Believe us when we say we’re as sick of the coronavirus as anyone. The isolation, financial strain and other effects of the global pandemic have greatly impacted our personal lives and business model. Like others, we’d hoped to be back to life as usual by now, roughly 17 months after the initial state lockdown. But for various reasons, such plans have been upended.
First off, the virus is mutating. Presently, at least in the United States, communities are becoming overwhelmed by the highly contagious Delta variant. In fact, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, it’s among the “most infectious respiratory viruses” known to scientists.
Indeed, as of late July, the Delta strain accounted for nearly 85 percent of COVID cases in the nation. Meanwhile, as Walensky reported during a July 22 press briefing, the total number of cases shot up more than 50 percent from the previous week. More bad news: Hospitalizations and deaths spiked 32 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
Here’s the thing: This uptick wasn’t beyond our control. See, 97 percent of those hospitalized for coronavirus eschewed vaccination. Moreover, 99.5 percent of domestic COVID deaths were unvaccinated people.
Despite communities having ample supplies of the vaccine and knowing that it’s effective against the disease, hesitation remains.
California, with approximately 52.5 percent of the population now fully inoculated, ranks 18th in the nation for vaccination. But the state’s poor performance is impressive when compared with Butte County’s lackluster local rate of 39.5 percent, as of the CN&R’s deadline. Our rural neighbor to the west, Glenn County, had a higher rate of vaccination.
Regions with lower vaccination rates are hardest hit. Take, for example, St. Louis, Mo., where 44 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and 12 percent of COVID tests are coming up positive. Doctors there are seeing the biggest surge since February and predicted area hospitals will soon be overwhelmed.
Butte County’s uptick has actually already begun. Two deaths were reported in July. Hospitalizations have increased. The case count of 209 during the week of July 20-26 was nearly double of that recorded the previous week.
Such data doesn’t bode well for our region, its medical facilities, or its vulnerable population. What’s further concerning are the unknowns presented by Butte County K-12 schools reopening full steam in August. The majority of elementary and junior high students are excluded from vaccination, as it is accessible only to those ages 12 and older. Fortunately, the state mandates masking indoors at public schools.
On another bright note, the California State University system is requiring all students, faculty and staff be vaccinated. It’s a good thing considering the university’s primary attendees are “young invincibles,” folks who in many cases believe they are immune to illness. In a recent study by UC San Francisco, a quarter of unvaccinated people between the ages of 18 and 24 reported they “probably would not” or “definitely would not” get the vaccine.
This week, California Department of Public Health recommended everyone, even the vaccinated, wear face coverings indoors, and some counties—including Los Angeles and Sacramento—are requiring masking.
According to Butte County Public Health’s spokeswoman, local health officials are not reintroducing a mask mandate at this time. The department urges unvaccinated individuals to follow the state guidance calling for indoor mask-wearing, and reminds vaccinated residents that they are welcome to do so for additional protection.
Of course, those who refuse vaccination are the least likely to wear masks. Fact is, there’s a large segment of Butte County’s population that has no regard for the well-being of others.
When a surge happens in earnest, and people start falling ill and dying, it will be a sad reflection of our community. It didn’t have to go this way, but at this point pleading with the community to get vaccinated feels a bit like shouting into the void. So buckle up and take care of your own.