Stamford Advocate (Sunday)

Why is this happening?

- COLIN MCENROE Colin McEnroe’s column appears every Sunday, his newsletter comes out every Thursday and you can hear his radio show every weekday on WNPR 90.5. Email him at Sign up for his newsletter at­oe.

I can’t believe I’m writing about COVID-19 for the second straight week.

It’s summer, but COVID-19 cases are on the rise. They’re supposed to go down. Remember how they did that last summer?

We have effective vaccines, but COVID-19 cases are on the rise. More than 71 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one shot. We have voted yes with our arms.

In Connecticu­t, the vote is even more impressive. Among adults, 75.5 percent are fully vaccinated and 83.2 percent have at least one shot.

But still the numbers rise. Two weeks ago, the Connecticu­t towns that qualified as “red zones” based on case rate numbered four, and all were small, rural communitie­s.

Now it’s 39, including most of the cities.

As of this week, the Yale New Haven Health system has 81 COVID-positive patients in its facilities. On June 20, there were five.

How can this be happening? Part of the problem is that unvaccinat­ed people tend to live in close contact with one another, because they’re poor, because they go to the same church, because they’re part of a demographi­c that doesn’t trust the government.

If we lined up at random, the spread might slow or stop. But we line up with people like us.

Another part of the problem is that vaccines are not magic. The Washington Post reported this week that one-fifth of New Haven’s cases are breakthrou­ghs — infections in vaccinated people.

“Vaccine immune-boosting capabiliti­es vary by person,” Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiolo­gy professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, told Bloomberg News. “The vaccine does not create a magical force field around an individual off of which the virus is repelled.”

I know a lot of otherwise smart people who bet big on the force field myth. They got the vaccine, right? They can do whatever they want, whatever they used to do. They can fly across the country, get off the plane and start hugging people.

Our response as a nation continues to be underwhelm­ing. In the hardesthit states, governors have acted as if virus particles were constituen­ts and constituen­ts were virus particles.

I mean, they’re opposed to anything that might inhibit the virus’ freedom of movement. Their hospitals are overwhelme­d. People, including kids, are dying and there doesn’t seem any political price to be paid.

Here in Connecticu­t the policies have gotten so decentrali­zed and muddy, that I’m not sure I could explain them to a tourist.

If the same level of attention were paid to driver’s licenses as to proof of vaccinatio­n, it would go something like this.

Your driver’s license would be a paper card with no photo and some scratchy ballpoint. You would have no idea whether you needed to have it with you or not. Maybe you could keep a picture of a driver’s license on your phone. In Branford you would need it; in Guilford not so much; in Madison only in certain circumstan­ces.

There would be towns

In the hardest hit states, governors have acted as if virus particles were constituen­ts and constituen­ts were virus particles.

where, instead of a bouncer or package store clerk looking at your license, you could just tell that person you had one. The honor system.

There are several problems with that analogy, starting with the fact that, right now, whether you’re vaccinated is arguably more important than whether you have a driver’s license.

There are less visible costs to our negligence. For personal reasons, I spend a lot of time on a unit called 10-7, the respirator­y stepdown unit at Yale New Haven’s main building.

I’ve been visiting for many months, staying four or five hours. I’ve met a lot of doctors, PAs, nurses, respirator­y therapists, PCAs.

A better group of people you couldn’t ask for. They are tough, smart, funny, spirited, dedicated. They are here to save lives and solve problems.

In front of us civilians, never is heard a discouragi­ng word, but I can look at the numbers. We went into this pandemic with serious shortage of nurses and respirator­y therapists. We piled an exodus on top of a shortage.

Front-line employees around the United States retired or quit or asked to be transferre­d. Hospitals are offering bonuses to get nurses not to call out or use their vacations.

I wonder how many of these terrific people will stay. Multiple surveys say that 20 to 30 percent of front-line health care workers are considerin­g leaving their profession­s. Others are joining the ranks of “travelers,” nurses and other workers who move from place to place, trading stable employment for freedom and high short-term pay packages.

They are among the people I meet. No wonder they’re in Connecticu­t when hospitals in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Mississipp­i are setting up makeshift morgues, ICU field hospitals in parking lots, inpatient beds in auditorium­s and conference centers.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a nurse in the hall, and I thanked her for noticing a subtle change the day before in the patient I visit, triggering an extra round of tests that turned up something. Her eyes welled up.

So that’s something you can do. You can thank these people whenever you get a chance. Maybe they’ll stick around.

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