Although the jury is still out on the Omicron variant’s virulence and thereby the implications for hospitals as the strain looks to supplant Delta, there seems to be little doubt about the inevitability of higher case loads in the US.
Joe Biden will detail The White House’s plan to cope with another winter virus wave on Tuesday. “The President will deliver remarks on the status of the… fight against COVID-19, as the country sees rising cases amid the growing Omicron variant,” Jen Psaki said.
It sounds like your standard Biden exhortation to vaccine holdouts. “We are prepared for the rising case levels,” Psaki promised, in the same set of Saturday remarks. Biden, she said, will “remind Americans that they can protect themselves from severe illness by getting vaccinated and getting their booster shot when they are eligible.”
The figure (below) suggests the Delta wave is likely to be subsumed by the Omicron wave. Hence the scare quotes around “new.” It’s just one, long wave.
At the risk of being unduly fatalistic, it’s not obvious that efforts to cajole the unvaccinated will meet with much success. The US made the best, safest and most effective vaccines on the planet, then offered to administer them for free in the most convenient locations possible. In some locales, officials went so far as to pay people to get them. And yet, only 61% of Americans were fully vaccinated through mid-December. Just 29% of the fully vaccinated had received a booster shot as of December 18.
Worse, the discrepancy between the percentage of the population counted as partially vaccinated and the percentage classified as fully vaccinated suggests someone, somewhere isn’t counting correctly. If you ask state and local officials, it isn’t likely that tens of millions of Americans received one shot and then inexplicably failed to follow up.
As Bloomberg wrote, citing local health authorities, “the government has regularly and incorrectly counted booster shots and second doses as first doses.” The CDC (vaguely) conceded as much. The implication, Bloomberg said, is that “both the fully vaccinated and completely unvaccinated are officially undercounted.” As one state official quoted in the linked article put it, “the truth is, we have no idea.”
Apparently, the US is an anomaly among G-7 nations when it comes to the gap between the partially vaccinated and fully vaccinated as a percentage of the population. America’s 11.3 percentage point gap compares to just 3 percentage points in the EU, for example.
Simply put, it probably isn’t possible to get an accurate read on the situation in the US. Doing so requires reconciling data not just from multiple states, but in some cases from multiple systems within states, not to mention numbers from pharmacies, federally-administered shots and healthcare providers. Miscounting is surely endemic. Just like the virus itself.
For various reasons, I’ve been compelled to venture out among “the people” lately. For more than a half-decade, I’ve assiduously avoided human contact, eschewing almost any kind of socialization in favor of the (pseudo-)serenity that goes along with self-imposed exile. Despite my best efforts to blend in, I’m sure I appear as an oddity in public. (“People are strange, when you’re a stranger.”)
Anecdotally, I’ve seen almost no evidence that anyone is concerned about the virus, aside from sporadic mask-wearing, usually on the part of employees and the elderly. One thing that has surprised me, though, it the extent to which America’s well-documented labor shortage is manifesting in acute situations at major retailers and grocery stores.
I was particularly taken aback by the scene at one of the nation’s largest grocery chains last week. It wasn’t lost on me that my surprise was indicative of the difference between documenting something and seeing it in person. They aren’t the same thing.
The checkout lines stretched from the registers nearly to the back walls. For the self-checkout kiosks, the line was so long that patrons were wrapped around an in-store Starbucks and were beginning to spill out the door onto the sidewalk. I put the refrigerated items in my basket back in the coolers, left the rest of the cart at an empty customer service counter and left with nothing.
A follow-up call to the store manager (a “Mike”) was revealing. He ran through the numbers with me, not just for his store, but for other stores, including a nearby Walmart. According to Mike, labor costs for his location rose $230,000 this year.
Predictably, he blamed government “handouts.” “It’s easier to sit at home and collect,” he sighed. My Progressive side wanted to push back on that assertion, but Mike was distraught. It clearly wasn’t the time. I wished him well. The store offered walk-in vaccines.