In 1872 French scientist C. J. Davaine noticed that anthrax transmitted through the blood of successive rabbits became increasingly lethal and increasingly contagious with each successive transmission. This increase in “pathogenicity” (contagiousness) and deadliness is a phenomenon that came to be known as “passage.” The Covid Delta Variant is a child of passage.
This is one of the reasons why Dr. Anthony Fauci recommends that we continue to wear masks indoors and that we continue to practice social distancing. If we don’t then we could become the willing incubators of another even more deadly passage-created variant.
Although many of us are vaccinated it won’t matter. Vaccination means you are less likely to get Covid, it doesn’t mean you can’t. But in either case you can still carry the disease and you can still transmit it without ever becoming ill yourself.
This counterintuitive fact has led to memes poking fun at the idea that people who have been vaccinated can still transmit Covid. Those memes (often with Ray Liotta laughing his head off in a scene from “Goodfellas”) are used to “prove” that vaccines are a scam.
The only thing that is proven, of course, is that reality can sometimes be tricky and complicated, so much so that stupid people with unmerited confidence in their own intelligence who don’t understand the explanation hide their embarrassment with humor. But it isn’t funny. It’s deadly.
Unfortunately, because this explanation hasn’t been widely made to even the brightest among us, intelligent, thoughtful and careful people also mistakenly think that you can safely have a party indoors without social distancing or mask-wearing as long as all the attendees are all vaccinated. This simply isn’t true.
It’s bad enough, of course, that some Americans are resisting getting vaccinated because of lies told by Fox News exploiting their naïveté for ratings and Republican politicians exploiting their naïveté for votes. This combination of anti-vaxxer sentiment and the misplaced belief that the vaccine makes you safer than you actually are could prove to be a deadly combination.
America could reap that whirlwind as early as this October, with record numbers of schools shutting down again and record numbers of Americans getting sick. Before it’s done with us — if it ever is — SARS-CoV-2 is on track for claiming the lives of at least one million Americans.
The pre-vaccine wisdom remains as true today as ever: wash your hands, maintain social distancing and wear masks in groups when indoors. Right now the United States has more active infections than the next 25 countries combined. There were nearly 170,000 new infections on Friday alone. We are not out of this yet, and presuming that we are is a deadly game of ignorance and foolhardiness. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.