Our country has just celebrated a Memorial Day weekend that was so sorely missed when it was abandoned last year due to the raging pandemic. Our ability to safely travel and participate in cookouts has been hard earned. This improved level of our activities is consistent with the improvement in the COVID-19 numbers. The seven-day case average on June 1 was 17,119 which represents a 45% decrease over the last 14 days. Hospitalizations are down another 22% over the last 14 days. There were 356 USA deaths on June 1, representing a 44% decrease. Locally in Hamilton County we are doing marginally better, typified by the case positivity rate being down to a “high risk” level of 3% (recall that less than 5% is the threshold). There have been numerous days in Hamilton County over the last 2 weeks where we have experienced zero deaths. Yet there remains a significant difference between safe activities allowed for the vaccinated versus those who have not rolled up their sleeves. If you are not fully vaccinated, you should still be wearing a mask indoors when around people, avoid nonessential travel, continue 6 feet social distancing, and avoid crowds. Compare this to the safe freedoms allowed for the fully vaccinated, who no longer require masking or distancing in most circumstances (CDC.gov/covid).
We are continuing to get especially important updates from our scientists which helps us regarding conducting our daily lives. Many parents will be comforted by the new Guidance for Operating Youth Camps from the CDC (May 28, 2021). This information pertains to every variety of youth day and overnight camps. Because the vaccines are safe and effective and EUA has been granted for the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 and over, everybody in these age groups should be vaccinated. If everyone at the start of a camp is fully vaccinated then NO masking, distancing, or capacity restrictions are necessary, except as required by federal, state, local, or tribal governments. (Imagine the implications for in person schools if everyone is fully vaccinated!). Irrespective of vaccination status masking is not necessary outdoors. Yet indoors masking is recommended for camp participants who have not been fully vaccinated.
We are at this better place in Ohio because of the nation’s aggressive vaccination development program and the massive distribution and administration program over the last 5 months. There have been 137 million Americans fully vaccinated to date. Just over 50% of adult Ohioans have been fully vaccinated, including over 75% of Ohioans over age 65. Because the currently unvaccinated Ohioans will be harder to reach, Gov. DeWine has initiated a Vax-a-million program. This incentive program has resulted in an over 20% increase in vaccinations and two $1 million awards and two 4-year Ohio college scholarships. These incentives are now being mimicked and expanded in other states and around the country.
On June 2, President Biden announced his plan to get more people vaccinated. June has been declared a “Month of Action” with the goal of getting 70% of Americans at least one shot before the 4th of July. This is a multi-pronged approach involving government, business, entertainment and sports entities, community organizations, and trusted community voices. The plan helps to remove obstacles by providing transportation to vaccinations sites and providing childcare while people get vaccinated. It incentivizes businesses to allow vaccination time off to employees by providing the business with tax credits. Vaccination sites are being placed at businesses, sporting events, and places where the people are. Free tickets to professional sporting events, meals, and even beer is being offered as incentives to get people vaccinated. It is proper to pull out all stops so that our country will be protected by us reaching the threshold of herd immunity.
Americans have died and suffered too much, lost too many jobs, spent too many hours on virtual platforms, and kept our kids away from their teachers too long to stop our fight now. Yes, there are people who will never get vaccinated but there are still many unvaccinated Americans who will get their shots as long as the vaccinated and our governments continue to inform, encourage, and remove the barriers and obstacles. Freedom summer is on the horizon!
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association