Dec. 31—We had hopes of waxing happy about a new year beginning brightly for us on Jan. 1, 2022. We hoped to say COVID-19 was behind us and finally numbers of illness and death were falling, falling, falling. After all, that's what Tennessee leaders were bleating in the fall as they legislated common-sense preventions out of the grasp of local and workplace leaders. But wishes aren't horses, and things didn't go in the way that might have had us cheering a brighter new year.
Even before the sun set on 2021, the U.S. had marked a new record for daily new cases of COVID-19, and Tennessee was continuing its lock on a front row seat. Tennessee cases — and those in Georgia, too — were and are soaring. Here in Hamilton County, COVID deaths on Wednesday hit 900.
Just to put this Hamilton County number into perspective, consider the timeline:
— As of Dec. 29, we had mourned 900 of our neighbors and family members.
— Two weeks before on Dec. 16, the day the first case of COVID's omicron variant was confirmed in Hamilton County, the number stood at 736.
— On Nov. 30, when the Chattanooga Times Free Press front page headline read: "Omicron Brings Vaccine Inequity 'Home to Roost,'" (the first U.S. omicron case wouldn't make news until the next day) Hamilton's coronavirus deaths tallied 678.
Do the math. That's an average of more than seven COVID-19 deaths a day over the month — at a time when our hospitalizations and deaths were supposedly slowing after the late summer delta peak because health workers had gotten better at treating the virus and because finally half of us were vaccinated.
The month before — the whole of October — saw fewer than one death daily: On Oct. 31, Tennessee deaths hovered at 651. That same day the Tennessee General Assembly was meeting in its self-called COVID special session to mandate against mandates. On the day before, the TFP's front page screamer stated, "Auto firms speak up on mandate push" (meaning they wanted the lawmakers to leave them the ability to mandate masks and/or vaccines in the workplace). Lawmakers carved them exceptions, but not the rest of us. Masking is merely a suggestion for most here now.
But Tennessee lawmakers are not the only ones at fault here. There's plenty of blame to pass around.
One of our favorite columnists, the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, wrote Thursday:
"So long as red-state governors and other MAGA cultists attempt to obstruct vaccination for the coronavirus, and so long as they encourage risky behavior, more people will become seriously ill and die. That's not exactly what members of President Biden's COVID-19 response team said as they discussed the spread of the omicron variant at their news briefing on Wednesday. But the message was unmistakable."
And, of course, we lemmings share some blame. We should be "learning to live" with COVID-19, but the unvaccinated among us — still 49% of us in both laggard Tennessee and laggard Georgia — are making that impossible. Our states remain among the bottom 10 in the country for fully vaccinated residents.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week: "If you are unvaccinated, you are 10 times more likely to be a case and 20 times more likely to be a fatality; compared to people who are [vaccinated], you are 17 times more likely to be in the hospital."
So here we are: Half of our state and half of Georgia has odds far higher than need be to get sick, to spread this virus further, to help it mutate still more and to die.
Hamilton County already has had funerals now for more than 900 people who were our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, best friends.
To this we should smile and say Happy New Year?
We see no "happy" new year here. Instead we wish you — beg of you — a better, smarter new year.