When I hear, once again, that COVID cases in the United States are declining, that perhaps “we have turned the corner,” I get worried.
Yes, I want this nearly two-year-long nightmare to be over. I want to believe that my wife and I will soon be able to go to a restaurant without worrying much about the virus’ spread. That we can have people over and not worry about masking.
I long for the day that I can enter my classes at UAB and be maskless and then teach the way I prefer teaching, walking among the desks while I lecture or ask questions, having students come right up to me with questions to be answered.
I want to feel good about going to Publix or Walgreens without a mask, like most people do now anyway.
But I know we’re not there, yet.
Vaccination rates are up, yes. In the United States, nearly 60 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. But in Alabama, we still are fully vaccinated at about the mid-40s percent. In our hospitals, the great majority of those in ICUs or on ventilators are unvaccinated. Many more unvaccinated are walking around out there, spreading the virus, and caring little if they do.
It’ll only take another huge gathering – a big Alabama or Auburn football game where fans cheer and sing and yell, sans masks – and then another super-spreader event. Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner, and families may gather in large numbers and serve the virus with their Halloween treats and Thanksgiving turkey.
We don’t seem to have the patience it’ll take to really turn the corner on COVID. Once the announcement that cases are going down goes out, many in our state interpret that to mean crisis over.
But the numbers in Alabama speak loudly: More than 805,500 cases in Alabama. An above-average positivity rate of 10.3 percent. More than 5,700 positive cases in just the past week. More than 14,675 deaths of our friends and relatives since this nightmare started.
Vaccine mandates are still opposed by many in Alabama, with even some reckless doctors discouraging vaccinations.
I had an exchange with a nurse last week who said it wasn’t his job to tell people who, armed with misinformation or conspiracy theories, that they were wrong and needed to get the vaccine. He said he was only there to take care of his patients. Even if they’re wrong, I asked. Even if they’re wrong, you won’t tell them? “No,” he said.
What kind of health care is that?
Soon, restaurants and grocery stores and department stores that currently have mask mandates will probably lift them.
Because COVID cases are down. Not rare. Certainly, easily seen. Certainly, a sentence of death, especially for those who are unvaccinated, which is most of them.
COVID may be with us forever, requiring a vaccine regularly, like the flu. I can live with that. But we’re not there yet. We’re not even close.
How many times must we endure the Groundhog Day effect of COVID? It wanes, we get careless, and it comes back like a tidal wave. What wave are we in? The third? The fifth? Who knows?
What we do know is COVID kills. Worse than the flu. Certainly, worse than polio or smallpox; neither of those hardly exist. Because of vaccines.
Let’s not get stupid again. Let’s be patient. Continue to mask, if you’re not an idiot. Get the vaccine, unless you’re medically exempt. When we finally turn the corner, let’s see that the end truly is near.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]