Opinion: We're still angry about the pandemic, but angry in a hopeful way

·5 min read
Motorists line up to take COVID-19 tests at at Long Beach City College-Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Motorists line up to take COVID-19 tests in Long Beach in February, as Los Angeles County's brutal winter surge was beginning to wane. (Los Angeles Times)

If you're anything like me, you've been checking the Twitter account of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health every afternoon since last year for the daily count of new COVID-19 cases, new deaths and hospitalizations, despairing over the slightest uptick in numbers and celebrating the declines. Lately, there has been hardly any despairing and plenty of hope. To say that we've come a long way doesn't do justice to our collective achievement as Angelenos — consider that precisely four months ago, on Jan. 8, the county reported 18,313 new daily cases, 318 deaths and more than 8,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. This week, we had back-to-back days of zero new deaths.

This is public-facing information, available to everyone. What isn't available to everyone is the steady stream of letters, most of which go unpublished, from readers who have been living with stay-home orders, home schooling and various restrictions for more than a year. Consequently, for the last year I have been reading letters expressing mostly a range of bleak opinions — from at best resignation to, more often, anger, anxiety and fear. Seniors especially have written movingly of their prolonged isolation since March 2020; spouses and others with family who have died during the pandemic have written about their grief and, remarkably, persistence.

Now, there is less of that, with cases and deaths hitting new lows and still declining. There's anger, but it's over, say, people refusing vaccination and slowing recovery, not the impending collapse of our healthcare system. That's progress, and for now I'll take it.

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To the editor: While the growing share of the population who have been vaccinated has steadily reduced COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, this is also encouraging vaccine-hesitant individuals by giving them one more reason not to be vaccinated — the false conclusion that the pandemic is behind us.

Epidemiologists point out that if we do not reach herd immunity, COVID will continue to smolder indefinitely among the unprotected share of the population, and this may permit new virus strains to develop that will be capable of causing serious illness and death even in those who have been fully vaccinated.

What if The Times published a daily scorecard prominently on its front page? It should state something to the effect of:

"Yesterday in California 67 people died from COVID. They might be alive today if they had received one of the vaccines."

Of course this would be even more impactful if other print and broadcast media participated.

Cyril Barnert, Los Angeles

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To the editor: What a tragedy that we probably won't reach "herd immunity."

We should all reach out to our loved ones, colleagues and acquaintances to encourage them to get vaccinated. The alternative to herd immunity is a constant threat of infection and having to permanently wear masks and avoid crowds.

And we need to make a concerted effort to deny the satisfaction of the "anti-vaxxers," the foremost of whom is arguably Fox News' Tucker Carlson. He can single-handedly condemn us to the purgatory of an arrested economy that costs lives, jobs, prosperity and the joy of living. Recently he went on a harangue of misinformation and fear-mongering about the vaccine.

Get vaccinated for yourself, your family and society — or, do it to reject Tucker Carlson.

Richard Morse, Jonesborough, Tenn.

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To the editor: It is sad but probably true that we will not reach herd immunity, with vaccine hesitancy especially among Republicans. GOP leaders did next to nothing to stop the pandemic, and now this is happening.

The Republicans are single-handedly deterring our ability to create herd immunity against this virus.

Recently, I read a suggestion that we should try shunning those who are not vaccinated. Think about what we would have to do to ourselves to do that. But this is what the Republicans are doing to this country, aren't they?

Now, we need to think: When we vote, do we want to reward these malcontents?

Lyla Wickstrum, Sacramento

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To the editor: I take issue with the term "herd immunity." It has been uttered by more learned, more important people than I, yet I cringe every time one of them applies it to people.

Herd immunity relates to herds — herds of elephants, herds of antelope, herds of elk, herds of buffalo. You get the gist.

Herds of animals do travel. They move great distances to forage, to migrate to milder climates, but they move within their herds. They don't get on planes, trains, boats or cars to scatter to all points of the earth, mingling with other herds. They remain within their herd.

We humans are, however, gifted with the ability of individual choice. Unfortunately we are also gifted with entitlement and complacency.

I tell anyone willing to listen that vaccines have changed our world for the good. The uninformed are casual in their reluctance or refusal to roll up their sleeve.

Unfortunately some of the diseases eradicated by vaccines are making a comeback. People scatter from one continent to another, often carrying within them an unseen disease. They are not part of a herd.

So please, let's stop talking about herd immunity. Let's get busy convincing people that because they aren't herds of animals migrating in mass numbers, they have an obligation to their fellow human to protect and to be protected.

Thea Bernstein, Studio City

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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