The Pandemic-- Still Not Over

New cases of COVID-19 are plummeting everywhere in the U.S., although Florida, when the state bothers to report, is still #1 for most new cases. Yesterday Florida did report and there were 2,237 new cases. Florida has no restrictions and the governor, Trumpist freak Ron DeSantis has had a Stalinist reaction to any local governments or private companies that try to protect people with anything that smacks of restrictions. DeSantis is trying to make a point-- even if it means more cases, more deaths, and offending private companies and endangering Floridians. Florida's two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, are, if anything, even worse in their primitive attitudes towards the pandemic.

Alan Grayson is running for the Senate seat occupied by Rubio. "I believe in both domestic policies and on foreign policies based on mutual respect, social justice, human rights, shared interests and shared humanity," he told me yesterday. "Marco Rubio is stuck in the 1950s, still fighting the Cold War. A good example of that is the effort, now, to keep us safe from new variants of COVID. Rubio, like Trump, just wants to blame 'Red China.' In contrast, I want to see everyone on the world vaccinated, quickly, for their benefit, AND OURS. Every human being is like a Petri dish for COVID, and every human being who contracts COVID is, potentially, a Patient Zero for something even more dangerous. You can’t understand that if, like Rubio, you’re looking for a socialist under every bed. In foreign policy, just like here at home, it’s not always 'Us against Them.' Sometimes, it’s more like 'We’re All In This Together.'"

Everybody wants for restrictions to end and governments around the world and around the U.S. have set arbitrary deadlines based more on hopes than on hard cold facts. England is running up against that right now. "Freedom Day"-- no more restrictions-- in England is June 21. The country has been very successful with vaccinating people and cases and deaths have come down drastically. This morning, the NY Times reported that in the U.K. "vaccination rates surpassing 90 percent for every age group above 65 in England. As a result, the data show that while case numbers are rising fast from a low base, hospitalizations remain manageable and daily death totals very low, often in the single digits. A break in the link between infections and hospital cases suggests the government’s speedy inoculation program is working, and that has prompted a noisy caucus of lawmakers within Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party to urge him to stick to the June 21 date. That chorus has been joined by the owners of pubs, restaurants and other businesses dependent on the public. The theater impresario, Andrew Lloyd Webber, said this week that he was willing to risk arrest to open a show later this month."

California is also opening up now and will be tossing out all restrictions on Tuesday. It seems like the politically expedient thing to do for a weak governor facing a recall. Is it safe though? The Times reporters, Stephen Castle and Benjamin Mueller, reporting from London, noted that "a recent spike in cases of the highly transmissible coronavirus variant called Delta has prompted such alarm among scientists and health professionals that the country now seems destined to wait a little longer for its liberty." It looks like "Freedom Day" is about to be postponed. Johnson will announce what he's going to do on Monday. "The concern is that a surge of cases caused by the new variant could translate into a sharper uptick in hospitalizations and risk the virus once again overwhelming the National Health Service. 'Covid is not going to disappear on the 21st of June, and lifting all measures as early as the 21st risks reversing the significant progress we have made,' said Jim McManus, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, which represents senior health officials around the country. He called for the extension of the current restrictions 'to prevent a further uptick in cases-- particularly in areas experiencing high or enduring transmission-- and allow time for more people to be vaccinated and protected against the Delta variant.'"

The U.K. is still in the world's top 10 of daily new cases. These were the numbers for Friday:

  • Brazil- 86,061

  • Indian- 84,695

  • Colombia- 29,570

  • Argentina- 26,934

  • USA- 16,145

  • Russia- 12,505

  • Iran- 9,966

  • UK- 8,125

  • Indonesia- 8,083

  • South Africa- 8,020

[T]he Delta variant now makes up 96 percent of all coronavirus cases in England, supplanting even the highly contagious variant from Britain, known as Alpha, that caused deadly waves of the virus around the world this winter.
In a study of household spread, the Delta variant appeared to be 64 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, Public Health England said. And, worryingly, people with Covid-19 cases caused by the Delta variant were roughly twice as likely to be hospitalized, a preliminary indication that the variant may trigger more serious illness, though scientists are still working to confirm that.
In England [like California], many of the most onerous pandemic restrictions have already been lifted and people can already go to pubs and restaurants and to museums and gyms, albeit with some limitations. Although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own rules, they too are relaxing them.
What many businesses crave most of all is certainty, and that has prompted some support for a delay of four weeks, rather than a two-week period that might or might not be extended, making planning harder.
But caution poses political dangers for Mr. Johnson. “If the prime minister does delay the June 21 reopening date, I pledge to work with all like-minded members of Parliament to use every mechanism at our disposal to resist the changes,” said Julian Sturdy, a lawmaker from Mr. Johnson’s party. “People’s livelihoods, mental health and our long-term freedoms are at permanent risk.”
But the scientific community remains largely cautious.
“The virus is doing well, it’s not under control and it’s growing rapidly,” said Gabriel Scally, professor of public health at the University of Bristol, while acknowledging this trend had not so far led to significant hospitalizations.
“The concern would be that the virus would really take off in large numbers,” he said, adding that although much of the most vulnerable population has been vaccinated, the risk was that the virus could spread among the rest. Even if they are less at risk of serious illness, they still represent a large number of people who would also run the possibility of developing long-term complications.
Neil Ferguson, a British epidemiologist and scientific adviser to the government, told reporters this week that a small part of the Delta variant’s dominance appeared to stem from its ability to dodge some of the immunity generated by being vaccinated or contracting the virus.

This morning Harry Enten reported that here in the U.S. nearly all of the states Biden won will make his goal of 70% vaccinated by July 4, while all of the states Trumpanzee won are unlikely to. "The vaccine partisan divide among adults is greater than ever currently. As of Thursday's CDC report, 69.9% of adults in the average Biden-won state have received at least one dose, meaning those states have basically already reached Biden's goal with more than a little over three weeks to go. Compare this to the states Biden lost and Donald Trump won, where an average 54.9% of adults have received at least one dose. The Trump-won states aren't anywhere close to where the Biden-won states are. You'd have to go back more than a month for the Biden-won states to be averaging a vaccination rate as low as the Trump-won states." Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming are doing the worst in the U.S., the only states where less than half the adults have had even one vaccination.

And some of the states that were very close in the election-- Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin-- also have relatively low vaccination rates. "[I]t's not just the binary (did Biden win or lose a state) that is increasingly predictive of vaccination rates, but how much Biden won the state by," continued Enten. "On a scale of -1 to +1, the correlation is +0.85 between Biden's 2020 margin in a state and the adult vaccination rate in a state. This type of correlation is rarely seen when comparing a non-political and political stat. It gives you an idea of how much partisanship is driving vaccinations... Perhaps what's most worrisome is that the vaccine gap between the blue states and red states is only getting wider."

Fortunately, the US currently has its lowest case and hospitalization rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the metrics may go in the wrong direction (as they are in the United Kingdom) as the more contagious and potentially more deadly variant first identified in India (i.e. Delta variant) continues to grow as a share of Covid-19 cases in America.
The vaccines work well on this variant. It seems at least possible that in the next few months, we could see a real divide in Covid-related illnesses between the more vaccinated blue states and less vaccinated red states.