‘No COVID patients reported.”
“Emergency mandate restrictions lifted.”
The headlines have been filling our front page in recent days, with good tidings. We are back to normal. Almost. Maybe.
Don’t relax your guard just yet, though. The combination of fast-spreading, highly contagious variants of the original COVID-19 virus and a vexing anti-vaccine attitude among far too many people leaves us on the edge of the danger zone.
We all know the good news. Frederick Health Hospital announced before the Fourth of July weekend that it had no patients being treated for COVID for the first time in more than a year. At the peak in January, it had 72 patients. Nearly 20,000 people in the county have had the disease, and 332 of them have died.
But the Alive @ Five concerts resumed last week and drew a warm and appreciative crowds to Carroll Creek. The same was true for the Fourth of July fireworks, which moved from Baker Park to the fairgrounds.
Our state marked a significant milestone on July 1, which was the beginning of the end of the state of emergency declared by Gov. Larry Hogan last spring. Most mandates and restrictions expired, including the statewide mask order.
The pandemic has infected more than 450,000 people in the state and killed almost 10,000. These are numbers that would have been inconceivable 18 months ago.
But the bad news is building up just as swiftly, and we here in Maryland and Frederick dare not to be blasé.
The Washington Post reported this week that new studies on the swiftly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus highlights threats posed by viral mutations.
A French study found that the delta variant can evade some of the neutralizing antibodies produced by vaccines or by a natural infection. A single shot of a two-dose vaccine “barely” offers any protection, but fully vaccinated people should retain significant protection against the delta variant.
Concerns are growing globally about a resurgence of the coronavirus. On Thursday, the Japanese prime minister declared a state of emergency because of fast-rising infections, and organizers of the Tokyo Olympic Games moved to bar spectators from all events held in and around Tokyo.
Many Maryland counties, including Frederick, have a large percentage of the population fully vaccinated. In our county, it is 57 percent, which is right at the average for the whole state and fourth best in Maryland. Only Howard, at 66 percent, Montgomery at 62 percent and Talbot at 58 percent are better protected.
But a lot of counties are considerably worse. In Somerset County on the Eastern Shore, only 36 percent of the residents are fully vaccinated, and in Garrett County in Western Maryland, it is just 38 percent. Twelve counties are at less than 50 percent.
That leaves a lot of Marylanders vulnerable. Hundreds of people are still dying of COVID every day, and 99.5 percent of them were not vaccinated.
A safe and effective vaccine is available to protect you from the deadly disease, but many people just refuse to take it. Sadly, a lot of it has to do not with science but with politics.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released July 4 showed 47 percent of Republicans said they are unlikely to get the vaccine, with 38 percent of them saying they will definitely not get shots. Republican governors in Arkansas and Utah, where cases are soaring and hospitals are full, are pleading with residents to get vaccinated.
Vaccination is an individual decision, of course, but people who refuse to be vaccinated are not only putting themselves at risk, they are endangering their family, friends and community. It is a profoundly selfish decision.
They are also inflicting a huge cost on the rest of us, who have to help pay for their health care. Hospitalizations can last for days or weeks, even if the patient recovers.
If you know someone who refuses to be vaccinated, you should talk to them, argue with them, even nag them if necessary. The delta variant won’t be the last, and if even more dangerous new viruses are permitted to spread through large populations, we could see a resurgence, even here in Maryland.
Do the right thing. Get the shot.