EDITORIAL: Worth a shot: COVID-19 numbers rising, vaccination still best option

COVID-19 infections are on the rise again in all 50 states, raising new concerns about the potentially deadly viral infection that has held the entire world in its grip for nearly two years. Many of the new cases are a mutant “delta” strain that has swept the globe rapidly in recent months.

Some people who are vaccinated have caught the delta variant of the virus, which the World Health Organization reports is more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. The CDC reports that 83% of all new COVID-19 cases since July 3 are the delta variant, but adds that current vaccines are still effective against the virus, keeping most people safe and reducing the severity in those who do catch it.

The new cases are a major reversal for many parts of the country, including the Rio Grande Valley, where infection rates and deaths started falling after widespread vaccination efforts were implemented. That improvement enabled officials to ease restrictions on public activity and people started spending more time outside their homes.

It’s all the more reason for anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so.

As conditions improved, restrictions were lifted and public confidence grew, vaccination rates fell — drastically. To date, about 49% of all Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; in Texas, where many have resisted all precautions against the disease, the vaccination rate is around 45%.

Fortunately, Rio Grande Valley residents were more willing to take that simple step to protect themselves and others. Cameron County officials on Monday reported that 67% of its population is fully vaccinated; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention places the fully vaccinated rate for Hidalgo County at 52%, Starr County at 57% and Willacy County at 44%.

Even in the Valley, however, reported cases are rising again. Hidalgo County officials reported Monday that more than 100 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on that date. Local and national health officials both say that almost all recent hospitalizations and deaths are people who weren’t vaccinated.

Many Valley residents, including those who are vaccinated, continue to wear masks and avoid unnecessary contact with unknown people. This is a good sign, as it helps reduce the impact of any new surge of the virus in our region. Even for those who are vaccinated, these are good habits to maintain.

Concerns about the new strain and slow inoculation rates has prompted Surgeon General Jerome Adams to recommend that schools require students to wear masks when classes start in the fall. We all can help mitigate such needs, and help reduce infection rates again, by moving closer to full vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccines are still available at most clinics and pharmacies, and currently can be taken on a walk-in basis. It’s simple, normally painless procedure, and the renewed freedom and comfort of no longer having to worry about infection is a payoff that far exceeds the trouble.

Let’s keep our vaccination rates climbing, so we can climb out of this deadly pandemic.