Even as we prepare for the Christmas holiday and New Year’s celebration that are just a couple of weeks away our state, region and nation are facing yet another spike of COVID infections, hospitalizations and death.
Despite the election of President Biden and his party controlling both the Senate and House of Representatives, almost a year into his presidency, the national unity he referenced throughout the campaign has yet to materialize.
As a result, our nation’s effort to combat this once in a century mass death event that’s on its way to killing a million Americans and infecting tens of millions more, remains somewhat fractured as it was under President Trump whose strategy was to actually pit the red and blue states against each other.
Our regional collaboration initiated by the now disgraced Gov. Cuomo, appears to have faded. At the time, the former New York Governor’s networking with our Gov. Murphy as well as with fellow Democrats, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolff and Connecticut Ned Lamont helped to foster a coherent public health strategy in the face of total federal dysfunction.
Now it appears in the tri-state region that each Governor has to navigate their own course based on their local conditions and vicissitudes.
For Gov. Murphy, that meant taking out time at his Dec. 8 COVID briefing to address the decision by several Republican Assembly members to bum rush the New Jersey State Police on Dec. 2 to take their seats on the floor of the State Assembly without abiding by the state’s public health protocols refusing to show proof of their vaccination or a negative test.
“I will say that we have the best state police in the entire United States of America, but the big story from last week is not about security,” Murphy told reporters. “It’s about the idiocy of these ringleaders who are putting their fellow members’ health and the family – families of those fellow members at risk.”
He continued. “This is not about freedom or civil rights. It’s about their willingness to volitionally run the risk of infecting innocent law-abiding folks who have done the right thing during this pandemic. It is outrageous, absolutely outrageous, incredibly irresponsible, unforgivable.”
The partisan antics may have obscured the bad news that the trend lines, after close to two years, were once again headed in the wrong direction.
“We know the overwhelming majority of our new cases, new hospitalizations, and new deaths, sadly, are from among the unvaccinated…. There’s no other way really to look at these numbers. The combination of colder weather, going indoors, and then layering on top of that a uniquely American holiday, we believe that combination is what’s driving what we’re seeing here.”
He continued. “From these, we cannot let our guard down, especially if you’re – if you aren’t vaccinated and if you’re in a crowd, whether it be in a store buying presents or in a bar or a restaurant or at a party, it is safest and wisest to mask up, especially if you do not know the vaccination status of those around you.”
On Saturday, NJ.com reported our state had another 14 COVID-19 deaths and “4,198 confirmed cases, one day after the state reported an 11-month high for daily case counts. The seven-day average for confirmed positive tests increased on Friday to 3,519, up 41 percent from a week ago and more than triple the average from a month ago. That’s also the highest average since April 7.”
New Jersey has now documented over 1,000 hospitalizations for 12 days is a row, the “second highest number of people hospitalized since May 1,” the NJ.com reported.
Yet, Gov. Murphy has not opted to mandate the return to universal masking but strongly suggests people do so.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 10, Gov. Hochul reimposed a statewide mask requirement for all indoor public settings regardless of an individual’s vaccine status.
“Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%,” according to Gov. Hochul’s press release. “While the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase—gaining 2% from Thanksgiving weekend to now—the uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage.”
Last week, 56 hospitals in New York state reported they had reached capacity, up from 37 the week before.
“The hospitals facing staffed bed capacity issues are based around the state, including Harlem Hospital Center in Manhattan and Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens,” reported Spectrum 1 News. “In the Capital Region, Albany Medical Center remains on the list as does Glens Falls Hospital. Rochester’s Strong Memorial is on the list, as are the two Upstate hospitals in Syracuse. Among the Western New York hospitals, Erie County Medical Center is on the watch list.”
After Thanksgiving, in a Yahoo News 50 state ranking of COVID vaccination rates Connecticut ranked fourth highest, with 72 percent fully vaccinated and 83 percent with just their first shot. New York, coming in at number six, had 68 percent with both shots and 77 percent with only the initial round completed. New Jersey, at number seven, is nearly tied with New York.
Yet, in the rest of the country well over half of the states of the union are below 60 percent with West Virginia, Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee still below fifty percent fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has made some under reported progress with getting the federal workforce in all 50 states to embrace vaccination by working with the civil service unions across every federal agency.
Consider that as of the end of last month, ninety percent of the Federal Government’s 3.5-million workers had been vaccinated and another 5 percent were in compliance with the conditions of the mandate President Biden announced in early September, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID coordinator, told reporters at a Nov. 22 briefing.
Biden’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, led by the White House COVID-19 Response Team, included the General Services Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Protective Service, the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Secret Service.
“So, we are successfully implementing vaccination requirements for the largest workforce in the United States, with Federal employees in every part of the nation and around the world,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID coordinator told reporters. Speaking on the day when Federal workers were required to come into compliance with the Biden mandate, Mr. Zients emphasized that “the goal of vaccination requirements is to protect workers, not to punish them. So, tonight’s deadline is not an endpoint or a cliff. We continue to see more and more Federal employees getting their shots. And for the small percentage of employees who have not yet complied, agencies are beginning the education and counseling process.”
Paul C. Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at NYU’s Wagner School who is an expert on the civil service, said during a phone interview that the milestone was “a big achievement—actually quite remarkable, and goes a long way to countering the stereotype of civil servants being lazy and disinterested. This is a competency story that needs to be told.”
But even as the Biden administration was making significant progress on the government employee front, it’s efforts to engage America’s private sector employers through a US Department of Labor OSHA vaccine or get tested protocol, was stymied in the courts by Republican Attorneys General from 24 states.
Throughout the pandemic, we have been afflicted not just by a killer virus but by a disabling suspicion of each other based on party affiliation. Dr. Joseph Fennelly, who served for decades as the chairman or co-chairman of the Medical Society of New Jersey’s bioethics committee, believes that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced vaccine mandate for all private sector employers will only deepen that divide.
He favors the Biden administration’s approach that meets the ‘public where they are’ by offering the vaccine or be tested option for the private sector.
“We are stuck with a personal societal problem whether we like it or not where a substantial portion of our society has a different conception of what liberty and autonomy mean,” Fennelly said during a Dec. 12 phone interview. “Dogmatism like de Blasio’s just doesn’t have the kind of pragmatism we need to move people up the hill on this. It’s time to engage in the politics of what’s possible on this.”
Perhaps it’s time for our region’s Democratic Governors to reconvene with that on the agenda and in the process backup a White House that’s truly acting in the national public health interest.
We can’t afford to let the Dr. No Republican agenda continue to hold America hostage. The body count is already too high.