At the time, most Americans were rightly outraged: The problem wasn’t positive tests, it was millions of people getting sick and hundreds of thousands dying. Overwhelming our hospitals, overwhelming our morgues, forcing anyone with any other illness or injury to forgo necessary treatment—thereby adding to the grim toll of newly dead or disabled.
With no vaccine, a huge constellation of very common symptoms, few effective treatments and no mass-testing infrastructure in place, every new case was a potential death sentence—or, with the emergence of Long COVID, a permanent, life-changing disability.
Those who took this threat seriously have spent nearly two years begging everyone else to take it seriously, too. Attacking, as if their lives depended on it, anyone who pooh-poohed taking precautions, suggested the risk might not be that bad, or compared COVID to the flu. Because our lives did depend on it.
But it’s not June 2020 anymore.
Breakthrough cases are far more likely to be asymptomatic, far less likely to be severe, far less likely to require hospitalization, and far, far less likely to kill you. The occurrence of various lingering symptoms and disorders we collectively call “Long COVID” is pretty closely tied to severity
, so the vaccinated are also much less likely to suffer those aftereffects.
But just how likely is “less likely”? You know me and facts and data
, so let’s break it down the numbers in my neck of the woods:
- 402,674 people live in my greater metropolitan area.
- There have been 59,983 all-time COVID cases across the two relevant counties.
- 70.9 percent of eligible residents have had at least one vaccine dose; 24.9 percent are fully vaxxed and boosted.
- Of the 5,257 currently active cases, 237 of them are hospitalized and 20 are in the ICU.
- Statewide, those who aren’t fully vaccinated account for 85.1 percent of cases and 88.1 percent of hospitalizations.
- Assuming that’s true for my area, that would mean there are currently about 783 breakthrough cases, 28 breakthrough hospitalizations and one breakthrough ICU case.
There were 752 car crashes, 133 car-crash injuries, and six car-crash fatalities in the same two counties
We’re deep into sloppy, back-of-a-napkin territory here. But a week or so after the peak of what’s been by far our biggest wave yet, only something like 0.78 percent of boosted folks are positive, and only 0.03 percent are in the hospital.
As a 40-year-old, no-risk-factored, triple-Pfizered person, when I leave my house I probably face a greater threat from literally driving on the roads than from COVID.
Despite days of Twitter dunking on President Biden’s so-called “get vaccinated or die” speech
, Biden was…not wrong? Throughout 2020, Trump was rightfully excoriated for focusing on optics instead of the actual threat. But right now, those who are fully vaxxed and boosted face very little actual threat.
What about everyone else? Those who are older, or much younger, are immunocompromised or are physically disabled? What about those who live in higher-density areas, or where vax rates are lower and mask use is minimal? What about all the people on my timeline who are up in arms about the CDC changing test-and-quarantine guidelines
to prevent essential services and businesses from going through the same few-are-sick-but-many-are-unavailable personnel shortage as the NFL?
I know a lot of people will conflate what I’m saying now with what all the numbskull deniers were saying at the onset of the pandemic, when there was no way to prevent infection and practically no treatments: “people die every day,” “we all live with risk,” “there’s a 99.9 percent survival rate,” etc. That is not what I’m saying.
I know our hospitals are as strained as they’ve ever been, with thousands of excess deaths
every day—people dying not because they have COVID, but because COVID cases have occupied all the space and people who could treat them. That’s a rolling tragedy, a self-inflicted 9/11 every day, and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.
But trying to stop this wave of COVID with testing and quarantining not only won’t work, it can’t work. We know, because we were already testing and quarantining and it didn’t work. Changing these procedures might feel like giving up to those few whose life literally depends on herd immunity preventing community spread…but community spread is already rampant.
Trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube would be as costly (in money and lives) as failing to screw the cap on all the way was in the first place.
The NFL has stopped testing vaccinated players
who don’t feel sick. Only those with symptoms (and, if they test positive, their close contacts) get tested—and, if they pop positive, can return to work once they’re not contagious. That’s not ‘giving up’ on health and safety, but a reflection of reality: quarantining asymptomatic, vaccinated people won’t do anything to stop the spread of a virus that infected half a million people on Wednesday alone
We didn’t implement vaccine mandates when we should have. We didn’t do enough to encourage the vaccine-hesitant, the vaccine-stupid, and the vaccine-delusional. What’s happening now is a result of that. But 2022 is not going to look like 2021, just as 2021 didn’t look like 2020. Medical science is going to continue to mitigate the threat COVID poses, and the weather will warm back up.
Until that day when we reach containment again—my county had a string of zero-new-case days just six months ago—it’s still everyone’s duty to take all appropriate precautions. But stopping boosted, masked and sanitized people from going out and safely living their lives won’t make anyone else safer.
Instead of attacking health authorities for making data-driven decisions, or those who correctly say shelter-in-place lockdowns right now would do more harm than good, attack the leaders who let eviction moratoriums lapse. Who let enhanced unemployment benefits run out. Who let the increased child tax credit expire. Who, nearly two years in, have still failed to make sure there are plenty of effective masks and tests available for everyone. Whose ongoing failure to fully include the disabled in work and public life makes the threat of disability so scary.
This current wave is on the government’s failure to get our vaccination rate high enough to stop it. So the best use of our energy now would be to insist they do whatever’s necessary to fix that mistake.
In fact, here’s an idea to get them started: instead of paying people to stay home, pay people to get vaccinated.
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My sources for this napkin-y exercise were a combination of the Ingham County and Eaton County COVID dashboards, along with the State of Michigan’s vaccine dashboard. Eaton’s numbers aren’t as granular as Ingham’s, and so there were a couple of necessary fudges (like conflation between “active cases” and “in December”). The upshot is the same: To a healthy, triple-vaxxed person in my area who follows guidelines, COVID now poses a comparable long-term health risk to many others we unworriedly assume every day.