As of Sunday, this is what COVID-19 looks like statistically in America. It certainly looks like the U.S. is into a fourth surge, with new cases higher than both the initial and summer surges of last year.
If you go to the New York Times breakdown by states, you will see the surge is being driven by states like Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida.
California, which until recently has seen declining new infections, just started levelling out a few days ago, according to Los Angeles Times stats, but yesterday was up enough to suspect it is not going to stop rising.
New Mexico is doing extremely well, hitting zero infections a day several times recently, though still running seven-day averages in the hundreds. Doña Ana County, which has been a problem area, continues to go down, and El Paso keeps holding flat.
The U.S. eschewed the traditional way of dealing with epidemics (quarantine) by opting for the novel, high-tech method of computer designed vaccines, but now it seems that the populist notion of “freedom,” “choice,” and “independence” has defeated that solution, too. We are now some four weeks past the new-cases low created by the vaccine, and the deaths are beginning to rise, as one fears. We are still closing in on the dubious record of killing more people by spreading the virus than in any military war.
Initially, when the epidemic was spreading, rural areas mistakenly thought that their sparse population protected them from communal spread. Science told us the disease was bound to spread pretty evenly across the country. It was just delayed by sparsity of population in some areas and states. But, now that the disease is everywhere, the surge will not necessarily even out eventually. We in Sierra County still have a chance—depending on our vaccination rates and sane behavior—not to join the surge. And, if vaccination prevents transmission, we have a pretty good chance.
In Sierra County, about 50 percent of us have been vaccinated once. Some of these approximately 5,000 people will have gotten the one-shot vaccine, and some will have gotten the first of two shots. Let’s assume that those on the two-dose vaccine will get their second shot and so be protected about 95 percent of the time. That leaves the 5,000 others for us to worry about. If we can convince 3,000 of them to get vaccinated, we just might destroy the virus by starving it of victims. After all, the virus can only increase in numbers by spreading to new bodies and procreating new viruses; otherwise, it dies of old age.
I have many times heard people say that vaccination is a personal choice, implying that we have no right to convince people to do it. But is this true?
My sense of “freedom,” “choice,” and “independence” comes from the Declaration of Independence. That is the basic document in our culture that defined our freedoms and liberties. There, I find this defining sentence, the second one in the document: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
There are, then, three elements to American freedom: equality, permanence, and the right to life, liberty, and happiness. And as the order suggests equality comes first because it describes the general social condition within which the freedoms are defined. Because of that first principle, everyone has those freedoms, not just whoever proclaims them. Because of that fundamental equality, which is “unalienable,” we do not shoot each other and claim to have the God-given right to do so.
Equality makes the freedoms we share a vision of protecting another’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness rather than an assertion of one’s own will or desire or choice to do something. We protect our rights by protecting the rights of others. In America, rights are rights by virtue of our shared equality. Your property rights exist not because of your fence or because the sheriff will protect them, but because others have the duty to keep off your land. The first principle of equality makes duty the corollary of a right.
Your endowment of rights comes along with your duty to protect equality. If you kill someone, you fail your duty and deny that person’s equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
So, I am not at all sure that the decision to vaccinate during a lethal pandemic is a personal choice. It seems to me that, in America, especially, it is a social choice. Is it so difficult after 200 years for us to understand that freedom in America means everyone is free equally to live, to enjoy life? It is not authoritarian to tell someone during a pandemic that we all have the duty to protect everyone else. In fact, to do that, is to act like a free and independent person in a free society opting to live in the freedom of equality.
If every two of us successfully convinced one other person to get a vaccination, the county could easily be a COVID-free island.