Well, where are we? A quick summation of some recent news stories: Louisiana’s largest hospital is completely out of beds. The number of people hospitalized with Covid in Florida is roughly the same as it was back at the peak of this past winter’s surge (roughly 1/1,900 Floridians is in a hospital bed with the diagnosis). The total number of cases diagnosed in the US so far is something over 35 million (or roughly 10% of the total population) and is going up currently by 100,000 a day. Closer to home, the number of hospitalizations in Alabama has doubled from two weeks ago but there’s an odd geographic predilection. The huge increases are in the Gulf Coast and Mobile Bay areas and not so much in the cities further inland. I put that down to cavorting at the beach over the Fourth of July Weekend and geographic proximity to Louisiana. It’s coming our way. Druid City hospital in Tuscaloosa which was down to 7 Covid patients at the first of July, now has over 100.
The good news among all these bleak statistics is that if you are fully vaccinated, you need not worry too much. 99% of the hospitalizations in Alabama between January and July with Covid were in unvaccinated individuals. Those with breakthrough cases generally recover at home without much incident. I am adhering to indoor masking recommendations personally. I’m not afraid for myself, I care enough about my fellow citizens to try and keep from being an asymptomatic carrier. Besides, I have quite the collection of high fashion masks these days and I go to great pains to match them with my shirt of the day. I also try to get my socks to match but that’s sometimes a more difficult task.
The big debate going on at the moment, as we are approaching the first day of school, is school policies regarding masking, social distancing and safety in the classroom. The Delta variant appears to be somewhat more infectious in children than the Alpha variant of last year. (I don’t have hard numbers on this but it’s alluded to by several trusted sources). No one wants to go back to virtual school as it wasn’t terribly good for either kids or education so the consensus is that schools will open on their usual schedule. The state of Alabama, kowtowing to political pressure from the right wing of the Republican party, has passed legislation forbidding any use of ‘vaccine passports’, whatever that’s supposed to mean (although the legislation has no penalties attached for violations) and the governor has made it quite clear that she will not impose any sort of state mask mandate. At least she hasn’t expressly forbidden the use of masks in schools unlike Florida, Texas and Arkansas (where the governor is very sorry he signed the legislation). She’s simply kicked the can down to local governance and school boards. Locally, city schools have announced a mask mandate. The wealthy suburbs are being torn by competing groups of vocal parents – those calling for a mask mandate to protect their kids and those calling for no mask mandates to encourage their kids to have some normalcy in childhood.
I have a couple of thoughts. First, kids are infinitely adaptable. They’ll do whatever the culture tells them is proper in regards to dress and behavior. Tell them they have to wear masks, they will – it’s what happens in all those cultures where face veiling is considered a proper standard. It won’t hurt them negatively in any way. They’ll only rebel against masks if they’re getting the information that they should from a trusted adult. Masks aren’t going to damage them or their educational experience. Second, if the first job of governance is to protect the citizenry (something that has been in short supply these last few years), the second job is to make sure that the next generation can grow and develop into functional and competent adults. This means adults have to be adult and put the needs of kids before their own wants sometimes. Kids need to be around their peers and educated and so the steps we take should ensure that happens. Masks are a very small price to pay for that to happen safely. People often forget the purpose of the mask. It’s not about you. They don’t keep you from getting Covid, but if everyone wears them, they prevent Covid from propagating in the group and that’s ultimately more important. They need to be universal in areas of high transmission. They can come off again when transmission rates fall. I don’t have children so I don’t have a dog in this fight, but if I did, I’d send them to school with masks for in the building time and tell them to take them off and run around and yell, scream and sing outside at recess.
To date, roughly 500 children have died of Covid in the US. That’s not a lot compared to the total of 615,000 or so deaths we’ve had so far but every one of those 500 families is broken, some beyond repair and 500 lives which were full of potential have been snuffed out at a young age. We’ll never know if there was a Gershwin or a Simone Biles amongst them. With vaccines, we can protect kids, not by vaccinating them directly (yet -but that may change) but by making sure that they are surrounded by adults who care enough about them to reduce their chances of exposure by being themselves vaccinated. That’s how herd immunity works. Any child death from now on is one too many as it’s not necessary as we have the tools to protect them.
I really don’t understand the politics of the right wing at the moment. The noise machine remains firmly antivaccination and continues to spew toxic misinformation to their base. I presume this is to be able to point to the Biden administration and say ‘see, they failed to protect you from the pandemic – vote for us’ in next year’s midterms. But the cynical calculations that have been made with innocent people’s lives, especially those of children and young adults, is unconscionable. It’s as if Governors Abbot and DeSantis and their ilk were standing in front of the altar of Moloch demanding the population push their children into the flames. In a decade or two, when this is all an unpleasant memory and today’s kids are young adults, those twenty and thirty somethings are going to look at their parents and ask ‘What did you do to keep me safe during the pandemic?’ and there may be some very uncomfortable conversations that follow.
It’s all so different from when I was in elementary school and we were lined up for polio, MMR and other vaccines in the auditorium. I don’t recall a single one of us having a parent that complained. They were just thankful that the dreaded diseases of their own childhoods had been beaten back. My earliest memory is of polio. I was not quite two but I vividly remember the little girl who lived next door who walked with braces on her legs as she had had polio several years before. It’s almost the only thing I remember from that very young age so it must have made a huge impression on me. We lived in a Connecticut suburb at the time (my father was on the faculty at Yale). I don’t remember much about it at all, but when Mad Men came out a few years ago with its depiction of suburban New England life in the early 60s, all of a sudden, memories of various conversations my parents had had about their neighbors and acquaintances from that time came rushing back. And I understood their decision to hightail it back to the West Coast in the summer of 1964.
The litany continues: mask indoors in public, wash your hands, get your shots, love your children.