Even though I’ve been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, I have begun to wear my mask again in crowded public places. There are a couple of reasons I’m doing this.
First, because mask-wearing and medical science in the United States remains a political football, I want to let conservatives know where I stand — that I know this pandemic is real, not a hoax. Consider it a facial bumper sticker.
Second, even though I am assured I am (at least mostly) protected against the new and rapidly spreading deadly delta variant of coronavirus, I am hardly confident that the folks who refuse to be vaccinated will not become smoldering petri dishes for an even deadlier strain that will render my Moderna vaccine impotent and send us all back to a repeat of the dismal year 2020.
This summer, as the country was beginning to normalize thanks to a more organized vaccination effort by the Biden administration to deliver shots in arms, a stubborn and recalcitrant bloc of conservatives in red-state districts are now placing the nation at risk from fully reopening.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the delta variant is now the most dominant strain of coronavirus in the United States, accounting for 51.7 percent of all new cases. Just a few weeks ago, on June 19, the delta variant was only present in around 30 percent of new cases.
The reason for this disturbing uptick? The vaccine-hesitant and anti-vaxxers in general. For mostly political reasons they have chosen the freedom to expose themselves and others to the deadliest pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu. And they are making the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs. The news that almost all the people now dying of Covid are people who have not been vaccinated should come as no surprise.
“Getting the vaccine is not a partisan act,” Biden recently said. “The science was done under Democratic and Republican administrations. Matter of fact, the first vaccines were authorized under a Republican president.” Well, begrudgingly authorized by a tax-adverse dude who recommended that we might inject ourselves with bleach. But still.
On Wednesday, Johns Hopkins released a disturbing report that led to this startling headline in the Washington Post: “Pandemic deaths near 4 million worldwide amid delta variant surge.” According to the Post, “The United States continues to have the highest cumulative number of confirmed cases and deaths globally. More than 590,000 deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded across the country. Though cases dipped after January, a new wave began only a few months later, prompting President Biden to urge governors to reinstate mask mandates and other virus-related restrictions.”
So who are the stubborn and hesitant ones who refuse to help us get to herd immunity? The 20 states that have achieved Biden’s 70 percent vaccination threshold are Democrat-leaning in the main: the coastal states, much of New England, Hawaii, Colorado and New Mexico in the Southwest, Minnesota, and Illinois, where I hang my hat, sometimes called the Third Coast.
The places where Covid resisters reside make up the rest of the nation. Texas, Alaska, all of the intermountain West, the deep South and Florida. The maps that highlight these differences look almost identical to electoral maps from the 2016 presidential election and not too far off from the 2020 race.
The deadly delta variant of the coronavirus is now raging through the United States. As of June 15, the highest prevalence of the variant is in a ten-state cluster of mostly red-leaning areas — places like South Dakota, known for its super-spreader events last year like the Sturgis motorcycle debauchery and the Mt. Rushmore Trump rally debacle. And in Missouri, my conservative red-state neighbor, where the Delta variant has found a welcoming committee in the rural parts of the state. Recently on NPR, Amanda Hedgpeth, vice president at CoxHealth, based in Springfield, MO, explained that the variant is moving rapidly into areas of the state with vaccination rates as low as 17 percent. Funny how that works.
“Patients that are less likely to get the vaccine tend to live in more rural areas, tend to live in more red areas or red states, [and tend to be] those without a college education and those that are evangelical,” Hedgpeth said.
One could assume that the less education you have, the less you will trust science when experts tell you the vaccine is safe and does not contain, for example, a tracking device attached to Bill Gates’ Microsoft network.
The lack of trust in politicians spans an assortment of often conflicting demographics, but, given the voting patterns in the last two presidential elections, it is not a stretch to suggest that right-leaning conservatives pretty much oppose anything President Biden proposes, including getting the vaccine.
I remember receiving my oral polio vaccine as a young elementary-school kid on the Southside of Chicago. As Lawrence Wright observes in his new book ‘The Plague Year,’ I was part of a “heroic international effort [that] over decades has led to the point that this incurable disease is on the verge of extinction.”
But times have changed, thanks in no small part to anti-vaxxers like Robert Kennedy Jr. and the ability for disinformation to spread, well, as fast as the delta variant. Wright suggests that we are in a race between science and conspiracy that undermines a national effort as in the case of polio.
I wish I could predict that science will ultimately win out, but, sadly, given the present state of these divided United States, predicting the future is a fool’s errand.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. His newest book is “West of East.”