For a little while, we began to escape the hidey-hole of our apartments and shipping box-riddled homes to venture back out into the wild of social life. Slowly coffee shops started to reopen, and the sounds of early morning sales addicts began to fill local big box stores.
Then the Delta variant happened.
While we stubbornly fight back any idea of returning to masks and lockdowns, this new variant of COVID-19 has infected more of our population without care for party, ethos, or philosophy.
Again, we are seeing higher rates of people contracting the Delta variant filling hospital beds and swarming through communities in different states.
What will this mean for our government response?
We have just spent over a year dealing with the initial virus. The concept of taking backward movements seems overwhelming to our population. What health policies can be put into place to avoid returning to masks?
How the Federal Government is Responding
Let’s get a few facts out of the way first. The CDC, those with the most experience dealing with contagions, has identified the Delta variant of COVID-19 as “a variant of concern.” This is because the variant is now the cause of more than 80% of the new cases inside the US.
It is also capable of infecting those who have been vaccinated. Although they do not experience the same level of symptoms as unvaccinated individuals, some “breakthrough cases” can transmit the virus to others, carrying a tremendous amount of virus in their nose and throat.
Delta is spreading 50% faster than Alpha, which was 50% more contagious than the original strain.
Now that we have established the credentials of this variant, how is the federal government responding?
On August 2, 2021, the White House held a press conference about the new Delta variant. During this event, they emphasized the need for higher vaccination rates.
They stated that the 7 states with the lowest vaccination rates account for more than 17% of new cases, with 1 in 3 cases nationwide occurring in Florida and Texas.
There is now vaccine accessibility within 5 miles of where 90% of Americans live. Therefore, the fastest method for us as a country to combat the Delta variant is to get vaccinated.
That is why President Biden has directed the Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of Defense, and the federal workforce to either get vaccinated or wear a mask full time.
This response shows both how determined the federal government is to get past COVID-19 to focus on other policies and what an uphill battle they are facing due to misinformation and political leanings.
The Argument of State Rights
If the federal government is coming down so hard on this new variant, what about individual states? Overall, 70% of adults in the USA have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
This has helped to lower rates of infections in areas where the vaccination rate continues to be high. However, in other states where the rates are low, case rates are skyrocketing.
Unfortunately, this has become a partisan issue.
Some in the leadership have changed their position about vaccine rates because the evidence is now overwhelmingly positive. Others continue to hold onto arguments of personal freedoms and state sovereignty over federal mandates.
These arguments are old and valid. They are the foundation of our states united to form a federal entity. However, should they be applied to a situation involving such a public health emergency?
The Great State of Florida
Florida has always walked to the beat of their own drum. They prize personal freedom and reject government overreach at practically every turn. This makes them a valuable voice during policy debates.
They are part of a bigger government. Public emergencies need to be considered as mitigating circumstances when some of the highest case rates occur within its borders.
As the Delta variant continues to spread across the nation, Florida has become an epicenter.
Florida is recording an average of 49.3 new daily COVID-19 cases on every 100,000 people, which is near twice the threshold for “red” designation on the risk assessment map.
Even though Florida health officials continue to report record setting numbers of COVID-19 patients’ hospitalization, Governor Ron DeSantis’ order banning local governments from requiring face masks still stands.
The Governor has insisted on this because he feels local governments should not overstep their authority. He wants Florida businesses to stay open, schools to be full of kids again instead of distance learning because Florida is leading the way in vaccinating people.
It is hard to argue against these points.
Florida ranks 3rd in the nation for K-12 Achievement, and that is not something any politician would want to give up. However, the result of these executive orders related to COVID-19 has left some officials to raise the alarm.
There are instances of local officials issuing strong recommendations for citizens to wear face masks in crowded spaces regardless of vaccination status.
This political back and forth has further created fault lines among the general public instead of uniting the people behind a single ideal – fight the pandemic.
The good news is that most Floridians have gotten the message. Vaccination rates in the sunshine state have drastically risen over the past few weeks.
More than 31,000 people across Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Lake counties became vaccinated this week, a 51% increase from last week.
The steepest climb came in Lake and Seminole counties, which each saw about 73% climbs week over week. Moreover, major businesses and tourist destinations are requiring their workforces to get a vaccine or face being let go.
The Walt Disney Company reported it is requiring all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US to be fully vaccinated. They have also returned to a partial mask mandate in locations where groups are placed close together for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
In Florida, where Disney goes, others will follow.
Wrapping it Up
We have the opportunity to drastically lessen the impact of the new Delta variant in the US by receiving a vaccination and wearing masks in close proximity, indoor situations.
While some of our government leaders continue to argue the validity of restrictions and whether it is legal to force a vaccine on anyone, we can rest assured that the public as a whole is using common sense. They are seeing the rates continue to rise in places with low vaccine responses.
The fact is no one wants to go back to wearing a mask 24/7 and having to order their groceries through an app that may end up with weird-looking fruit and knock-off frozen pizza.
We want the luxury of walking freely around our communities safe and secure with COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. The more we can do as citizens, the less we have to worry about our leaders’ dime-store political leanings.
We should continue to take the initiative and protect our loved ones by emphasizing the importance of receiving the vaccine.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota