“There is no way that this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.”
So says Phil, as played by Bill Murray, the reporter stuck repeating the same day ad nauseum in the movie “Groundhog Day.” Dark humored jokes about this movie abounded last year when people were still largely at home, schools and many businesses were still closed, and our sense of time was lost in the sameness of each day. But now, with the Delta variant sweeping through the population and an indoor mask mandate being reinstated throughout the county, it feels more like Groundhog Day than ever before. “Big 2020 vibes” I’ve seen people remark wryly on Twitter.
The Delta variant of Covid-19 presents a clear and present threat – to our public health, to schools being able to remain open, and to our local and broader economy. It is ravaging the unvaccinated, with the vast amount of hospitalizations and deaths being among that population. It is affecting more children than previous variants, because all children under 12 are
unvaccinated and many 12-17 year olds still are not. Due to Delta’s higher level of contagiousness, these unvaccinated children provide ready hosts for spreading the virus. We are also learning that even those who are vaccinated can more easily be infected with Delta due to the higher viral load (though that load drops of more quickly than in the unvaccinated, making them contagious for a shorter length of time). This is all deadly serious business and it creates a feeling of anxiety that is too familiar.
Though it feels like Groundhog Day, things are not quite the same as they were in August of 2020. And the primary reason for this difference is access to safe, effective, and free vaccines. The feeling of relief and hope we felt when parents, vulnerable neighbors, and ourselves were able to get these protective shots were real and warranted. Each person who was fully vaccinated before the Delta wave hit is orders of magnitude less likely to find themselves in the hospital or worse should they catch a breakthrough infection. The importance of this for overly-taxed healthcare workers and hospitals cannot be stressed enough and is what distinguishes today from initial waves last spring and fall.
Orange County is nearing 80% of our population being fully vaccinated. This is outstanding progress. And we must keep going. Twenty percent of our population remains vulnerable to a highly contagious virus, many of them children.
Every unvaccinated person in Hillsborough and Orange County remains at great risk of infection from Delta, and every vaccinated person in Hillsborough and Orange County is offering a degree of protection to those very unvaccinated. Many of those are children too young for an approved vaccine. Others are either refusing the vaccine or remain vaccine hesitant. For those who have already received the vaccine, including many extremely exhausted and valiant healthcare workers, the frustration that we are still here, with yet another wave, is both high and understandable. Yet there are a host of genuinely vaccine hesitant people who need our compassion – people who have trouble getting off work to get to a clinic, people who have needle phobias (these are quite common!), or people who are mistrustful of the healthcare system for historically understandable reasons.
I encourage people to engage in conversations with vaccine hesitant friends and family without judgement or anger, as difficult as that may feel to some. I encourage the unvaccinated to reach out to someone you know and trust who chose the vaccine and ask them how they came to that decision. To get out of this pandemic with the least harm possible, each of us must be our best selves and act from a place of generosity and compassion. For every young child who must stay at home due to quarantine is also another caregiver who can’t go into work. Every absent employee is another blow to our local businesses who have already struggled so much.
None of us can be truly isolated from the rest – we are all connected and need each other to make it through this pandemic and a myriad of other challenges before us.
Back to Groundhog Day. Phil, the cynical, self-absorbed TV reporter is unable to break free from his repetitive purgatory until he can start thinking of others, rather than just himself. When he is able to see what a charming, tightly knit community he is visiting, when he is able to love Rita for love’s sake rather than as a way to simply fill his own needs, when he is able to see the value in connections with others, Phil finally sees a new day.
This is why we must stay committed to masking inside public places for the time being. This is why getting vaccinated is so important for every eligible person. We are protecting not just ourselves, but our entire, precious community. A new day is waiting for us, but we have to make it there together.