We are not here to preach or condescend. That’s what helped the country get to the state of COVID-19 that we are now.
We’re just going to tell you where things stand with COVID-19 and what we need to do if we have any chance of returning to some kind of “normal” anytime soon.
Our children are going back to classrooms in herds.
Our workplaces are going to start opening back up.
Airports are crowded again. Restaurants, movie theaters, music festivals and tourist attractions are all making comebacks.
If we don’t get strict about how that happens, 2020 could make a deadly return. This is on us. So, let’s get started.
5 truths about the state of COVID
It’s on the upswing.
For the first time in more than three months, cases are averaging about 90,000 a day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents a roughly 30% increase from the seven-day moving average a week earlier, which saw about 70,000 daily new cases. Daily hospitalizations have grown by 40% and as of last week, deaths by about 33%, averaging almost 300 each day.
This is the worst the pandemic has been in the United States since February.
According to disease trackers, the country could see 140,000 to 300,000 cases a day this month, The Washington Post reported.
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Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former chief of the Food and Drug Administration, says it’s possible that data only captures a fraction of people who have the virus.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if, on the whole, we’re infecting up to a million people a day right now, and we’re just picking up maybe a 10th of that,” he told CNBC. “There must be a lot more infection underneath the small numerator that’s showing up in the hospital.”
It is easier to get infected by the delta variant
The resurgence of the virus in the United States has largely been driven by the presence of the delta variant, which makes up a vast majority of infections. The CDC estimates that the delta variant accounts for about 82% of them.
We don’t know whether delta is deadlier, but it’s certainly more transmissible. Delta is substantially more contagious than previous variants and as contagious as chickenpox, according to an internal CDC presentation circulating last week.
A person infected with the delta variant or chickenpox infects, on average, eight or nine others. The original COVID strain was about as transmissible as the common cold, with each infected person passing the virus, on average, to two other people. Among common infectious diseases, only measles is more contagious than the delta variant.
A CDC study of an outbreak in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, found no significant difference between the viral loads of fully vaccinated people and those of unvaccinated people, suggesting that vaccinated people still need to wear masks and limit contact with others to avoid spreading the virus.
The vaccine is less powerful against delta, but it’s still lifesaving
Less than 1% of fully vaccinated people had breakthrough infections of any kind, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of state data.
The CDC tracks only breakthrough infections that result in hospitalization or death, reporting even lower numbers: As of July 26, only 6,587 vaccinated people were hospitalized or died due to a breakthrough infection, out of more than 163 million fully vaccinated people. That’s 0.004%.
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The internal CDC presentation that circulated last week shows that the vaccinated are about three times less likely to catch COVID-19 and about 10 times less likely to die from it than the unvaccinated.
Even in the case of an outbreak like the one in Massachusetts, vaccinations prevented hospitalizations. About three-fourths of people infected in the outbreak were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, none of whom died, and only a few were hospitalized.
“The vaccines are working. Of the 900 cases related to the Provincetown cluster, there have been no deaths, 7 hospitalizations, and the symptoms are largely mild,” tweeted Alex Morse, the town manager of Provincetown.
Vaccines are going to waste
States have administered about 54 million fewer vaccines than were delivered to them, according to CDC data.
Delays, breakages and problems with storage and transportation account only for an extremely small part of the vaccine gap. According to The New York Times, wasted or unusable doses account for less than 2% of the vaccine supply in many states.
Health leaders:We’re asking American businesses to create #COVIDSafeZones.
Demand, however, has been growing in the states with the highest number of coronavirus cases. For the past three weeks, the White House said, the states with the largest number of cases have also been the states with the highest vaccination rates.
Other variants are on the horizon
According to the CDC, the coronavirus is “just a few mutations potentially away” from not withstanding the protection of current COVID-19 vaccines.
“The amount of virus that is circulating in this country largely among unvaccinated people – the largest concern that we in public health and science are worried about – is that virus and the potential mutations away we are from a very transmissible virus that has the potential to evade our vaccines in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and death,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.
5 truths about how we’re going to beat this
Those five points are jarring and likely surprising to the people who thought the pandemic was over. Those of us who wore masks religiously and got vaccinated and those who did neither are in the same boat, and that boat is taking in water again.
What happens now? What do we as a nation have to accomplish to get better control of COVID-19 and whatever variants we have coming?
Move past the politics of COVID-19
Before we do anything else, we’ll need to get past all the political blathering from both sides. What politicians say just doesn’t matter. That’s true in general and truer when we’re dealing with a nonpolitical pandemic that won’t go away until we stand together.
Like we say above, the vaccines don’t make people transmission-proof, but they are still powerful, safe shields against serious illness and death.
“We know that there (are) more people with this delta variant who’ve been vaccinated who are probably spreading the infection,” said Dr. Gottlieb on CBS News’ Face the Nation on Monday. “But it’s still a very small percentage of people who are becoming infected after vaccination and who then are going on to spread the infection to others.”
The vaccines are safe and effective. Serious problems and long-term side effects are incredibly rare. If you haven’t done it already, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
USA TODAY EDITORIAL BOARD:We tried asking nicely. It’s time to mandate COVID vaccines for some.
The delta variant being more transmissible for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated means it’s time to mask up again, at least for the time being.
The CDC said last week that vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” adding to their preexisting recommendation that unvaccinated people keep their faces covered.
Some individual states have been following suit. Local governments, such as Los Angeles County and St. Louis, began requiring vaccinated people to wear masks again, citing concerns about the delta variant.
Other governments, such as New York City’s, have been strongly advising their residents to mask up, but are not requiring it. All five boroughs in New York City meet the criteria for “substantial or high transmission,” according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker.
This places the responsibility on individuals to protect themselves, their families and their communities – wearing masks until the number of cases shrinks again is just the way to do that.
Sometimes it can’t be helped – people moving or traveling back to school don’t have too many alternatives when it comes to travel during the pandemic.
In the case of a summer vacation to or from a COVID-19 hot spot, however, it might be best to hold off on the trip for now. Airlines have said there hasn’t been a slowdown in ticket sales as cases have risen.
If you have to travel, follow the guidelines above: Get vaccinated, and stay masked on planes and in public settings. Before and after traveling, self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, then isolate and get tested if you develop them.
Avoid crowds when possible
Lollapalooza. Pitchfork Music Festival. Governor’s Ball. For many of us, this summer has long represented a promised return to concert venues and live music, but it’s just not wise to attend amid the surge of cases.
Public health experts warned that Lollapalooza, for instance, which took place in Chicago last weekend, ran the risk of turning into a superspreader event, even with precautions. Officials in the Netherlands were shocked after a much smaller music festival – where safety protocols were similar to Lollapalooza’s – attended by 20,000 people over two days this month led to nearly a thousand cases of COVID-19, CNBC reported.
Our favorite artists and bands aren’t going anywhere. We should return to large crowds when the delta variant isn’t in danger of becoming a surprise headliner.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Louie Villalobos (@louievillalobos) is the audience development editor for USA TODAY’s Editorial Board. Jason Lalljee (@jasonlall9) is a summer intern for the Opinion section.