As debates continue to rage over vaccines and masking, beyond the 63,000 COVID-19 deaths suffered in the state, it is often easy to move past some of the other negative impacts that California’s widespread business and school closures had on kids, families, and small businesses. While Californians are currently free of the state’s 17-month long COVID-19-related lockdowns, state and local restrictions remain a real possibility as politicians and public health officials express growing concerns about the Delta variant. Los Angeles County is already reinstating its mask mandate indoors, even for vaccinated people. To help avoid the disturbing prospect of more lockdowns, policymakers should pay attention to the science and Californians should encourage each other to get vaccinated.
Millions of California schoolchildren received over a year of subpar remote education, crimping their learning outcomes and social development. The last thing school-aged children need this fall is an increase in COVID-19 cases causing another panic that closes schools to in-person learning.
Additionally, upwards of 30% of California restaurants permanently closed during the pandemic, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state. While some restaurants would have failed under any government policy given the reasonable reluctance of many to dine indoors or to sit and eat near strangers during the pandemic, the state’s strict lockdown made matters much worse. Hundreds of gyms and fitness centers also closed, resulting in a reduction in physical health for many Californians.
After bottoming out in June, COVID-19 case rates are once again rising in California, which is making city and state leaders nervous. Most observers blame the uptick on the more transmissible Delta variant hitting unvaccinated populations.
“Over 99% of the COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths we are seeing are among unvaccinated individuals,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement on July 12.
“We continue to see day-to-day increases of new COVID cases. The majority of cases are among those who were not vaccinated,” Sacramento County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye recently wrote to the Sacramento Bee.
If the state reverts to its unnecessary school and business closures, even for a short time, it would exacerbate negative effects on kids, education, the economy, and our health. Ideally, policymakers have learned from their mistakes and know that schools and businesses can safely be open even if cases rise. But, unfortunately, such common-sense policymaking is often absent from our governments. Los Angeles County is already reinstating its mask mandate indoors, even for vaccinated people.
As of July 12, according to USA Facts, California ranks among the 10 most vaccinated states, with 62 percent of eligible Californians having gotten at least one shot and 51 percent fully vaccinated.
Unfortunately, millions of older Californians remain unvaccinated and thus at heightened risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. As of July 12, about 73% of Californians over 65 are fully vaccinated and 62% of those aged 50-64 are fully vaccinated.
Vaccination rates are lower in younger age groups, which is understandable since younger people face much lower mortality risks. However, policymakers predisposed to shutdowns frequently note that unvaccinated younger people can get and spread COVID-19 to more vulnerable elders.
While it may be tempting to lambaste the vaccine-hesitant as ignorant or politically motivated, such rhetoric is counterproductive. Vaccines should not be a political issue. As more people get vaccinated, our communities reach higher levels of herd immunity, decreasing the likelihood that individuals will become seriously ill regardless of political ideology.
While recognizing that many individuals are at low risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes and that vaccines are not always risk-free, for most individuals the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risk and getting the shot also helps protect friends and family.
I was an outspoken critic of lockdowns, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And many of today’s vaccination opponents were strong allies in making the case against widespread economic and school shutdowns.
We can have righteous and legally correct objections to mandates and lockdowns, and to establishment and media bias, without disputing the scientific fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world have received protection from COVID vaccines while suffering no more than a mild day-after reaction.
Today, one of the best defenses we have against politicians overreacting to future COVID surges is to get ourselves, families and friends vaccinated.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Orange County Register.