Gov. Glenn Youngkin has thrust Virginia into the ferocious battles over evidence-based efforts to quell the coronavirus pandemic, with the newly installed Republican issuing executive orders to bar schools from requiring face coverings and forbidding state employers from having vaccine requirements.
His decisions, in keeping with what has become a GOP policy orthodoxy and reversing his predecessor’s approaches, led the major state universities to lift their vaccination requirements and created an instant battle across the state with school districts, their superintendents, and parents concerned about their youngsters’ health and safety.
Courts may be forced to decide the legality of Youngkin’s pandemic orders.
They were issued hard on the heels of the two-year anniversary of medical scientists confirming the first case of the coronavirus in the country — a finding that soon led to the official and still-existing declaration of a global pandemic.
The long pandemic’s unrelenting harms
This long outbreak has killed at least 865,000 Americans and infected more than 70 million of us. It has ripped through the country in waves, including its latest fueled by the dwindling Delta and raging Omicron variants.
Signs are increasing that the Omicron surge — which slammed the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia — may be slowing in parts of the country. Still, as the New York Times reported:
“About 158,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalized nationwide, more than at any previous point in the pandemic, though new Covid-19 admissions have started to fall. Around 2,000 deaths are being announced each day, a 50% increase over the last two weeks.”
Youngkin’s executive orders and his announced coronavirus plan emphasize that members of the public should get vaccines, which, of course, became widely available starting almost a year ago.
Emphatic evidence that vaccines matter
The shots, especially with a booster, have proven to be a remarkably safe and highly effective way to prevent the inoculated from serious illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the raging contagion of the Omicron variant.
“Getting boosted was 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations during a period in December and January when Omicron was the dominant variant, according to a [federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations across 10 states. In comparison, getting two shots was 57% effective when it had been at least six months past the second shot. Getting boosted was 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, according to the study, which looked at more than 200,000 visits in 10 states. In comparison, getting two shots was only 38% effective at preventing those visits when it had been at least six months past the second shot.”
Federal data also show a grim reverse for the unvaccinated, the New York Times reported:
“[T]he CDC published additional data showing that in December, unvaccinated Americans 50 years and older were about 45 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who were vaccinated and got a third shot. Yet less than 40% of fully vaccinated Americans who are eligible for a booster shot have received one.”
As Virginians now will be forced to see, politicians and public health authorities have fought for months on how best to safeguard society from the coronavirus and to get people to use one of the most powerful, safe, affordable, and effective safeguards against the disease’s harms — vaccines — and to keep up other successful, commonsense measures like upgraded face coverings, distancing, and limiting of unnecessary exposure to large groups in closed, poorly ventilated areas.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not assisted in quelling the pandemic, ruling against the Biden Administration’s efforts to use occupational safety authorities to get large employers to put vaccine requirements in place. The justices narrowly upheld the administration’s push to require vaccinations for health workers.
A federal judge in Texas, an appointee of former President Trump, has barred the administration for now from requiring federal workers to be vaccinated. That order may be largely moot, as officials say that 98% of the 3 million workers covered by the requirement already have met it — yet another example, of how employer requirements, such as at United Airlines, have proved useful in increasing vaccinations and safeguarding the inoculated.
As of Jan. 21, federal officials reported that 210 million Americans (~64% of those eligible) had received two shots of the vaccine, while 83 million of us have gotten boosters.
Getting free at-home tests and upgraded masks
After taking deserved criticism on Americans’ problems in getting needed, quick coronavirus diagnoses, Biden has announced that the federal government, via the U.S. Postal Service, will provide hundreds of millions of rapid, at-home test kits to Americans requesting them (the online sign-up can be accessed here, or the phone-in number is 1-800-232-0233). The test kits may take a bit before they are distributed. Authorities, meantime, are warning people across the country to be wary of pop-up sites purporting to offer coronavirus tests but may just be pirates of patients’ invaluable personal information — data that can be used in identity theft and other criminal activity.
The government also soon will provide to the public hundreds of millions of upgraded free face masks via pharmacies and clinics. Medical scientists have urged Americans to improve their face coverings because of the high contagiousness and airborne spread of the Omicron variant. A rising amount of rigorous research has affirmed that face coverings play a significant role in reducing the coronavirus’ harms at low cost and minor inconvenience. Schools have underscored their importance, especially as serious pediatric Omicron cases have skyrocketed.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all.
Please get tested, if appropriate, AND get vaccinated, AND get those booster shots AND wear those quality masks indoors. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster or optimizing your mixing and matching of coronavirus shots, talk to your doctor. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot.
Although too many of us may be experiencing pandemic fatigue and the Omicron surge appears to be slowing in some areas, the variant’s high contagiousness has created a tsunami of infections. The unvaccinated, and, yes, the occasional breakthrough cases, especially among older patients and those with underlying conditions, is demolishing health workers and the U.S. health system, eroding the safety and quality of available care for us all.
We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We cannot allow anti-science fanatics to destroy centuries of progress with the viral spread of ever-wilder fantasies and conspiracies. Our health system, the envy of the world, cannot be a toy that will be smashed and ruined by selfish belligerence.