It’s been almost three years since the first American died of COVID-19. The death toll, as of Thursday, stands at 832,392, a figure which includes 10,4511 Mississippians. On Wednesday alone, 7,079 cases and eight more deaths were reported in our state.
Much as it is with mass shootings, we’ve lost our ability to be staggered by the scale of these numbers long ago, so we look for encouragement anywhere we can find it.
Omicron, the latest variant of COVID-19, which will continue to evolve and mutate as long as it is allowed to persist, is not as debilitating or deadly as previous variants, as noted by the disparity in the number of cases compared to the number of deaths. Omicron will make you sick, but you aren’t as likely to wind up in the hospital or the morgue.
The overwhelming majority of cases continue to be among the unvaccinated in a state where full vaccination is just 49 percent, a full 14 percentage points below the national average. That means Mississippians are more vulnerable to COVID than most of the other states. The vaccinations do not prevent you from contracting COVID entirely, but it improves your odds dramatically.
Since the vaccines became widely available in our state almost a year ago, we insisted they are the best defense against the disease. Our position has not changed. All of the data supports vaccination. We continue to urge people to be vaccinated and get the boosters as soon they are eligible for them.
While the health consequences are not as dire with this variant, quarantines resulting from exposure or infection are extremely disruptive to our economic, education and health systems.
Another thing we cautioned against from the start as COVID cases surged and waned, is to avoid complacency. That remains our advice today.
Our fear is not so much the risks associated with the current variant, but the potential of the next. Given our current vaccination rate, there is very likely to be another variant on the horizon and we have no way of knowing how transmissible, dangerous or vaccine-resistant it will be.
The worst-case scenario is that current vaccines will not be effective against that new variant.
If that’s the case, we fear we’ll be right back to where we started. Cases will be more severe, hospitals will be overwhelmed and the death toll won’t be counted in the single digits as they are today but in the 10s and 100s and, God forbid, the 1,000s.
Our government at every level has lost the will to act in preserving public health, so it’s in our hands.
There are currently no mandates in place for social distancing, avoiding large gatherings where people are in close proximity or wearing face masks. But we point out, there’s no law against taking those measures, either.
The best we can do at the moment, then, is to exercise caution.
And get vaccinated.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.