The surge of COVID-19 infections driven by the virus’ delta variant ought to jolt sensibilities back to return to simple and prudent precautions. Clearly, and painfully, this pandemic remains a threat to public health despite the broad availability of vaccines to Americans ages 12 and over.
Inexcusably, leaders of other states and in Congress have taken cues from the previous president and Fox News broadcasters to rail against the need for vaccinations and social-safety precautions. The stark facts on the ground reveal this foolishness for what it is. Billions of vaccine doses have been administered globally, the vast majority without lasting negative effects.
Yes, some vaccinated people have contracted COVID-19 infections, but only a minuscule fraction of those breakthrough cases have led to serious illness.
Meanwhile, in our state, so many unvaccinated people have contracted the virus and become so ill that “every hospital is quite full,” Washington State Hospital Association President and CEO Cassie Sauer said. ICU bed usage by COVID-19 patients topped 11% last week, near its pandemic peak of about 13%.
This did not have to be. And it can be stopped. The medical triumph of vaccine availability is a milestone toward restoring normalcy, but it is not the finish line. Crucial steps, some simple and others painful, remain necessary.
The 60 Seattle restaurants and bars now requiring proof of vaccination from patrons are taking matters into their own hands. Each restaurant’s staff members who circulate among tables of unmasked diners need protection. Their employers are right to risk turning away some sales for the greater goal of supporting public health while so many remain unvaccinated.
Within weeks, Washington’s more than 1 million public school students will flock back into classrooms. Even if nearly all teachers and administrators are immunized, the students under 12 and a sizable percentage of the older ones won’t be.
Medical experts said that early analyses indicate the delta variant can spread quickly among large groups, even when some are fully vaccinated. The all-schools mask mandate Gov. Jay Inslee announced July 28 is not a perfect solution, or universally beloved. But it is the best move available to help stave off potential waves of infection in the schools and a dreaded return to remote education, just as restoring mask-wearing as the norm in other public indoor spaces can help stem infections’ spread.
Such disappointing, but necessary, retreats from the governor’s decision to reopen Washington June 30 can bring the true end of the pandemic closer — if enough people take them seriously. Inslee has not rolled back that reopening or mandated state employee vaccinations.
COVID-19 cannot be wished away while the delta variant is circulating so widely. Large employers, including Google, Microsoft and Seattle City Hall, are wisely adapting their plans for office reopening as community spread rates escalate. The state’s 14-day average case rate is more than double what it was just a month ago, from less than 70 cases per 100,000 people to nearly 160.
Everyone should adjust expectations of normalcy and reach for the masks once more. We’re not out of danger yet.