The Morning Jolt

Health Care

Fauci Tells Vaccinated Americans Not to Plan for Christmas Yet

Dr. Anthony Fauci responds to accusations by Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) as he testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters)

On the menu today: Dr. Anthony Fauci urges vaccinated Americans to keep their distance from unvaccinated children indoors and to not make any plans for the holidays yet; the Associated Press confirms that thanks to the Delta variant, yes, even the highly vaccinated New England states have crowded hospitals; and the Afghan ambassador to the United States declares she cannot trust the U.S. government anymore. Heck of a start to the week, even if it is a victory Monday.

Dr. Fauci: Don’t Make Any Big Plans for Christmas Yet

Back in early August National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins went on national television and told parents to wear masks around their unvaccinated children: “For kids under twelve, that they avoid being in places where they might get infected, which means recommendations of mask-wearing in schools and at home. Parents of unvaccinated kids should be thoughtful about this, and the recommendation is to wear masks there as well. I know that’s uncomfortable. I know it seems weird, but it is the best way to protect your kids.” (Collins walked back his statement later in the day.)

Yesterday on CBS News’ Face the Nation, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t say that parents should wear masks around unvaccinated children . . . but he seemed to say that other relatives ought to just stay away from those kids, at least indoors:

BRENNAN: Do people need to start looking around and saying it’s just too risky to gather with family members if there are unvaccinated children?

FAUCI: Well, Margaret, I believe just the way the CDC has recommended, that when you are in a situation where you have the dynamics of virus in the community where there’s clearly a lot of spread, even if you are vaccinated and you are in an indoor setting, a congregate setting, it just makes sense to wear a mask and to avoid high-risk situations.

Like I said after Collins’s statement, we have public-health advice that is well-suited for programmable robots but destined to cause friction among actual human beings. This is the 21st month of the pandemic, if you start counting from January 2020. Whether Fauci realizes it or not, he is effectively telling Americans that getting vaccinated does not help them get their lives back to normal. Lots of American already gave up one Halloween, one Thanksgiving, and one Christmas. What’s more, 77.6 percent of eligible Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, 75.8 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 64.8 percent of all Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. That last figure includes 50 million American children who can’t get vaccinated right now and won’t get the chance until the end of this month at the earliest.

But Fauci doesn’t want anyone making any big holiday plans:

BRENNAN: But we can gather for Christmas, or it’s just too soon to tell?

FAUCI: You know, Margaret, it’s just too soon to tell. We’ve just got to — concentrating on continuing to get those numbers down. . . .

BRENNAN: Yes.

FAUCI: . . . and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we’re going to do at a particular time. Let’s focus like a laser on continuing to get those cases down. And we can do it by people getting vaccinated and also, in the situation where boosters are appropriate, to get people boosted, because we know that they can help greatly in diminishing infection and diminishing advanced disease, the kinds of data that are now accumulating in real time.

I notice Fauci is mentioning cases, when we’ve discussed, time and again, that a case is not necessarily a person getting sick. A case is a person testing positive.

Hey, wasn’t there some guy running around the country late last year promising, “I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus”? Whatever happened to that guy?

Lots of people on social media really hated Friday’s Corner post, observing that the COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the northern states was starting to rise, and the hospitalization rate in the southern states was starting to decline. This strongly suggests that the spread of the Delta variant is exacerbated by how much time people spend indoors — and just as southerners spent a lot of time in air conditioning in summer, northerners will spend a lot of time indoors with heat this winter, likely spreading the virus more quickly.

The point of observing the trends in the northern and southern states is not to declare that the vaccines don’t work, or that the northern states wasted their time in attempting to maximize their vaccination rates. Vaccination makes a dramatic impact on deaths and hospitalizations, if not case numbers. But as I’ve been trying to emphasize for a while now, a vaccination rate as high as Vermont’s and Massachusetts’s can still result in hospitals starting to feel the squeeze over capacity, because the Delta variant is really contagious, and even if a state has just 15 percent of its population unvaccinated — and particularly if those unvaccinated people are elderly or immunocompromised — that state can still see a lot of people going to the hospital.

