News-Miner opinion: As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across Alaska, swamping hospitals and setting almost daily records for infections, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Board of Education earlier this month voted to require masks inside district buildings.
The 5-2 vote changes a June board directive making masks optional. The new policy affects students older than 2, staff and visitors.
The changing Covid statistics left the board little choice. Some are wondering what happens if the action fails to halt or slow the virus’ blitzkrieg spread. What then? There already are nearly 97,000 Covid cases reported in Alaska, with more than 450 deaths. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, there have been 10,500 cases and 51 deaths.
In the face of those numbers, only 54% of those 12 years old, or older, in the borough have gotten at least one vaccination shot.
Hospitals are jammed across the state because of the virus and are being forced to institute rationed patient care. Some are unable to perform elective surgeries because of the increasing load. Fairbanks Memorial hospital has turned meeting and conference rooms into treatment areas. The patient load is taking its toll on staff, leaving hospital employees overwhelmed, drained and exhausted.
Masks help, but with Alaska’s skyrocketing numbers of the virus’ more virulent and infectious Delta variant, it is well past the time to get vaccinated.
There are some who will argue getting “the jab” is unnecessary; that the vaccines are unproved; that they do little to no good. Research and statistics strongly suggest otherwise. In simple terms, if you are vaccinated, you are less likely to contract the Delta variant. If you get a “breakthrough” infection despite being vaccinated, you likely will not end up in the hospital. If you get vaccinated and somehow are hospitalized, you likely will not die.
Think of vaccinations as life insurance in syringe — and they may be more important now than ever.
While the Delta variant is plaguing Alaska, some researchers concerned about a possible “winter wave” of the virus around the globe are changing their thinking.
Paul Hunter, a virus expert at the University of East Anglia, in England, says so-called herd immunity is “unachievable” and that it is “inevitable that everyone is going to catch this virus” because of the Delta variant.
He is not alone in his assessment. Professor Andrew Pollard, a member of the Oxford Vaccine Group and a professor of pediatric infection and immunity at University of Oxford, says herd immunity is “mythical” with the Delta variant because it can infect some who already have been vaccinated.
“Anyone who is still unvaccinated will at some point meet this virus,” Pollard says.
If you are unvaccinated, none of that is good news, but nobody should get the shots before being comfortable with the process. Talk to your doctor, get the facts and make your decision. Continue to mask up, practice social distancing, and make smarter choices about attending crowded functions with close quarters.
If enough of us get vaccinated, wear masks and do everything possible to protect ourselves and others, we can slow or halt the spread of the Delta variant and live in a world where school boards no longer have to worry about masks.