Distant Dome: It didn’t have to be this way

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POLITICAL ANALYSIS



Remember a couple of months ago when everyone was looking for a nearly normal summer?

People looked forward to what could pass as a routine day at the beach, a hike in the mountains, music and cultural events, eating out and maybe a flight to an exotic place you had hoped to visit, but had to cancel when flying was considered dangerous.

Bike Week would be normal if only a little more subdued than in the past, and the 4th of July would return with parades, barbeques galore, fireworks and family and friends reacquainted after the long winter of COVID.

Vaccinations had the desired effect and people were comfortable grocery shopping or going to restaurants without masks and social distancing.

The tourism industry envisioned a robust summer season to make up for last year with many hotels and attractions booked through the fall as people rejoiced and celebrated their rediscovered vacations.

The hospitality industry businesses that survived breathed deeply and with the only headache finding enough workers to return to the pre-pandemic world.

Things were looking good, the trends were all in the right direction, and Gov. Chris Sununu and his team of COVID warriors cancelled their weekly news conferences which were beginning to take on a more political tilt than earlier in the pandemic.

But what plunged India into misery and chaos and Europe into more lockdowns and travel restrictions did not stay in Asia or Europe. The signs of a Delta invasion began to appear in early summer in low vaccinated places like Missouri, Louisiana and Florida and spread with a vengeance upending the economic and health environment most everywhere, including New England, the most vaccinated region of the country.

By the weekend, all but one county in New Hampshire — Sullivan — has substantial transmission levels of COVID-19, according to daily tracking information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Before this week is over, it is likely the entire state will be classified with substantial transmission levels.

Vermont, with the highest state vaccination rate in the country, is in better shape with less than half its counties with substantial transmission, which is the same for Maine.

New Hampshire is on a par with Massachusetts with two counties with moderate levels, four with the highest level and the remaining counties with substantial transmissions.

Connecticut and Rhode Island counties are either in the substantial range or the highest level.

The change from low transmission to substantial took less than three weeks.

A recent study by the CDC revealed three-quarters of the people contracting the Delta variant of COVID in a cluster in Provincetown on Cape Cod were fully vaccinated.

That was not something the fully vaccinated wanted to hear, especially in New Hampshire which lags the rest of New England in the percentage of its population fully protected.

The map the Department of Health and Human Services updates five days a week for active cases of COVID, shows where the hot spots are: along the I-93 and FE Everett turnpike corridors to Concord, the Lakes Region, the Seacoast and up along the Spaulding Turnpike to the Tri-City area.

Those are places where people gather and travel through when they visit the state.

Summer is not the time you would expect the rapid spread of coronavirus when people can be outside where the risk of transmission is very low.

But with a return to “normal,” people gather in restaurants and bars, go to indoor and outdoor events, church services and shop without masks.

The highly contagious variant where vaccination levels were low is now the predominant strain infecting Americans.

No one wants to wear masks again, or social distance, or to curtail their activities, but some states, cities and counties are reimposing restrictions to attempt to slow the spread of the Delta or something worse to come.

Sununu said he will not reimpose any restrictions or the mask mandate and that instead, staying safe is a personal responsibility.

You could almost buy that argument but for the fact that the legislature this session has made it much more difficult to ensure your own safety.

The legislature passed and Sununu signed the “medical freedom law” which forbids the state from requiring a vaccination to access public facilities, benefits or services, with some exceptions such as the New Hampshire Hospital, county nursing homes or corrections facilities.

It does include state colleges and universities and almost reaches public elementary and secondary schools.

One piece of legislation would have prevented the Commissioner of Health and Human Services from including the COVID vaccine in the vaccines required to attend public schools, but that failed to pass.

And they tried to prevent private employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination, but that also failed.

The bill that did pass means public colleges and universities may not require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated before returning to campus as many private institutions have done.

With many returning to campuses in the next few weeks, state institutes of higher learning, instead have turned to mandated testing as a way to curb the spread of the more transmittable Delta variant and imposing mask mandates. Those are the only real options open to the administrations.

Testing addresses infection after the fact, not before, which is much more effective.

The new law also prevents anyone from requiring a person be vaccinated to enter the State House or Legislative Office Building, or the Division of Motor Vehicle or any state park facility or building or your town hall or school building.

How does anyone know if the person standing next to you is vaccinated or not? Does that mean if you are vulnerable, you should not attend a public hearing on a bill or a House or Senate session?

That would appear to be the mindset, which so far, has been weighted heavily toward personal freedom and not public health.

Under this mindset, people who do what they can to prevent the virus from spreading are the ones who must make the sacrifices, while those who refuse to wear a mask or be vaccinated have the privileges.

The equation needs to be flipped so that responsibility breeds privilege and if you don’t want to wear a mask inside at public gatherings or be vaccinated, you won’t be able to go to a concert or a public hearing or shop for groceries as if nothing is different than it was two years ago.

It is time to stop the gaslighting and reward people who have done what they could to stop the pandemic, not the ones who refuse.

COVID has become one of the cornerstones of the culture wars and that is one of the major reasons most of us are unable to enjoy a nearly normal summer.

We have lost sight of the public good. No one has a fundamental right to harm another person.