccines waiting in the freezers while their populations are stuck in lockdowns and their people die by the thousands.”
So how is Colorado doing? Governor Jared Polis accepted the first shipment of vaccines on December 14. As of January 4, the state reported 113,700 vaccination doses administered. I don’t know why the state isn’t reporting daily doses delivered and total available doses on that site.
The Colorado Sun reports that Scott Sherman of the Colorado National Guard “said about 9,000 people in Colorado are getting vaccinated a day.” Colorado has basically no control over how fast we receive vaccine shipments, but we do have control over how fast the doses in stock are delivered.
I fear many people are worrying too much about the distribution order, which clearly has become politicized, and not nearly enough about the distribution speed. The faster the government gets shots in arms, the less the line order matters. Granting that getting the vaccination has been a huge relief to many of Colorado’s doctors and nurses, for most of us it’s far better to be at the end of a fast-moving line than near the start of a slow-moving one.
We need to move faster. Hopefully the speed of vaccine distribution is now Governor Polis’s top priority, consuming his every waking moment. If his dreams are not filled with visions of speeding up vaccine delivery, something’s wrong. Every delay means more deaths and more suffering.
We can and must do better. The economist Alex Tabarrok, who has been tracking the vaccine effort, wrote Sunday, “The vaccine rollout last week was bumpy, in part due to holidays and learning. I am going to be optimistic and predict that by the end of this week we will be at 1 million vaccinations per day and rising. Do it America! Make us proud!”