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Having COVID-19 blues

Here we are almost through the month of July and I was hoping that as we continued through the rest of summer and into the fall I wouldn’t be writing as much about COVID-19, but here we are.

By July 9, West Virginia’s active COVID-19 case number dropped below 1,000 for the first time since before the beginning of Summer 2020. By July 9, they dropped to a low of 882 active cases. But as of Thursday, active cases have trended back up by 38 percent to 1,225.

Just three weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map was nearly a sea of green. But we’re starting to see the colors trend back into the yellow, gold, and even orange in some counties. Some of this is due, in part, to the rural nature of some of those counties and a decrease in people getting tested.

Let’s take a look at the one orange county on the County Alert System map on Thursday: Webster County. It’s orange for its infection rate, but red for its percent of positivity. While not the lowest in rank for partial vaccination numbers, only 45.6 percent of its eligible population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

As I write this, nearly 56 percent of the state’s eligible population age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. For those age 50 and older, that number was more than 70 percent. For those age 65 – arguably the most at risk for serious COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths – the vaccination rate was more than 78 percent.

At this point, the issue isn’t getting older West Virginians vaccinated – it’s our kids and young adults. I don’t have numbers for the fully vaccinated, but according to the state joint interagency vaccine task force, only 46.9 percent of West Virginians between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, while only 41 percent of residents between the ages of 12 and 17 are partially vaccinated.

The number of daily vaccinations also continue to go down from week to week. For whatever reason, Thursdays tend to be the weekly high-point for vaccinations. Vaccinations decreased by 38 percent over a four-week period, from 1,786 vaccinations on June 24 and July 15.

So, what to do? The state tried giving away $100 gift cards and savings bond to those between the ages of 16 and 35. We have two weeks left for the state’s vaccine incentive lottery that includes prizes for trucks, guns, college scholarships, and chances for $1 million (if you haven’t registered, you have until Sunday, Aug. 1, to register at doitforbabydog.wv.gov).

At this point, there is no shortage of vaccines. Most pharmacies will take walk-ins. The state has worked with groups and churches to bring vaccines to people. I see ads all the time, including WVU Head Men’s Basketball Coach Bob Huggins urging people to get vaccinated.

While I would never tell state officials to stop efforts to get more people vaccinated, it’s apparent we are hitting a brick wall with getting large groups of West Virginians to get vaccinated. I’m not sure what is left to do other than put cameras into ICUs and show people struggling to breathe, or film testimonials with families who also didn’t take this seriously until they lost a loved one.

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I know one thing that will continue to keep vaccination rates at a stand-still: putting back in place indoor mask mandates, including for those who are vaccinated. State officials have no plans to reinstitute an indoor mask mandate at this time, but other places around the country are starting to require masks again, regardless of vaccination status.

The Delta variant is starting to cause smart people to panic. Yes, it’s more contagious, but I’ve seen little in the data I’ve read that shows it to be any more deadly. It just means your chances of getting COVID-19 have tripled.

By all accounts, the vaccines either prevent infection by the variant or limit the severity of the infection and transmissibility should a vaccinated person get infected. Those are called breakthrough infections and while they do occur, they’re a pretty small percentage of total infections.

If you’re not scared of the Delta variant, you’re not going to be scared enough to get a vaccine. According to a Morning Consult poll released Thursday, the number of young adults who said they won’t get a vaccine (26 percent) has remained unchanged from mid-June polling. The share of adults in the U.S. with vaccine hesitancy has also remained unchanged from mid-June, sitting at 11 percent.

Yet, the answer for some is to put even the vaccinated back in masks. I literally have both the Moderna and the still-unapproved AstraZeneca vaccines in my system. Why must I and other vaccinated people who did what we were supposed to do go back into the masks? Our chances of getting infected are low. Our chances of infecting others are low.

There are many incentives for getting vaccinated, but one for sure is the ability to return to normalcy. If you take that incentive away, watch your vaccine numbers continue to stagnate.

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