By the time this column is published, my wife Monika and I will have boarded a flight to New York, our first time in airports since the start of the pandemic. We are fully vaccinated and we wear masks, but I wonder if we are putting our own health at risk by traveling.
Our main purpose is to attend a long-delayed memorial service for a close friend and colleague who died suddenly in Paris last year. Christopher Dickey was a celebrated journalist and author, whose memoir growing up with his father, poet and writer James Dickey, won critical acclaim. Our friendship was forged covering the Central American civil wars in the early 1980s. Such bonds are unbreakable.
Thoughts of last-minute cancellation entered my mind and our dinner table conversations, but we decided to attend. More elaborate plans to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary this very day with a train journey to Montreal, where my family roots are to be found, and to Boston to see my older brother Ken and his family, have been postponed.
The Wednesday edition of the Washington Post featured this headline: The pandemic marks another milestone: 1 in 500 Americans have died of COVID-19.
Anybody want to still argue that COVID-19 is like the flu, not worth all the attention, or that the media is exaggerating the seriousness of the pandemic?
The math gets no better closer to home. As I noted in my Thursday column, one in 494 Texans have died of COVID-19, and 1 in 500 in Bexar County.
The coronavirus is still spreading, still sending people to the hospital in record numbers, and still killing us. More than 6,000 people in the state have died in the last month, according to the Texas Tribune database.
Yet Texas has still not reached the 50% fully vaccinated mark. In Bexar County, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Judge Nelson Wolff, and public health leaders have consistently held their ground against the governor and attorney general’s attempts to thwart local control and pushed for everyone over the age of 12 to be vaccinated. As a result, more than 70% of the county’s eligible population is now fully vaccinated.
Still, the number of new cases each week, the number of people hospitalized, and the persistent evidence of breakthrough cases infecting the fully vaccinated since the delta variant emerged, are alarming.
We want the pandemic to be gone. But it is not gone, and it will not go away until enough people acknowledge the threat to public health it represents and agree to get vaccinated and, when appropriate, wear masks.
I will be criticized for normalizing my own life and traveling with my wife on an airplane, but our days in New York will be different. Every venue we intend to visit, from the site of the memorial service to a very small Newsweek reunion dinner at a restaurant, will require proof of vaccination. The service organizers will require all nonresident attendees to show proof of a negative coronavirus test in the preceding 72 hours.
We aim to come home as we left, safe and sound.
The fact is our nation never should have reached this grim milestone. We did not have to witness the deaths of 663,000 people. The mortality rate could have been much lower had we acted as one and adopted mandatory vaccination laws and mask use. Anti-vaxxers and others who claim people like me want to shut down the economy could not be more wrong or more disingenuous. We simply want to safeguard our families, our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Perhaps some of the unvaccinated will rethink their objections, their concerns, and come to accept that vaccines are safe while the virus is not. It’s not worth the risk to yourself or to the rest of us to continue to deny the science.