On Sunday the Associated Press reported a similar story that complicates the all-too-convenient narrative of good, wise, healthy blue northern states and bad, reckless, unhealthy red Southern states — revealing that yes, just as I have been reporting, the New England states with the highest vaccination rates are indeed still ending up with strained hospitals:

Despite having the highest vaccination rates in the country, there are constant reminders for most New England states of just how vicious the delta variant of COVID-19 is.

Hospitals across the region are seeing full intensive care units and staff shortages are starting to affect care. Public officials are pleading with the unvaccinated to get the shots. Health care workers are coping with pent-up demand for other kinds of care that had been delayed by the pandemic.

Despite the relatively high vaccination rates — the U.S. as a whole is averaging 55.5% — there are still hundreds of thousands of people across the region who, for one reason or another, remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection.

Now, a Rhode Island official said he didn’t think the 70% vaccination goal, once touted as the level that would help end the pandemic in the state, is enough.

“What we’ve learned with delta and looking beyond delta, is because that’s where our focus is as well, to really reach those levels of vaccination, to give you that true population level protection, you need to be in excess of 90%,” said Tom McCarthy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Department of Health COVID Response Unit.

A certain segment of the population is going to be vulnerable to COVID-19 because of age and other health problems, even with vaccination. This morning, the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that nursing-home deaths from COVID-19 are starting to pick up again, even though the country made a massive effort to vaccinate senior citizens this winter and spring. As of this morning, 94.2 percent of America’s seniors have received at least one shot of a vaccine, 83.6 percent are fully vaccinated, and 7.4 percent have received a booster shot.

But the number of nursing-home deaths from COVID-19 increased six-fold from July to August:

KFF analysis found that, following vaccine rollout in winter 2020-2021, weekly cases and deaths in long-term care facilities (including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, ICF/IIDs, and other settings) dropped, reaching an all-time low in June 2021, just prior to the rapid increase in national cases and deaths due to the Delta variant. As Delta spread across the US in the summer of 2021, much of the focus was on young children at risk during back-to-school; however, with the Delta surge, older Americans, especially those 85 and older, continued to face higher risk of death due to COVID-19 compared to younger Americans, according to the CDC. This data note analyzes federal nursing home data to determine the ongoing impact of the pandemic on COVID-19 cases and deaths among staff and residents. See methods box for more details.

Nursing homes across the US reported nearly 1,800 COVID-19 deaths among residents and staff in August 2021, the highest number of COVID-19 deaths reported in a single month since February 2021 and a steady increase from the approximately 350 deaths reported in July 2021.

As mentioned on Twitter, Friday afternoon I went to my local CVS to get a booster shot of the vaccine — never you mind about what health condition made me conclude it was a good idea. Unfortunately, the appointment system was apparently glitchy, and the backlog of people waiting to get their booster shot hit 15 people. At one point, we were told the wait could be an hour or an hour and a half. At least one guy left when he realized how long the wait was going to be. If we find the vaccination rate for boosters a little disappointing, does some of that reflect disorganization in the rollout? I suspect people are a little more likely to put off getting a booster in the face of a delay than their first shot.

The good news was that after the wait, the nurse who administered the shot handled it all with grace under pressure. Lois, you did great on your first day.

For the ‘America Is Back!’ Files

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States Adela Raz — representing the old government, not the Taliban — tells Axios she can no longer trust the U.S. government. She says she would laugh at the U.S. still calling itself “the leader of the free world.” When Raz was asked if the Afghan people will ever trust another American president again, she replies, “Not soon, probably. I’m sorry to say that, but I don’t think so.”

Oh, and at least 100 American citizens, an unknown but considerable number of U.S. green-card holders, and more than 100,000 Afghan allies who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas remain trapped in Afghanistan, despite the president’s promise that, “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”

ADDENDUM: And how was your weekend?

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