A visitor to Washington, D.C., can do just about anything now that they could have done prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that slammed into the United States last spring.
The monuments are open. The museums are open. Even the fencing around the U.S. Capitol — which had nothing to do with the virus but was erected after the Jan. 6 breach — came down last weekend. Life in D.C. is getting back to normal. The only reminder of the dire times over the past 18 months are the masks still required aboard public transportation.
How can such a populous city lower its guard against COVID-19, especially as warnings about the Delta variant are sounded again and again? Simple. The city recently hit a 70% vaccination rate of its eligible population. Even with variants of the virus out there, the early research shows that an outbreak is unlikely, and those who do contract some form of the virus will still be well-protected if they’re vaccinated.
Other places have dropped their guard, as well, since the vaccines became available, but the fallout has been much different.
As West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice stated during a Tuesday briefing, cases are running rampant in areas with low vaccination rates. That includes states, such as Missouri, where health officials are again scrambling for ventilators like many hospitals were when this started more than a year ago.
Justice and West Virginia COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh have been sounding the alarm for a while now that things could slide backward because of the Delta variant, if more West Virginians aren’t vaccinated. So far, the effect in the Mountain State has been low. As of Tuesday, there were 17 confirmed cases here.
Remember, though, that the effects of the original virus in West Virginia took a while to fully materialize. By late fall last year, cases in West Virginia, along with hospitalizations and deaths, were growing exponentially. They didn’t start falling until much of the state’s elderly population was vaccinated.
Now, the concern is for those from the age of 12 to 65. As Marsh has said, the Delta variant spreads more easily — including among younger people — and is more lethal than other variants. And while the vaccination rate for the state’s elderly population is a solid 78%, the overall rate among its eligible population is at 54%. That’s not good enough.
Marsh said he expects the Delta variant to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in West Virginia within a week to two weeks, perhaps sooner. Many West Virginians can still make a difference in how hard this variant hits the state. But time is short.