One in three persons in Mississippi are fully vaccinated compared to two in three in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts the virus can barely find susceptible people to infect while in Mississippi the virus has a free-for-all.
For 25 years I lived in Massachusetts. Then for 25 years, I worked in a hospital in Mississippi.
I know the highways which traverse the states: Interstate 90 or Mass Pike, and Interstate 55. I know the people: Boston Brahmins and factory workers and the Southern Belles and rural laborers. I know the health workers, the patients and their families in both states, as my own.
Yet, what is about to happen in the next few months will be a tale of two states to be reflected upon.
The tale will reveal how divided we are in our United States and the impact on human life. This undressing will be done by the Delta variant of the SARS CoV-2 Virus.
Pre-COVID-19 and now, Mississippi and Massachusetts are demographically on two poles of the spectrum of one nation. The former has a poverty rate 3 times the latter, a per capita GDP half the latter, and life expectancy 5 years less.
Yes, the two states too have racial and political divides.
Nearly, 40% of Mississippi residents are African-American compared with 10% of those from Massachusetts.
And in the last presidential election nearly 60% of Mississippians voted for former President Trump compared to about 30% of the voters in Massachusetts.
The two states have endured a lot during COVID-19
When COVID-19 hit our nation last March both states bore the brunt of the waves of infections. The first wave came to Massachusetts likely due to a superspreader event from an academic conference, and soon the Southern states, including Mississippi, had their first wave of infections. Cases peaked around 40 per 100,000 in both states.
The second wave in the winter was gruesome and simultaneous in both states with the peak reaching over 80 cases per 100,000. In these waves, the rich or the poor, the educated or the uneducated, black or white, Republican or Democrat all suffered from the wrath of COVID-19.
This was a time we lived in fear, anxiety and dread. What if our next breath had a few 100 nm (2000 times smaller than a dust mite) viral RNA particles that would enter our bodies and multiply to billions and land us in the hospital in the ICU on a ventilator.
This would be at no fault of our own and with a course of illness that even trained specialist infectious disease doctors like me cannot reliably predict. This was all before the vaccine was readily available to the general public.
Yet, after the spring of 2021, vaccinations were opened to all adults, and there was hope and optimism. There was a genuine belief that we can open safely and begin our normal lives again. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the mask recommendations, and baseball parks and party halls began to fill up.
That is, until the Delta variant entered the country.
Over the past 60 days the more contagious Delta variants have infected almost all unvaccinated people who have come in close contact with someone with the virus. And the variant is nearly present equally in both regions of Massachusetts and Mississippi, making up 70-80% of the sequenced variants.
At the end of May both states were near a plateau of 5 cases per 100,000 and from there to early July each week the case numbers in Mississippi have increased 6 to 13 cases per 100,000 each day.
In contrast, Massachusetts is only at 3 per 100,000. The upward trend on hospitalizations in Mississippi is 6 times more than Massachusetts, and the positivity rate is 11 times more.
Why such a schism?
The answer is not some masking policy or business closures. I recently spent two weeks in Massachusetts visiting my parents and the masking and social distancing up North was limited, no different from Mississippi and the rest of the nation.
What is driving the difference in the epidemic is one curve: the percent fully vaccinated. The vaccination rates were similar until Mid-march between the two states, and then the divergence occurred.
Now, one in three persons in Mississippi are fully vaccinated compared to two in three in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts the virus can barely find susceptible people to infect while in Mississippi the virus has a free-for-all.
It is uncertain how long Massachusetts COVID-19 case numbers will remain low. The more fearful question is how high Mississippi’s number will go. To answer this question we need to only bring in the epidemic curves from the United Kingdom, which has a vaccination rate better than Mississippi but not as good as Massachusetts.
One month ago, the UK was where Mississippi is today in their daily cases of around 12 per 100,000. Now, they are nearly at 60 cases per 100,000. Mississippi lags about a month on the epidemic curve compared to the UK.
All these numbers should be a cause for us to pause and reflect, here in Tennessee. We are in between Massachusetts and Mississippi in nearly all the numbers.
These numbers have consequences.
Last week the Mississippi Health Department reported 7 children in the ICU and 2 on ventilator life support. Children who are under 12 and cannot be vaccinated get COVID-19 from adults most of whom are unvaccinated and actively circulating the disease.
I love both states. I respect the people of both states. But vaccination is no longer about having freedom of choice. It is about saving a life.
Source: Commercial Appeal