I remember the day I received my first shot of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination. It was April 1, and I went with my mother, who was also receiving her first dose. At the time, we had to drive forty-five minutes one way to reach the closest vaccination site at an old regional airport in Jasper, Alabama.
Queued up in my car to get the shot, I was panicking because I was certain that I was going to be denied: I didn’t have health insurance and I still had an out-of-state driver’s license. But none of that seemed to matter that cool spring morning. I was shocked at how easy it was to pull up in my car, fill out a few forms and then get the vaccine, free of charge. After we received our shots, one of the volunteers even told us, “Congratulations.” My mom and I talked about it on the ride home; it truly felt like we were turning a corner; that we as a nation were past the worst of the storm. Of course, the irony that it was April Fool’s Day did not escape us.
Skip ahead four months (and a second Pfizer shot) and late one evening I noticed I was feeling unusually achy and congested. I figured it was just fatigue, but when I awoke the next morning my condition had worsened and I knew I was sick. Whatever I had, my immediate family — my brother, mother and cousin — had contracted in the weeks before me, and, suspecting that it was Covid, they suggested I take a test.
I live in Alabama, the epicenter for the outbreak of the US delta variant—a state where only about a third of the population has been fully vaccinated (ranking it dead last), and where our governor Kay Ivey still refuses to implement a mask mandate. Nevertheless, I was honestly skeptical that what I had was Covid. I’d heard of “breakthrough cases” — fully vaccinated folks contracting the disease — but everything I’d read about those infections implied that they were very rare. Still, it helped to be sure.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that free Covid testing was no longer available in my area. I called a number of local pharmacies and a CVS, which still offers free testing in some areas of the country (just not mine), finally told me that I could get an at-home test for $20 at Walmart. My next best option was a $50 test from a local drugstore or a walk-in visit at a doctor’s office, which, being uninsured, would’ve likely cost me several hundred dollars. How different this was from just a few months ago when free Covid testing was available at nearly every franchise pharmacy and corner store. What had happened?
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I bought the Walmart at-home kit, which included two tests but no way to report the results other than contacting a doctor or healthcare provider—unhelpful advice for those of us who are uninsured. To my great surprise, the test revealed that my sample was indeed positive for Covid. This meant that I had the virus after my brother, mother and cousin — all vaccinated — had contracted it as well.
Thankfully, all of our symptoms have been mild so far, but if my entire family caught Covid, then that seems to imply that breakthrough cases of the delta variant are more common than previously assumed. The federal government tracks breakthroughs if they result in hospitalization or death. But the percentage of breakthrough cases like me who are not severe but still contagious? That’s actually difficult to say because the CDC doesn’t track that information; instead, it’s been using modeling to estimate viral spread. In fact, the CDC stopped keeping track of mild breakthrough cases back in May. This all begs the question: Why?
Yes, the vaccine is readily available now, but there are still plenty of vulnerable people out there. We’re not just talking about Trump supporters who refuse to get inoculated; this also impacts the immunocompromised, who are not as safe even with these vaccines. So why would the federal government stop tracking those who can spread the virus? Why would testing not still be readily available and free, especially since many of us did our societal duty, got vaccinated and continued to mask up?
Instead of recognizing the hard truth — that the delta variant is more than a minor speedbump on the United States’ recovery from Covid — it feels like our leaders are hoping against hope that millions of vaccine-hesitant Americans will get their shots in the next couple of weeks and that the horror of lockdowns and mask mandates can be over. This is true for both parties: from New York governor Andrew Cuomo, often accused of overreach during his handling of the pandemic, who decided this weekend not to implement a statewide mask mandate, to my own governor Kay Ivey, who has for years refused a Medicaid expansion in our state, refused to criticize Trump’s handling of the pandemic, and blamed the recent surge in her state solely on “unvaccinated folks.”
Even the famously reliable Dr Fauci seems to be ignoring the science because, as we all know by now, it’s unpopular to ask for more Covid restrictions. But for people like me living through this current tsunami of Covid delta, that’s exactly what’s needed.
Just this Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Dr Fauci recognized that “things are going to get worse” and that “some pain and suffering” lie ahead. Incredibly, in that interview, Fauci also said that even though there weren’t enough vaccinated people to “crush the outbreak,” he didn’t think we would see more lockdowns. Fauci has also previously stated that more lockdowns are “not needed.” But as someone with a breakthrough case of Covid, I could not disagree more. My whole immediate family contracted the disease and we did exactly as we were supposed to do. The vaccine has certainly mitigated the symptoms, but it did not stop the spread.
Fauci’s lax attitude seems such a far cry from how he acted under the previous administration, even though the science is perfectly clear: infection rates among the unvaccinated are rising in many states as rapidly as they did during this year’s deadly winter surge. Florida just reported its highest number of new Covid cases in a single day. At this point, it feels like Fauci and the Biden administration are ignoring the science for political reasons. Even if 100 million Americans got vaccinated today, which is not possible, it would still take weeks for the inoculations to take full effect, meaning that, for now, the delta variant is going to be spreading and likely surging regardless.
All this spells out one thing: We need to go into lockdown again. We need to mask up again. We need stricter vaccination requirements for school, travel and work. Hoping that millions of reluctant Americans will suddenly get vaccinated to make the delta variant go away sounds remarkably similar to Biden’s predecessor when he said about this time last year that Covid would one day soon “just disappear.”
That wasn’t an acceptable attitude then, and it’s certainly not now.
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