From grocery stores to restaurants to gyms to hotels, areas all over the country seem to be opening back up. People can go into stores unmasked if they are fully vaccinated. People can meet up with friends and meet places indoors. Things feel like they are getting back to normal.
This is a false sense of security. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over in the U.S. In fact, cases are rising. Not only is this bad for those who are at a higher risk because they are unvaccinated or immunocompromised, but U.S. health care systems are becoming overwhelmed once again.
As of Sept. 7, data shows that approximately 58% of hospitals around the nation are facing high or extreme stress. High stress is defined as hospitals with COVID-19 cases comprising 10-20% of hospital patients, and extreme stress is defined as COVIID-19 cases comprising more than 20% of hospital patients. This increase in the percentage of patients is mostly driven by low vaccination coverage. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts, all of which have vaccinated more than two-thirds of their populations, have seen the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita during the past week.
You may be thinking, “I’m vaccinated, so why does this affect me?” When hospitals are overwhelmed, it affects anyone who needs any kind of medical attention. If people get injured or have a condition that must be treated very quickly — such as a stroke — but they live in an area where the closest hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, they may be unable to get treated properly and quickly. This can have deadly consequences.
In Northern Idaho, hospitals have been canceling surgeries and urging residents not to engage in risky activities that may end up with a visit to the emergency room as there may not be a bed available. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis reported that intensive care units have the lowest available rate of beds due to COVID-19, with patients who are largely unvaccinated, as well as other types of trauma occurrences that tend to increase around this time of the year. Other overwhelmed hospitals are transferring COVID-19 patients elsewhere for treatment.
With overwhelmed hospitals and health care systems, it is immensely important for those who have not been vaccinated to get their COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines are immensely effective and largely prevent against hospitalization and severe illness. Despite popular conspiracy theories, they are safe and much better than the alternative — contracting COVID-19.
A study of 13 states during a six-month period showed that among adults, those who were fully vaccinated made up only 4% of the total number of hospitalizations. Those who are fully vaccinated and hospitalized generally face a much milder version of COVID-19.
For populations of people who are unable to get the vaccine, due to age or any other contraindications, it is important to get tested frequently and where masks whenever possible. This is the case in many schools where students are under the age of 12 and are therefore ineligible for the vaccines.
Although many schools have established mask mandates, some have not. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned school mask mandates, despite the fact that many children are contracting the virus and being hospitalized due to COVID-19. Pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have risen immensely across the country, especially in states like Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed because people are not taking proper precautions. It is incredibly important that people get vaccinated if they can or, otherwise, wear masks and practice social distancing. We cannot act like the pandemic is over when it is clearly not, because populations across the country will suffer for that blatant act of carelessness.