Have measures taken in the name of defeating COVID-19 also damaged civil liberties?
Concerns about the current surging infection rate in the United States due to the coronavirus Delta variant is spurring more calls for the unvaccinated to get jabs and has officials reconsidering the path to post-pandemic normalcy.
As the US has seen relaxed or eliminated mask mandates and efforts to reopen businesses and travel, the current spike in COVID cases is now resulting in more caution and, in some cases, more restrictions.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday said it would require its doctors and other medical staff to get COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the first federal agency to impose such a mandate.
“It’s the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said in a press release.
Also Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced California, the nation’s most populous state, beginning next month will require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or get tested weekly.
“The announcement here today is broad, it’s significant, believe we may be the first state at scale to not only require it for all state employees but to engage in public-private partnership with our healthcare facilities in the state,” Newsom said.
Earlier Monday, a group of more than 50 healthcare organisations, including the American Medical Association and American Nurses Association, called for mandated vaccinations for healthcare workers.
“Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the groups said in a statement.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.”
Their call for mandated jabs comes after a report last week by ProPublica that only 59 percent of nursing home and long-term healthcare facility workers are vaccinated.
Blaming the unvaccinated
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” the US’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said Sunday about the recent surge in cases and pointed his finger squarely at those who have yet to receive a vaccine.
“If you look at the inflexion of the curve of new infections … it is among the unvaccinated and since we have 50 percent of the country is not fully vaccinated, that’s a problem,” he added.
Coronavirus vaccines are widely available across the US, and just less than 60 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated, with 68.8 percent of adults having received at least one dose, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
The sharpest increases in COVID-19 infections are in places with lower vaccination rates. Florida, Texas and Missouri account for 40 percent of all new cases nationwide, with about one in five of all new cases occurring in Florida, White House adviser Jeffrey Zients said last week.
In Alabama, a state where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the US, Governor Kay Ivey lashed out, last week, at people who refuse to get vaccinated, according to local news outlets.
“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” said Ivey, a Republican who has refused to mandate masks. “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated that are letting us down.”
Prior to California’s vaccine mandate announcement on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said his city will require all of its municipal workers – including teachers and police officers – to get coronavirus vaccines by September 13 or face weekly COVID testing.
While stopping short of mandating jabs — no workers will be forced to take a shot — officials hope the inconvenience and discomfort of weekly tests will persuade many to overcome a reluctance to get inoculated.
“This is about our recovery. This is about what we need to do to bring back New York City,” de Blasio said. “This is about keeping people safe.
The Delta Variant is deadly and this city is taking it seriously. Today I’m announcing that EVERY City government employee will be required to provide proof of vaccination or submit a weekly #COVID test. Join us at Bronx Borough Hall for more. #InTheBronx https://t.co/G9YsQCmNBP
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) July 26, 2021
In St Louis, Missouri, a county-wide mask mandate took effect Monday, requiring most people, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors and on public transportation.
The St Louis mandate comes a week after Los Angeles, California reinstated its mask requirement. Also, the top public health official in King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, last week asked everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces – even if they are vaccinated.
While local officials in St Louis argue they are reinstating the mandate on account of the current Delta variant surge, others are actively fighting the new restrictions.
Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt, a Republican who is also running for US Senate, is among several elected officials pledging to stop the mandate, saying it infringes on individual freedoms.
— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) July 24, 2021
“The citizens of St. Louis and St. Louis County are not subjects — they are free people. As their Attorney General I’ll be filing suit Monday to stop this insanity”, Schmitt tweeted during the weekend.
Travel restrictions unchanged
Meanwhile, the US government is proceeding slowly with regard to its existing restrictions on international travel, electing to keep them in place for now, according to a White House official.
President Joe Biden earlier this month said that his administration was “in the process” of considering how soon the US could lift the ban on European travel bound for the US after the issue was raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the White House.
The official, who was not authorised to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said while the administration understands the importance of international travel, cases are rising in the US – particularly among those who are unvaccinated and will likely continue to increase in the weeks ahead.