While we’d like to think that COVID-19 has gone away with vaccination, it is unfortunately a wily little virus and it is determined to break through any barriers put before it. While the Alpha Variant is the one we battled last year, a new one, called Delta, has come from India and it is much easier to catch. It is now here in Middle Tennessee.
Just as Delta is emerging in Middle Tennessee, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a new masking protocol in defense against this new strain. This guideline states that those who are vaccinated need to go back to wearing masks when indoors, especially in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low and transmission rates are once again on the rise. That includes Middle Tennessee. According to the CDC map of “Hot Spots”, Middle Tennessee is an area of concern, with many counties experiencing High Community Transmission.
“If a county has reported 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period or has a positivity rate of 8% to 10%, it falls into the “substantial transmission” tier,” says an article on the CNBC website, “while those reporting 100 cases or more per 100,000 or have a positivity rate of at least 10% are labeled as “high transmission.” Those are the two groups for which the CDC recommends mask-wearing.
Just before the CDC announcement was made, Williamson County mayors gave their thoughts on going back to mask mandates should COVID-19 spike once again at a recent quarterly forum sponsored by Franklin Tomorrow. They unanimously stated that they were against mask mandates, instead believing that it is up to the individual to decide what is right for them.
Derek Adams, the new Nolensville mayor stated, “No government should require a vaccination mandate.” But he also noted that citizens should not endanger others in the community.
“We are a close community,” said Fairview Mayor, Debby Rainey, “we try to do what is best for all of us.”
Both Corey Napier of Thompson’s Station and Jim Hagaman of Spring Hill called for better education of the populace about the vaccine.
“I think the biggest problem is the confusing messaging,” said Brentwood Mayor Rhea Little. “We need to share the best scientific options, like vaccination, masking, and social distancing.”
Mayor Rogers Anderson of Williamson County noted that the county has the highest vaccination rate in the state, which is a great thing, but the rate is only 50.71% who are fully vaccinated. The goal of President Biden was 70% by the 4th of July 2021. Middle Tennessee has fallen far behind that goal, and new vaccinations are slowing down considerably as infection rates rise. Herd immunity requires at least a 75% vaccination rate.
On the other side of the spectrum, a number of hospitals and other employers are already making vaccination or masking with weekly COVID testing mandatory for employment. This includes the Federal Government mandate just sent down by President Biden as he tries to stop the spread of the virus.
While most of the new spread and new strains are coming from those who are unvaccinated, there is increased breakthrough with the new variant. This comes at a time when Pfizer just released information that according to a recent study, their vaccine efficacy drops from 96% to 84% after six months. According to a story in statnews.com, “In the ongoing study, which enrolled more than 44,000 volunteers, the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing any Covid-19 infection that causes even minor symptoms appeared to decline by an average of 6% every two months after administration.”
According to the same article, this would mean that a booster shot would be needed after 18 months of the original vaccination. In Israel, they are already giving booster shots to their seniors, according to npr.com
What all this information seems to be saying is that no matter how tired we are of COVID-19, it is still with us, and it is constantly changing. To beat it, it appears that we must fight it like any other invisible enemy, with continued vigilance. In this case that includes testing, contact tracing, masking, social distancing, hand washing, and vaccinations.