By David M. Greenwald
From the start of this pandemic, too many people failed to appreciate the severity of this pandemic. In a way, it’s the nature of the disease. After all, if we had a disease as deadly as Ebola with a near 50 percent mortality rate, people would be a lot more respectful of the dangers.
People downplay COVID because most people get fairly mild illness and *only* about one percent will die—and most of them have some sort of pre-existing condition or tend toward the older side of the spectrum.
On the other hand, people should not be sneezing at 600,000 fatalities in the US or the 4.2 million deaths worldwide. This may not be the 1918 Flu or Black Death, but it could well end up being one of the ten worst pandemics of all time.
The real problem now—as before—is that people are not only being reckless with respect to taking precautions, they are doing so without full information.
Bottom line: people are playing with fire and many are going to get burned. And even if they think they know COVID, the Delta variant should be a note of caution. New CDC memos show that Delta infections are not only much more contagious but they are also more severe.
The game may be changing below our feet. There is some indication that some outbreaks occurred with OUTDOOR gatherings over July 4.
Worse yet—the longer this stuff remains in the population, the more it will mutate. CDC is already warning that the disease is only a few mutations away from rendering all vaccinations useless. Can we adapt? Maybe. But we are chasing the disease right now and probably losing.
The very people who have opposed the economic shutdowns and mask regulations are the very people who are not vaccinating and the very people who are the primary cause for the surge of cases from around 14,000 a day at the beginning of July to 77,000 yesterday.
The message here is more complex. First, vaccines protect but do not prevent. That means that people who are vaccinated can get COVID and spread COVID. For the most part they are not getting hospitalized or dying.
Part of the problem here is that people do not understand science and most don’t even understand basics of data analysis 101.
Someone this week blindly posted: “Statewide data analyzed by the Bay Area News Group found five counties, Los Angeles, San Diego, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco, have both a higher percentage of people who are fully vaccinated than the state average and a higher average daily case rate. Compare that to these five counties: Modoc, Glenn, Lassen, Del Norte, and San Benito, which have below-average vaccination rates and decreasing case rates.”
The quote itself was taken out of context. The article went on to quote Dr. Phillip Norris who clarified this data “doesn’t mean the vaccine is not working. He notes, first, the counties referenced with higher vaccination and case rates are more densely populated.”
The commenter never explained why he posted it or what it means. Nor did he seem to understand that a bivariate analysis of this sort isn’t that helpful. Why is the COVID rate higher in places with higher density? Probably because on average each person infected has more potential people to infect.
Let’s look at some other stats which bear this out. The media is not doing a good job, by the way, of reporting on this.
Ken Dilanian of NBC tweeted an NBC Story. The headline: “Breakthrough Covid cases: Data shows how many vaccinated Americans have tested positive.” But below the big headline: “The 125,682 ‘breakthrough’ cases in 38 states represent less than .08 percent of the 164.2 million-plus people fully vaccinated since January.”
This is a classic example of the law of big numbers. If you have a large population even small percentage can lead to high numbers.
The numbers bear this out: 125,000 vaccinated people have tested positive for COVID. On other hand, as Nate Silver tweeted, “At least 35,000,000 unvaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid.”
According to the July 29 CDC memo, “At current incidence, 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 162 million vaccinated Americans.”
Bottom line: people who vaccinate are getting infected. But the vaccine is clearly working.
In Yolo County, the county reported about 17 percent of those who tested positive with COVID are vaccinated. That’s probably an overstated percentage because, in order to test positive for COVID, you have to test in the first place and one might guess people who vaccinate are probably far more likely to be tested than non-vaccinated people.
CDC warns: “Vaccine breakthrough cases may reduce public confidence in vaccines.”
That is the big danger here. Confidence. And when the media emphasizes breakthrough cases without putting into perspective proportionality they are doing everyone a disservice.
But my biggest irk is the people who refuse to be vaccinated altogether. The irony again is that those refusing to be vaccinated are making it far more likely that we shut down again. We went from 14,000 to 77,000 cases a day in four weeks. What happens in the next four weeks? Are we going to top January’s 200,000 per day totals? Don’t you think governments are going to go back into shutdown mode?
The New York Times reported this week: “As Virus Cases Rise, Another Contagion Spreads Among the Vaccinated: Anger.”
They write: “Frustrated by the prospect of a new surge, many Americans are blaming the unvaccinated. A tougher stance may backfire, some experts warn.”
Count me in the angry crowd.
The Times reports: “The rising sentiment is contributing to support for more coercive measures. Scientists, business leaders and government officials are calling for vaccine mandates — if not by the federal government, then by local jurisdictions, schools, employers and businesses.”
This teacher captures my view perfectly: “I’ve become angrier as time has gone on. Now there is a vaccine and a light at the end of the tunnel, and some people are choosing not to walk toward it. You are making it darker for my family and others like mine by making that choice.”
We have been far too slow on this stuff. We probably cannot mandate that everyone vaccinate. But we can require vaccinations for most public accommodations, and most private businesses can require it for entry as well.
Some are warning of a backlash by those against regulations—well, maybe this time I am the backlash.
Those who want to argue that people who have been vaccinated are even getting and spreading the Delta variant – that’s why I spent the first half of this piece going through the data. Those who want to make that argument simply do not understand how the data work here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting