Mask up, vax up

8/12/2021, 6 p.m.
Count us in when it comes to supporting the COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued last week by Richmond Mayor Levar M. …

Count us in when it comes to supporting the COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued last week by Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney and Gov. Ralph S. Northam.

One only has to look at the alarming rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the city and statewide to understand that only vaccines, mask wearing and social distancing will prevent a sequel to last year’s coronavirus horror show.

This virus is no joke. The numbers we publish each week in the “Free COVID-19 testing and vaccines” box on Page A1 of the Free Press detailing the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide and the percentage of deaths and hospitalizations among African-Americans and people of color are there for a purpose. We want readers to be informed about the community’s progress in battling a virus that shows no pity.

And we want people to see how, as the numbers of people fully vaccinated has stalled just above 50 percent, it has given COVID-19 an opportunity to creep back in and claim more lives and sicken more of our fellow Richmonders.

In the city of Richmond alone, more than 18,100 people have tested positive for the virus, with an average of 50 new cases reported daily during the last week. To date, 281 of our fellow Richmonders have died since the pandemic began early last year, according to the state Health Department data.

Digging a little deeper into the data the state updates daily on the COVID-19 dashboard that is available to the public on www.vdh.virginia.gov, only 55.8 percent of Richmonders age 12 and older have been vaccinated. Broken down by race, only 39 percent of the city’s Black residents who are eligible to get the vaccine have gotten inoculated.

We don’t understand why these percentages are so low when our community has been disproportionately hit by the number of deaths and cases.

As COVID-19 numbers rise across the country, it is no wonder that communities have started to turn from the carrot to the stick in approaching vaccines. Instead of offering free ice cream and doughnuts, states, localities, school divisions and companies are beginning to require that their employees and students get vaccinated if they want to continue to work or study where they are. Battling COVID-19 is a matter of public health, and making schools and workplaces safe for students and workers and those they come in contact with must be given priority over politics.

So we applaud Mayor Stoney for announcing on Aug. 4 that all city employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. And we applaud Gov. Northam for announcing on Aug. 5 that starting Sept. 1, all 122,000 state employees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular testing for the virus.

Jason Kamras, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, which is set to welcome back more than 20,000 students in less than four weeks, also wants to mandate that all school employees be fully vaccinated.

A large number of city students are under age 12 and aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine. But we urge the families of those who are age 12 and older to have their children vaccinated. It will be crucial to protecting children and parents and others in the household from this super-contagious delta variant.

According to news reports, Pfizer plans to seek emergency authorization in September or October for its vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. That gives us hope.

Already, we are hearing warnings from well-placed sources that another lockdown may be imminent in the next six weeks if the numbers of vaccines don’t go up and the number of cases continue to rise.

We do not, however, go as far as some who believe that unvaccinated people should sign away their right to hospital treatment for COVID-19 because they refused to get the life-saving vaccine.

We don’t want another lockdown and we don’t want treatment to be withheld from the unvaccinated. We must continue to show compassion, even to those who seem to have no compassion for those they may infect by remaining unvaccinated.

The best course of action for all people is for those who are eligible to step up, roll up their sleeves and get a shot. It may save your life or that of someone you love.