As Virus Cases Rise, Another Contagion Spreads Among the Vaccinated: Anger

(NYT) - Frustrated by the prospect of a new surge, many Americans are blaming the unvaccinated. A tougher stance may backfire, some experts warn.

As Virus Cases Rise, Another Contagion Spreads Among the Vaccinated: Anger

As coronavirus cases resurge across the country, many inoculated Americans are losing patience with vaccine holdouts who, they say, are neglecting a civic duty or clinging to conspiracy theories and misinformation even as new patients arrive in emergency rooms and the nation renews mask advisories.

The country seemed to be exiting the pandemic; barely a month ago, a sense of celebration was palpable. Now many of the vaccinated fear for their unvaccinated children and worry that they are at risk themselves for breakthrough infections. Rising case rates are upending plans for school and workplace reopenings, and threatening another wave of infections that may overwhelm hospitals in many communities.

“It’s like the sun has come up in the morning and everyone is arguing about it,” said Jim Taylor, 66, a retired civil servant in Baton Rouge, La., a state in which fewer than half of adults are fully vaccinated.

“The virus is here and it’s killing people, and we have a time-tested way to stop it — and we won’t do it. It’s an outrage.”

The rising sentiment is contributing to support for more coercive measures. Scientists, business leaders and government officials are calling for vaccine mandates — if not by the federal government, then by local jurisdictions, schools, employers and businesses.

“I’ve become angrier as time has gone on,” said Doug Robertson, 39, a teacher who lives outside Portland, Ore., and has three children too young to be vaccinated, including a toddler with a serious health condition.

“Now there is a vaccine and a light at the end of the tunnel, and some people are choosing not to walk toward it,” he said. “You are making it darker for my family and others like mine by making that choice.”

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City ordered that all municipal workers be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the time schools reopen in mid-September or face weekly testing. Officials in California followed suit hours later with a similar mandate covering all state employees and health care workers.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday required that 115,000 on-site health care workers be vaccinated in the next two months, the first federal agency to order a mandate. Nearly 60 major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, on Monday called for mandatory vaccination of all health care workers.

“It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” a frustrated Gov. Kay Ivey, Republican of Alabama, told reporters last week. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

There is little doubt that the United States has reached an inflection point. According to a database maintained by The New York Times, 57 percent of Americans ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated. Eligible Americans are receiving 537,000 doses per day on average, an 84 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million in early April.

As a result of lagging vaccination and lifted restrictions, infections are rising. As of Sunday, the country was seeing 52,000 new cases daily, on average, a 170 percent increase over the previous two weeks. Hospitalization and death rates are increasing, too, although not as quickly.

Communities from San Francisco to Austin, Texas, are recommending that vaccinated people wear masks again in public indoor settings. Citing the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, the counties of Los Angeles and St. Louis, Mo., have ordered indoor mask mandates.

For many Americans who were vaccinated months ago, the future is beginning to look grim. Frustration is straining relations even within closely knit families.

Josh Perldeiner, 36, a public defender in Connecticut who has a 2-year-old son, was fully vaccinated by mid-May. But a close relative, who visits frequently, has refused to get the shots, although he and other family members have urged her to do so.

She recently tested positive for the virus after traveling to Florida, where hospitals are filling with Covid-19 patients. Now Mr. Perldeiner worries that his son, too young for a vaccine, may have been exposed.

“It goes beyond just putting us at risk,” he said. “People with privilege are refusing the vaccine, and it’s affecting our economy and perpetuating the cycle.” As infections rise, he added, “I feel like we’re at that same precipice as just a year ago, where people don’t care if more people die.”

Hospitals have become a particular flash point. Vaccination remains voluntary in most settings, and it is not required for caregivers at most hospitals and nursing homes. Many large hospital chains are just beginning to require that employees be vaccinated.