Ari Armstrong, Coronavirus, Exclusives, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Riding Covid’s fifth wave

You’ll never guess where in the state my six-year-old son picked up Covid. Yep—Grand Junction in Mesa County, where the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus now known as Delta, then known as the India variant or more-formally as B.1.617.2, first showed up in Colorado and long created a hotspot.

I was surprised that my son tested positive, as he’d shown no symptoms. Then again, as we’ve seen from the outset, the pandemic goes much easier on most children. CDC data show that of 603,505 Covid-related deaths recorded from January 4, 2020, to July 24, 2021, in the U.S., 406 were among people ages 0–18. A fraction of kids get quite sick from the virus. Parents worry whenever their kids are exposed to any contagious disease, even though a bigger risk for kids is losing a caregiver to the virus.

I figured I should get tested too just to make sure I wasn’t spreading the virus without showing symptoms. I was negative, despite my prolonged, close contact with several people who tested positive. Having received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I was at reduced risk of picking up the virus and of getting seriously sick from it if I did get it. The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are performing even better.

I’ve been following Covid news pretty closely anyway, and my family’s brush with Covid heightened my attention. More broadly, there’s a lot going on in Colorado as the fifth wave progresses and schools start to open. So I figured this was a good time to check in on the pandemic.

Much of the news is relatively good. State data show that Colorado dropped below an “incident rate per 100,000” people of 175 starting May 31 and stayed there through July 30, although cases started going back up again in July. By comparison, at the height of Colorado’s third wave around the end of November, the number was over 1,200. Looking at Mesa County, it finally fell from the worst category (350-plus) to the second-worst (175–349) starting July 14. By the end of the month only a few other counties remained at the worst level, and some showed “green,” under 25.

The bad news is that the Delta variant spread as most Colorado counties remained below 60% vaccination rates, a figure that doesn’t include children under 12. Delta is quite a bit more contagious than previous variants and might also cause more serious infections—other things equal. Thankfully, other things are not remotely equal for vaccinated people, who are far better protected.

This really has become a pandemic predominantly of the unvaccinated. State officials presented data from July 1–24 showing that unvaccinated people in Colorado made up 80% of cases, 87% of hospitalizations, and 92% of deaths. Of course, vaccines are not 100% effective and do allow some “breakthrough” cases.

As of July 30, patients then hospitalized for Covid, at 365 counting confirmed and suspected cases, remained below the peaks of the previous four waves. The peaks were 1,277 (April 9, 2020), 412 (July 17, 2020), 1,995 (December 2), and 731 (May 8). With the August 2 number at 405, it looks like the fifth wave will become worse than the second.

With reporting lags, it’s hard to know where the trends in deaths are headed. Although the death toll is nothing like what it was at the peak (80 deaths on December 9), we’re still seeing multiple deaths most days. So the pandemic ain’t over by any stretch.

Government officials are mixed on how to handle this stage of the pandemic. The Tri-County Health Department “recommends that all persons wear masks in school settings regardless of vaccination status and, as long as we have rising rates of community transmission, that everyone including fully vaccinated persons wear a mask in public indoor settings.” The key word here is “recommends.”

Jefferson County Schools, on the other hand, installed a mask mandate for students ages 3–11, unvaccinated teachers and staff, and visitors. Although my family lives in Jeffco, this doesn’t affect us, because we’re homeschooling. But wearing a mask in public has never bothered me, and I’ve never understood the partisan wars over masks. We should bear in mind that some people are more susceptible to Covid.

Governor Polis announced that state employees would either have to be vaccinated or be tested twice weekly and wear a mask. This strikes me as a sensible policy.

Denver declined to reimpose mask mandates, saying people should make the choice “best for them.” Technically the leniency is only for vaccinated people, but few people are checking.

In a bigger move, on August 2 Denver “announced that all city employees, as well as private-sector workers in high-risk settings, will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.” I don’t have a problem with governments imposing rules for their employees. However, I think a mandate should apply only to government employees who have contact with others and that those employees should be able to substitute regular testing or proof of prior infection.

Although various conservatives are surprisingly anti-free-market on the topic, businesses have every right to require that employees be vaccinated. Such a policy makes sense especially in a health-care environment, and various Colorado hospitals have required employees to be vaccinated.

I do think we should remember a couple of central lessons coming out of the pandemic.

First, the federal government failed catastrophically by throttling the production of tests and vaccines. Even now testing is grossly inadequate, and the vaccines, although readily available to us now (for people 12 and older), were unnecessarily delayed by months.

Second, private businesses, including the manufacturers of vaccines, delivery companies, and streaming services, rose to the challenges of the pandemic spectacularly. The economic damage, although great, was much less than I anticipated early on because of America’s heroic producers.

The pandemic has been hard on all of us and brutal for some. It’s hard to know quite what the “new normal” will look like. One thing I’ll try to remember to do as we figure this out is count my blessings.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.

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