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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Unvaccinated to blame for virus surge

The Columbian
Published: August 17, 2021, 6:03am

We are still in this together, despite our divisions. While many people consider COVID-19 restrictions or vaccine mandates to be a matter of personal rights, their decisions impact the entire community.

As Gov. Jay Inslee said last week: “There is no reason on this green Earth why people who are vaccinated should lose the right to go to a restaurant, or go to school, or go to work because some folks won’t get vaccinated. That’s just not right. It’s not fair.”

Yet that is the point at which we have nearly arrived. Things are not back to normal, regardless of how long and how hard we have hoped.

Last week, Inslee issued an order for all state employees and health care workers to be vaccinated against coronavirus by Oct. 18. There are some narrow exemptions — for those with underlying medical conditions that do not allow them to be vaccinated, and for those with religious objections.

Inslee also has recommended that all Washington residents — even those who are fully vaccinated — wear masks when indoors in public settings. That is a request, not a mandate.

Meanwhile, state superintendent Chris Reykdal has asked the governor to extend the vaccine mandate to public school employees. “With the continued increase in cases of COVID-19 across our state due to the highly contagious delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat,” Reykdal said.

Oregon has adopted similar requirements for state workers. California has as well, while providing an option for frequent COVID testing in lieu of a vaccination.

The orders follow a surge in coronavirus infections, just weeks after it appeared that the virus was subsiding. That surge has stressed the health care system.

According to Washington state health officials, as of Friday 86 percent of adult hospital beds in the state were full. Last month, the president of the American Hospital Association said, “The evidence is clear: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in reducing both the risk of becoming infected and spreading the virus to others.”

The reason for the surge is clear: Those who refuse to be vaccinated. For example, 887 adults aged 18-34 in Washington were hospitalized with COVID from February through June, and 98.5 percent of them had not been fully vaccinated. The numbers are similar for other age groups.

While various right-wing pundits and politicians have tried to deflect blame for the increasing number of infections, the truth is that the unvaccinated are the cause. State-by-state COVID rates closely track with vaccination rates.

That has led to frustration among those who are weary of mask recommendations and threats of further business and school closures. It also has led to pushback from those who have bucked advice from experts in how to tamp down the disease. Following Inslee’s latest orders, state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said, “I mean, are they going to strap people to gurneys and force shots into their bodies?”

No, nobody is going to do that, but that kind of hyperbole has prevented us all from making adequate progress against the disease.

From the start, measures for preventing the spread of COVID have been painted by naysayers as tyranny. With a new surge of the virus, those people are reaping what they have sown.

So are the rest of us.