Yay. Another COVID topic. I know that’s just what you all want to read. (Not really. I know from my blog statistics that these COVID posts don’t get many views these days. And yet I persist.) However, I was looking at COVID numbers today and thinking back on where we were a year ago. The contrast was surprising, and (unfortunately) disheartening.
Come with me, back to Maine in mid-August of 2020.
The university was ramping up for a return to in-person classes. Masks were required everywhere (indoors and outside on campus), we had strict social distancing caps on all indoor spaces, we had a testing plan to test all on-campus students and 10% of everyone else every week, and the popular bet was that we weren’t going to last longer than the beginning of October before we had to go fully online. I was feeling quite discouraged. You probably were too. After all, we’d just gotten through our second big spike of COVID a few weeks before: cases had been up to 40 per day on average, almost as bad as May, when it was in the 50s. The current 7 day average was 21 cases per day in the state, but our hospitalizations had been steadily falling, down from 97 people hospitalized in May to 34 hospitalized now. The two spikes had resulted in death rates of 2 people per 100k per day. Yes, the current rate was .1/100k, but I was still very worried about what might happen when we all started getting back together in person.
Compare that to today. An indoor mask mandate just returned to campus, but there are currently no social distancing measures in place, and I would say people feel generally positive about the prospects. After all, there’s a vaccine mandate in place for students (and one in discussion for staff), and Maine is already at 65% of its population being fully vaccinated. Better yet, Maine right now has the lowest number of COVID cases (per 100k people) of any place in the country. We made it through last year, we can make it through this year. Right?
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but let’s just take a look at the actual numbers right now. Last year we were at 21 cases per day on this date. This year? 172. Last year we were at 34 hospitalized on average, but right now we’re at 98. Last year we were at .1 deaths per day per 100k. This year we’re at 1.1.
When you look at the actual data, we are in a much, much worse position now than we were a year ago. And that’s in Maine, with one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest COVID rates in the country right now.
I understand why it feels so much better now than then. Maine went through January, after all, when we peaked at 625 cases/day, 248 people in the hospital, and 12 people dying per day. It’s all relative, and we’re far off from where our numbers were at their worst. But then I remember that we’re still in the summer, and we’ve got that lovely stretch of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s on the horizon, when everything went crazy.
The good news is that we do have more experience with the virus. We know how effective wearing masks can be, when everyone does it. We’re not worrying about fumigating our mail or our groceries anymore. The vaccines really are helping, particularly with the death and hospitalization rates, but the Delta variant is not messing around.
I really (REALLY) do not want to go back to being at home 24/7. I want my kids in school in person. I want what normalcy we can scrounge up. But to get there, we need to be following basic common sense precautions. My church’s leadership recently came out with a statement on masks and vaccines:
To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.
It is perhaps telling of our times that this statement, given by the group church members believe are literal prophets of God, has resulted in . . . less than enthusiastic responses. It appears to vary by location and local leadership, according to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve read some of the justifications members are giving for not wearing masks and not getting vaccinated. Typically they’re falling into the “if the Prophet really wanted me to do it, he’d make it a commandment and not a suggestion.” (To which, if you’re a devout church member, I’d simply remind you of D&C 58:26–“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.”) Personally, I read it and decided to mask up when I can’t socially distance. Even in Maine, where the rates are “so low.”
To hear some people talk, masks must be made out of acid or something. For me, the question shouldn’t be “do I want to wear a mask and vaccinate or not?” It should be “do I want to go to another home quarantine or not?” I would also remind even those who have already had COVID that getting the vaccine is still recommended for them as well, as the protection it gives is stronger than the natural protection they have. (Again, sort of like saying “I don’t need a seat belt because I’ve got air bags in my car.” I’ll take both, thanks.)
Anyway. I’ll get off my soap box now. I know half of you agree with me, and half of you don’t, and I also realize practically nothing I say will make a difference. The main point of this post was to share the realization I had when I compared the COVID stats today with those from a year ago. I’m very grateful for the vaccine, as I believe those numbers would be much, much worse than they are without our high vaccination rate.
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