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It appears COVID is here to stay

It was only two short months ago that I wrote my column about the joy of venturing out to the store without having to don a surgical mask.

Boy, that was short lived.

It wasn’t so much about ditching the mask, though I was certainly happy not to have to do so and grateful to see faces again. It was more about what it represented. It was a corner turned. Those of us who were fully vaccinated were told it was OK to be normal again. We were protected.

Normal was on the way back. Scientists had come through for us. Vaccines were available and eventually enough of us would get inoculated to create herd immunity. Starved for human hosts, the COVID-19 virus would fade to a minor insignificance, becoming no more ominous than the seasonal flu.

But we didn’t get there and now it appears we won’t.

Instead of putting the pandemic behind us, the world faces the grim reality that — after sickening an estimated 200 million people and killing more than four million, including 611,000 in the United States — it is intensifying, again.

We won’t be going back to normal. This is the new normal. This virus, ever changing, ever shifting, is going to be part of life for a long time.

This coronavirus is always mutating, randomly, into new variants. A variant that most readily spreads climbs to the top of the viral mountain. For now, that is the delta variant, which devastated India and is rapidly spreading across this country. Hospitalizations and deaths are again spiking. The unvaccinated are the most vulnerable — adults by choice, but children because no COVID vaccine has won approval as safe for those under age 12.

The vaccines continue to provide substantial protection from serious illness, but they have shown an increased vulnerability to the delta variant. The vaccinated are (usually) not getting terribly sick, but they are getting infected, and so are a threat to spread the highly contagious variant.

And so, the masks are coming back on.

There had been some hope school would look normal come fall. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that masks again be required for pupils, students and staffs.

The CDC is also recommending that people vaccinated against COVID-19 who live in “areas of high transmission” should again, even if vaccinated, start covering their faces in indoor public places. By week's end New London County had been designated "high transmission" and the state Department of Public Health "strongly recommended" following the CDC guidelines.

It is impossible to know where all this leads. The arrival of autumn will force more activities indoors. That could exacerbate the delta-driven spike in infections. Restrictions on public gatherings, limits on seating, and mandates on social spacing could return.

The threat to the economic recovery is significant.

It is extremely discouraging.

And what if a mutation comes along that is more virulent than the delta configuration?

Public officials must recalculate their strategies. Expect a controversial debate over how far the government and businesses can go in mandating vaccines or making proof of them a requirement for certain public functions. The idea of fixing the problem is fading, replaced by an approach to manage it.

Of course, extremely high levels of vaccination could change the equation, but it is hard to be optimistic about that.

I didn’t anticipate this scenario back at the end of May. Now it is impossible to know what to expect. And that may be the most dreadful reality of all.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.



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