Here’s the bad news: A surge in novel coronavirus cases tells us that this stubborn pandemic is still with us, much as we wish it weren’t.
There is, however, some very good news in the numbers. The vaccines appear to be doing their job by significantly suppressing COVID’s worst consequences: hospitalizations and deaths.
Berkshire County has almost twice as many cases as last Thanksgiving, but vaccines are keeping hospitalizations and deaths down
The Berkshires and New England in general are dealing with a spike in new daily COVID-19 cases.
In our county’s case, that means a rolling seven-day avergae of 69.9 new cases a day.
The last time cases were this high and rising was back in January before vaccines were available, when the number was 70.4.
It’s worth noting that even this comparison suggests vaccines are curbing COVID, as the cases are still somewhat below January levels despite loosened restrictions and the return to relative normalcy in many aspects of daily life.
It is in the hospitalization and death statistics, though, where the vaccines really appear to proving their worth. Currently, the number of COVID patients in Berkshire hospitals is less than a third of what it was in January. The mortality comparison is even starker, with daily average deaths now only making up a fifth of what they were then.
To put these numbers in perspective, every day now compared to January about 40 county hospital beds and two precious lives among our Berkshire neighbors are spared.
These numbers offer hard evidence of what reputable health experts have said all along: Vaccines are the best weapons we have against this viral enemy, and getting shots in arms is the most important stride on the path back to a new normal.
At 85 percent, Massachusetts is second in the nation in percentage of residents with at least one dose of vaccine, just behind New Hampshire. The Bay State is a few places behind that with its full vaccination rate of 70.8 percent, only trailing four of its New England counterparts.
Those numbers could be better — and indeed we hope they continue rise — but they considerably outstrip other regions of the country.
While a spike in COVID cases in the Northeast underscores the breakthrough potential of more transmissible variants like delta, vaccines are extremely effective at not only mitigating spread but preventing more severe disease. That’s borne out by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from earlier this year showing that unvaccinated people die from COVID at 11 times the rate of their unvaccinated peers.
A rise in cases locally still warrants reasonable caution even as the numbers highlight vaccines’ protective efficacy. Be smart. Wash your hands. As wintertime brings more busy indoor gatherings, mask up if you or your loved ones are unvaccinated or are particularly vulnerable. While kids ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for vaccination, younger children still aren’t. That warrants even more caution for families of young children through the holidays and until vaccines become approved and available for kids 4 and younger.
All who are unvaccinated should take these most recent data points to heart and consider putting aside objections to getting the jab. Take it not from us but from the numbers: It’s the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from a pandemic that has already taken so much from us.
We in the Berkshires are fortunate that the COVID-related hospitalization and death numbers are down from what they were less than a year ago — but it would be even better if they were closer to zero.