Thursday, August 12, 2021

Delta and Compassion Fatigue

With the delta variant of the coronavirus, there is still a lot of political insanity going on, but there is also actual confusion and concern among serious people about what is going to happen and what we are supposed to do. In particular, reasonable people are questioning just how much they should be expected to sacrifice to protect those who wilfully put themselves at risk.

The original virus spread fairly slowly, each person infected about two to three other people on average, and an honest early effort to "flatten the curve" in the US could have brought that number down below one, where the virus would finally die off and we could party again yall. But while we were waiting for a miracle and then trying to talk people into getting vaccinated, the virus was spreading and evolving.

The new delta virus is much more infectious than the original one. It appears that each person with the delta variant infects an average of six or seven other people, plus children seem to be more susceptible to it. To stop the process we will have to beat it worldwide, and many places have not even gotten the vaccine at all, so this is going to be part of our lives for quite a while yet.

The current vaccines are really good at preventing infection, but not perfect, and a few people are getting "breakthrough" infections after they've been vaccinated. The good news is that they do not need to go to ICU and they don't die from it. The bad news is that they can get sicker than a dog, and also they can spread the virus to others.

That sets the stage for the current moment. Oh, one other thing, in an apparent attempt at mass suicide, the Republican Party has politicized the disease and decided they should not take the vaccine. It might be bad for them. It might be a communist plot. Shots hurt. I can't explain it, it's just a fact that the rate of vaccinations dropped off once sensible people got theirs. The same Republicans also do not "believe in" wearing masks in public.

Now we have to decide what to do. You can't order people to get vaccinated, because it is more important to them to own the libs. So we are probably reaching the max as far as percent vaccinated goes. You can't force people to wear masks, because, same thing, it's some kind of lefty plot to take over our minds. These arguments are idiotic but they are the background for any intelligent planning process that is taking place now. The plan has to assume that a good number of Americans are not taking this seriously.

So -- the rest of us. If we catch covid -- delta or otherwise -- we will try to deal with it rationally. Possibly we will infect other people before we realize we're sick. Most vaccinated people who catch it will get sick and get well again. Some will not get sick, and some will stay sick for a long time.

The truth is that vaccinated people are very much less likely to become infected, and if they do get covid they are very much less likely to pass it on. Supported by other measures such as masking and social distancing, vaccine can end the pandemic, if a large enough percentage of the world's population gets it. But that is not something that we can foresee in the near future, so we need to fight it on our local turf for now.

This new variant seems to be harder on kids than the original virus, and we need to catch up on research and policy for vaccinating children. In the meantime we should protect children from exposure, and that might mean remote school, masks in face-to-face classrooms, careful contact tracing and communication to parents, and other precautions. There are also immunocompromised people, and I'm sorry but they are just going to have to be extra careful for the time being. (An extra booster shot might increase their immunity in some cases.)

People who have been vaccinated can get moderately sick, and people who have not been vaccinated can get very sick, tie up the hospitals, and die. Meanwhile people with heart attacks, cancer, and other serious medical problems are not able to get into the ICU in some places already, because it is full of Republicans.

I hate to quote the Philippines' president, Rodrigo Duterte, but I think a lot of sensible people can identify with his statement about how he -- as a Trump-type dictator -- will manage anti-vaxxers in his country:

"To those people who do not want to be vaccinated, I am telling you, don't go out of your house.

"If you go out of your house, I will tell the police to return you to your home. You will be escorted back to your house because you are a walking spreader..."

"For those who do not want it, well, for all I care, you can die anytime."

People who have taken the vaccine and followed the guidelines are increasingly feeling what The Atlantic calls compassion fatigue. If you want to do something stupid to yourself, the rest of us are caring less and less, and are not feeling a great obligation to save you from yourself. Also, trying to overthrow our constitutional government was not endearing.

President Biden is the leader of a democratic country, and he is trying to convince the idiots to take the vaccine. He does not want families to grieve, hospitals to be overwhelmed, he doesn't want Americans dying by the hundred-thousands on his watch. But the conservative mass suicide is largely a political statement of opposition to him and his party, and he can't reach those people. I'd say he's doing as well as he can but he's stuck.

And you and me -- what do we do? Sure there are legal orders, for instance right now in Montgomery County you have to wear a mask in public places and so on. But beyond that, what does a good citizen do? Assuming you are already vaccinated, your duty is to try not to spread the coronavirus to innocent people -- kids, the elderly, compromised people.

First of all: don't catch it and you won't spread it. Follow the familiar guidelines for crowds and indoor public spaces. Stay home if you can, and if you go out wear a mask. You are not limited by what the CDC says, or the county -- use your head. Stay away from people who might have it. Protecting yourself will also protect others.

If you believe you have been exposed, then you know the drill. Isolate yourself and get tested after a day or two. You might feel fine, that doesn't mean you aren't infectious.

If you're sick, do I have to tell you? Even if it's just a cold, stay home, stay in bed, get well.

The complication is this. I feel just like you, and like Duterte. I'm not the President of the United States and it's not my job to keep you safe; I did what I should have done for more than a year and now I want to live a normal life and I don't really feel a lot of responsibility for people who refuse to take care of themselves. I am not the suicide hotline, I am not going to argue with you about the Constitution. If you want to get sick and die to make a political point, it is your business.

We feel that way but as good people, even if somewhat resentfully, the rest of us will continue to limit our own behavior, both to protect others and to protect ourselves from irresponsible, rude, self-destructive, seditious idiots. It ain't fair, I tell you, but we'll do it.