A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Dec 23, 2021

US Covid Response Quality Depends on Geography

Politically motivated Covid denial and vaccine resistance is increasingly determining what sort of prudent behavior and health care residents of various regions can expect. JL 

Jennifer Levitz and colleagues report in the Wall Street Journal:

How Americans are confronting the uncertainties around Omicron is coming down to where they live. Across the Northeast and Midwest, including places with rising cases, calls for caution have prompted shutdowns to some in-person classes, sporting events and other festivities. Yet the South, and rural areas, are largely plowing ahead, making fewer changes to holiday plans.The varying approaches to the looming Covid-19 threat reflect broader variations in how Americans have weighed the risks of living with the virus.

In Grand Prairie, Texas, organizers are forging ahead with plans for Lunar New Year festivities, while an annual New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Los Angeles was canceled Monday for in-person attendees. Meantime, New York City officials are re-evaluating whether spectators will be able to crowd into Times Square to watch the New Year’s Eve ball drop.

How Americans are confronting the uncertainties around the worrisome Omicron strain is coming down to where they live.

Across the Northeast and Midwest, including places with rising cases, anxious calls for caution have prompted shutdowns to some in-person classes, sporting events and other festivities. Yet the South, and rural areas, are largely plowing ahead, making fewer changes to holiday plans.The varying approaches to the looming Covid-19 threat reflect broader variations in how Americans have weighed the risks of living with the virus.

The difference between the preholiday week this year and last year, elected officials and families say, is they are considering not just case counts and Covid-19 fatigue but also rates of vaccinations, which had only just started last December.

“I got my vaccination, and I plan on getting the booster,” said Matthew Loh, chief executive of Asia Times Square, an international market in Grand Prairie. “I think I am just going ahead and learning to live with Covid as if it was another flu.”

Matthew Loh, the CEO of a marketplace in Grand Prairie, Texas, said, ‘I think I am just going ahead and learning to live with Covid.’

PHOTO: LEO BASCOPE

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, said Sunday on ABC News that he doesn’t anticipate the U.S. moving toward broad shutdowns, even as some European countries have imposed new restrictions. He also said vaccinated Americans who have received booster shots can feel comfortable traveling this month to see family.

The U.S. is now averaging more than 125,000 new Covid-19 cases a day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The seven-day average for Covid-19 hospital admissions fell 4.8% in the week ended Dec. 18 to 7,501 a day, but hospitalizations are up 49% from a recent low in early November, CDC data show. Deaths increased to a seven-day average of 1,182 a day as of Dec. 17, up 3.6% versus the previous week.

On Monday, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced new vaccine requirements, citing rising case counts. Beginning Jan. 15, patrons at certain establishments, including indoor dining, fitness and entertainment venues, will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter.

In nearby Everett, Mass., the Encore Boston Harbor casino was lively on Sunday afternoon, with patrons—some masked and some not—playing slots and table games and taking selfies in the ornate lobby.

Tyler Michaud, who visited the casino on a weekend getaway from his home in Connecticut, said he is taking the virus seriously but feels the country now has more tools to deal with the pandemic.

“I feel safer this time around. I’m fully vaccinated and got my booster,” said Mr. Michaud, a 22-year-old special-education teacher. “I definitely feel more confident.”

Tyler Michaud, watching football Sunday at a sports bar at the Encore Boston Harbor casino, said he feels safer than earlier in the pandemic.

PHOTO: JENNIFER LEVITZ/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mary Beth King, a manager at Long Creek General Store in rural Westminster, S.C., said she and her customers are going about their business as usual. About 45% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in Oconee County, where Westminster is located, compared with about 65% in South Carolina’s Charleston County, according to CDC data.

“Honestly, you can spend the day here and you would not even know it’s a pandemic,” said Ms. King, who is 54 years old.

Ms. King doesn’t wear a mask and doesn’t plan to get the vaccine, and she says many people she knows in her small community feel the same way. She said they have long been skeptical of news around Covid-19 and remain so now.

“It’s mostly people that are traveling through who may have on masks and appear to be concerned about the whole Covid thing,” she said.

Daily airport volumes have risen despite the Covid-19 surge, topping two million daily screenings from Thursday through Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. That is the first four-day streak above that threshold since November.

In Miami Beach, Fla., tourists continued to crowd restaurants, bars and nightclubs alongside residents, many of them without masks. The city, which has limited ability to impose Covid-19 restrictions because of a state law enacted earlier this year, hasn’t canceled any events, said Mayor Dan Gelber.

But some event organizers have. The Capital One Beach Bash scheduled for Dec. 30 in Miami Beach, at which singer Harry Styles was scheduled to perform, was canceled “due to increasing logistical and production challenges related to the pandemic,” according to a statement released by organizers.

The mayor said he is worried about a potential new surge of coronavirus cases and lamented that more people aren’t fully vaccinated and boosted to stem the spread. “This feels like one of the great unforced errors in the history of mankind,” he said.

Cassandra Basler said she was disinvited from Christmas with relatives in Michigan after she asked that they take rapid tests before getting together. Ms. Basler said members of her family are vaccinated but don’t share her views on wearing masks and using rapid tests.

“They rescinded the invitation in a very ‘Midwest nice’ sort of way,” said Ms. Basler, a 31-year-old news editor at a public radio station in Connecticut. “It was like, ‘Yeah, if you’re so worried about the virus, you better not come.’ ”

Ms. Basler’s dilemma resonated online where a tweet saying she was “uninvited” for Christmas had gotten more than 90,000 likes by Monday.

“I’m frustrated because at this point we have had so much information come out about ways to supplement the vaccines as these variants emerge,” said Ms. Basler, who will spend Christmas with relatives in Boston who share her views. “I’m hurt, and I’m confused.”

In New York City, where cases have climbed in the past week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday his administration would decide before Christmas whether to hold the city’s massive New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square.

Mr. de Blasio said other large events in the city would proceed, including a concert by local crooner Billy Joel scheduled for Monday evening at Madison Square Garden. The departing Democratic mayor said he did “not see a scenario for any kind of shutdown because we are so vaccinated as a city.” 

But rising cases in the city prompted some fans to cancel their plans. City officials on Monday reported 7,245 new infections—double the 28-day average.

Howard Klein, a 49-year-old accountant from New Jersey, said he previously would attend about a half-dozen shows each year at the Garden and has seen Mr. Joel play 106 times. He had planned a longer trip to Manhattan, but scrapped it because he feared events would be canceled.

Anna Hanrahan got tickets to the show as a Christmas present in 2019. “We can’t justify attending a concert when Christmas is exactly when we might become contagious to others if we contract Covid,” she said. “I am disgusted the show is not canceled or postponed.”

A spokeswoman for Madison Square Garden Entertainment said the concert was “moving forward as scheduled, and we are continuing to adhere to all government mandates related to our health and safety protocols.”

Lauren Lipscomb’s family took in a Sunday holiday concert in Baltimore that featured tap-dancing Santas. The family was willing to attend the crowded Baltimore Symphony Orchestra show because all attendees had to present vaccination cards and wear masks, she said in the concert hall’s lobby alongside her husband, Adam Shuster, and their sons, Cole, 7, and Donovan, 12.


But worries about Omicron have led them to cancel planned gatherings with friends over winter break.

“We really expected as a family that things would be back to normal by now,” said Ms. Lipscomb, a 46-year-old prosecutor. “Here we are, confronted with yet another variant, and we don’t really know what’s about to happen.”



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