Ramsey: A virus unfettered among the unvaccinated
At this time last year, we were at what was then a peak in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, facing a pandemic that could hit every person in the state.
Now, Texas and the U.S. have a different pandemic underway, one that preys heavily on people who haven’t been vaccinated. Like last summer’s wave, the coronavirus variants threaten life, community and commerce — forcing us to reconsider the masks we’ve largely set aside and the social distancing we’re so eager to ignore when we see friends and family.
The numbers are plain as can be. Since February, 99.5% of the people killed by COVID-19 in Texas were unvaccinated. Many of those deaths were preventable.
Overall, the pandemic toll has slowed. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 7, at its peak in Texas, COVID-19 killed 11,604 people; from Feb. 8 to July 14, it killed 8,787. Of that latter group, only 43 of the victims — just under 0.5% — had been vaccinated.
Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t going to impose a mask mandate, he told KPRC-TV in Houston on Tuesday night. “The medical component, as we all know, is that one of the things that dramatically reduces, if not eliminates, the possibility of getting COVID or even getting the delta variant of COVID is getting a vaccine,” Abbott said.
This is not complicated. Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell put it in perspective, responding to a Twitter message from someone who said vaccinated people can get COVID-19, too: “People with a helmet on still get hurt playing linebacker man but try playing without one.”
Need a lesson in masking and social distancing? Look no further than the pack of Texas Democrats who decamped to Washington to block passage of a stricter voting law pushed by legislative Republicans. The Texas House can’t conduct business unless at least 100 of its 150 members are present. More than 50 Democrats bugged out, so the Legislature is frozen.
But those Democrats are not telling the story they hoped to be telling right now. Instead of talking about the fine points of legislation they think is anti-democratic, they’re fielding inquiries about the half-dozen members of their group who’ve come down with COVID-19 cases, even passing it along to an aide to the U.S. House speaker and to a White House staffer.
After a box of beer was spotted in a photo of the traveling Democrats, Republicans started trying to label the excursion as a joy ride. Now the GOP joke is that they left with a box of Miller Lite and now have picked up six cases of Corona.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to say that masks and strict social distancing are unnecessary for fully vaccinated people. But they can be carriers of the coronavirus, with or without symptoms, and a threat to people who aren’t vaccinated. The head of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, has called this phase “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” highlighting the people at greatest risk.
In Texas, 53.9% of the adult population was fully vaccinated as of July 16, according to the CDC. And 42.8% of the total population was fully vaccinated as of July 19, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. (Everyone age 12 and older is eligible for vaccination, by CDC guidelines.) New cases were up 57% over the previous week. Hospitalizations were up 24% over the previous week.
The numbers aren’t as bad, overall, as they were a year ago, or during the biggest rise in cases at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. But remember that almost half of the population has been immunized, and thousands more Texans are immune because they’ve already had COVID-19.
The increase in cases is hitting a smaller population of Texans — those who have had neither their shots nor the disease.
They have the means to protect themselves, along with increasing evidence, for any that needed it, that this is not a drill.
Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, where this column originally appeared.