Ten months after the first case was documented in New Jersey, the virus that causes COVID-19 is still with us. Case counts are higher than they have ever been. Thankfully the fatalities caused by the virus have lessened, although the continued loss of life is still a daily tragedy.
Our medical professionals have developed better ways to treat the most seriously ill as long as we can keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.
The devastating impacts of the lockdowns and restrictions used to combat the virus remain with us as well. A recently released McKinsey and Company study shows there have been significant learning losses among children. We have seen catastrophic harms to our economy, especially the small business economy that is the centerpiece of our local economic life. Loneliness and isolation have taken a toll on our mental health.
It is no longer feasible for us to look at the pandemic
only from the perspective of its public health impacts.
Now the vaccines have arrived, but slow rollout of doses and difficulties in getting even the most vulnerable among us vaccinated have some federal and state officials saying that we may have to live with the restrictions well into 2021. There has to be a better way.
One being suggested by two professors, one at Stanford Medical School and the other at Oxford, was presented in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in December. The key to their proposal is to focus protection on individuals who have a high risk of mortality from COVID-19 infection.
The argument goes this way. The risk of mortality increases strongly with age and for those with specific chronic conditions. Therefore the focus of our early efforts with the vaccine needs to be on shielding these vulnerable individuals from infection.
Focus the vaccine on the elderly, the frontline medical personnel and even on those under 65 who are at elevated risk due to chronic disease. Not prioritizing vaccinations for those who have recovered from COVID-19 is another way to preserve doses for the vulnerable.
Accomplishing a focused vaccination program for the most vulnerable should lead us to a point where we can ease social and economic restrictions. It is a point where we can begin to balance the health harms done by the disease with the very real harms done by the restrictions.
In Cape May County we cannot afford to begin another summer season burdened with restrictions that continue to harm our economy. Many small businesses that barely survived last season may not make it through another year of the same.
Last year the crowds came. People showed their ongoing desire for time at the shore. Yet many businesses could not benefit. Double digit revenue losses are not sustainable.
We all would like to arrive at a state of universal vaccination, but can we afford the continued harm of lockdowns, a heavy reliance on remote learning and a continuance of social isolation while we achieve it? Should near universal vaccination be our goal before we begin to ease the restrictions that hamper all facets of our lives?
Just this week the number of Americans applying for unemployment spiked to its highest weekly total since September. The resurgence of COVID-19 cases is threatening the limited economic recovery we have built back after the spring collapse.
It is no longer feasible for us to look at the pandemic only from the perspective of its public health impacts. We must add a balanced consideration of the economic and social harms we inflict upon ourselves with the measures we take to fight the disease.
The vaccine can be a game changer, but not if we adopt a position that near universal vaccination rates as the only ticket to relaxed restrictions.
Our political and public health leaders must devise a plan for focused protection of the most vulnerable while allowing our economy and our schools greater flexibility in 2021 than we had in 2020.