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These were all headlines at or near the top of the BDN webpage on Tuesday.
Lower on the online page were stories about firefighters seeking bonuses for working during the pandemic and Massachusetts National Guard members driving school buses because of a shortage of bus drivers, which was likely made worse by the pandemic.
This was just one day’s coronavirus-related news — none of it good.
When vaccines became readily available and warmer weather came to Maine, many were hopeful that the pandemic was mostly behind us. In the spring, COVID cases declined, businesses reopened or more fully opened. Maine’s state of emergency ended on June 30.
Now, just a few months later, the daily number of new cases is reaching the same heights seen in January. Because the delta variant is more likely to result in hospital stays. As a result, hospitalizations are high and the number of COVID patients in ICU is at the highest level since January. Ditto for patients on ventilators. Although there are breakthrough cases — infections among those who have been vaccinated — they are rare and usually mild. At Northern Light Health hospitals on Monday, 93 percent of COVID patients in the ICU and 90 percent on ventilators were unvaccinated.
A very frustrated-sounding President Joe Biden last week announced a vaccine mandate for federal employees and many private sector employees. The authority for such a federal mandate — using the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rulemaking process — seems shaky. Worse, the president came across as hectoring and dictatorial, which is not an effective way to encourage skeptics to do what you say.
There are some encouraging signs that private efforts to increase vaccination rates are working. At Delta Airlines, for example, 4,000 employees have been inoculated since the company announced a $200 a month surcharge on health insurance for employees who were not vaccinated.
Last month, United Airlines announced a vaccine mandate for most of its employees. Half of the airline’s unvaccinated employees have since gotten the shots, according to a company spokesman.
Messaging about the importance of vaccines and the dangers of the delta variant is also being heard.
The number of Americans who say they will never get the vaccine has dropped significantly since March, according to a recent Monmouth University poll. And, the number of people who said they would “see how it goes” before getting the vaccine dropped from 21 percent in March to just 6 percent this month.
“Seeing how it goes” in low vaccination states is a grim picture.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has long opposed mask and vaccine mandates, going so far as to ban mask mandates in the state’s schools and threatening to fine employers that require COVID inoculations. Florida has the highest death rate from COVID per 100,000 residents of any state in the country and the second highest hospitalization rate. It dwarfs many countries in these statistics as well.
Some critics of masking and vaccine mandates say that the dangers of COVID are overblown and that we should all go on with our lives without restrictions or even precautions. To this we say: Allowing more people to die and to suffer long-term — and largely unknown — health consequences when preventative measures are available, doesn’t seem like a good alternative.
Neither is having to close schools, which interferes with learning and parental work schedules, when COVID outbreaks occur. Outbreaks, particularly in health care facilities, have caused staff shortages, closures and pared back services. Businesses have struggled for months to fill vacant jobs as many would-be workers juggle child care, which is also disrupted by COVID outbreaks, and others say that concerns for their safety have kept them out of the workplaces.
This cycle needs to be broken. Getting vaccinated is the best answer we have.