Responding to

"Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from indomitable will"
Mahatma Gandhi
Now is not the time to let down our guard, even though we want to. And even with more than one million COVID-19 vaccinations administered in New Mexico and the state continuing to have one of the highest rates of vaccine administration in the country, we're still not ready to resume our previous lives.

It's frustrating.

Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith write in The New York Times that, as parts of the country continue to see progress in vaccinations, and many people are booking spring break trips, dining in newly reopened restaurants, and planning summer weddings, the path ahead and the guidance about how people should behave remains uncertain and contradictory.

Epidemiologists view the current moment in the pandemic as a sprint between vaccinations and newly confirmed cases of the virus, particularly because of variants that can be more contagious. And no vaccine has yet been authorized for use in people under 16, though trials are underway. 

Nationwide, the federal government has delivered more than 151 million vaccine doses, and about 77 percent have been administered, according to the CDC. The country is averaging about 2.5 million shots a day, compared with well under one million a day in early January. As of last Thursday, according to the CDC, 66 percent of the country’s older population has received at least one vaccine dose, with 39 percent fully vaccinated. At least 23 states have said they will expand vaccine eligibility to their general population on or before May 1. New Mexico recently expanded vaccine eligibility to Phase 1C which includes people age 65 to 74, people age 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions, and essential workers who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health. And officials are beginning to speak more and more about what life might be like when the pandemic ends.

So, it's little wonder that many of us who have been fully vaccinated probably feel ready to get on with our lives, as if the worst is behind us. We may even feel that infection control protocols no longer should apply to us. But huge numbers of people are still unvaccinated and variants continue to spread. Public health experts also note there are warning signs we need to pay attention to. For example, Vermont, which escaped the worst of the pandemic in 2020, is struggling to curb an outbreak. Michigan, which seemed to bring the virus under control in January, is seeing cases increase and there are concerns it may experience another surge. In south Florida, infection levels remain persistently high.

It's also important to remember that being fully vaccinated doesn't guarantee we won't become ill. No vaccine is one hundred percent perfect at preventing infection although the current vaccines appear to be one hundred precent effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

That's why things feel a bit odd. We hear messages that are, simultaneously, optimistic, cautious, and possibly a bit dire. Especially in states where the virus is far from under control, the messages seem contradictory as officials lift restrictions on businesses, and companies push for re-opening. It's business as usual and people continue to get sick. It's little wonder that many people say they are hesitant to dive back into old routines, even if they are vaccinated and their elected officials have indicated it's OK to do so.
Experts also predict that the coronavirus pandemic won't be the last pandemic of the 21st century. Since the turn of the century, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, as it is technically known) has been the second virus to create a pandemic. The first was the H1N1 influenza in 2009. It's also the third coronavirus outbreak, following SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012. As Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic, we can expect roughly one global plague every 10 years.

The reality is that human beings are vulnerable. The pandemic should remind us that it is impossible to completely protect ourselves from risk or from harm. Usable information early on, however, can mitigate some risk, as Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal write. They helped found the COVID Tracking Project to fill the gap that existed in testing data during the first months of the pandemic. "For months, the American government had no idea how many people were sick with COVID-19, how many were lying in hospitals, or how many had died." Data, they suggest, " might seem like an overly technical obsession, an oddly nerdy scapegoat on which to hang the deaths of half a million Americans. But data are how our leaders apprehend reality. In a sense, data are the federal government’s reality. As a gap opened between the data that leaders imagined should exist and the data that actually did exist, it swallowed the country’s pandemic planning and response."

Fully comprehending our vulnerability means we need to learn from our mistakes if we don't want to repeat the experiences of 2020. Thompson writes, "I asked several scientists, epidemiologists, and other experts to tell me what they considered the foundational failure of our COVID-19 response." Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the founder and director of the Scripps Research facility, told him, “I don’t think there’s any question that America’s original sin was not having a broadly available test by the time COVID-19 was here.” Other countries adopted an aggressive testing strategy from the start. South Korea, for example, knew from its own experience the value of tracking infections as fast as possible. "South Korea tested 200,000 people before the U.S. had tested 20,000 of its citizens."

If the experts are correct, we'll have another opportunity to manage a better response to the next pandemic (even though we're still working our way through this one). I know it's not a pleasant thought, but to pretend it isn't a possibility isn't particularly wise. And to ignore what happens on a distant continent because it's so far away is to ignore the reality that life on the planet is interconnected.

To say we're all in this together is an understatement.

Please, keep doing what you've been doing. Those of us who are vaccinated have an obligation to those of us who are still waiting. Just because we wish the pandemic to be over doesn't make it so. It's not. Only through the combined efforts of staff and volunteers can we continue to keep the Kitchen Angels community safe.

In gratitude for all that you do.
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.