Airplanes are full, parkways are bumper to bumper, and restaurants are packed. The summer is in full swing, and for many, the coronavirus is a thing of the past. Let's hope it stays that way.
The last thing I want to do is spoil the re-opening party. Afterall, we deserve to feel good, go out, meet family and friends without a mask, even chance a hug now and then. The one fly in all of our ointments may be the onset of an extremely contagious, and virulent coronavirus mutation dubbed the "delta variant."
You have probably read about this super bug and its devastating impact on the population of India. It was first detected in that country in December 2020. To this point, it has spawned at least a dozen mutations. Some strains are vastly more contagious and lethal (as well as vaccine-resistant) than others. The virus effectively doubles the risk of a victim's hospitalization, and most delta-related cases occur in the under-50 age group. That unfortunately accounts for many who have yet to be vaccinated.
Since last December, the delta varient has spread throughout Southeast Asia, hopped over to Europe, and now has entered the U.S., where 10 percent of new cases have been identified as such. In the U.K., the number of cases is doubling every 11 days. In Ireland, the delta variant accounts for 50 percent of new cases.
The danger of spreading is so great that the United Kingdom has delayed the re-opening of their economy by at least another month. That delay will hopefully give the British government more time to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And therein lies the good news. The present vaccines appear to be effective (but not entirely) against this variant as well.
Most political leaders, including President Biden, understand that we are now in a numbers game to vaccinate as many people as possible before the spread of this mutation overwhelms hospitals, decimates the labor force, and damages the re-opening of the economy.
The good news for the U.S. is that more than half of all Americans are at least partially vaccinated (45 percent are fully vaccinated), and COVID cases are falling. It is the main reason why the country is resuming its pre-pandemic behaviors. In some states like New York and Massachusetts, 70 percent of the populations have been vaccinated.
Overall, 319 million doses of vaccine have been administered thus far in the U.S., but the rate of vaccination is dropping. The CDC data indicates from 3.3 million vaccinations a day two months ago to a little more than 1 million/day today. At this rate (assuming the vaccination rate does not decline further), it will take another five months before we reach 75 percent of the total population, which is the minimum number to attain for herd immunity. Folks, with the delta strain nipping at our heels, we are running out of time.
It is no surprise that the vaccination holdouts are split roughly along politically partisan lines. In at least 482 U.S. counties, less than 25 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Many of these counties are in rural red states, and/or low-income areas.
But the holdouts come in all shapes and sizes. My niece and her family refuses to get vaccinated. She "heard" the vaccines may jeopardize her chances of childbearing. A neighbor, as a matter of course, does not believe in any kind of vaccination, while a local dental hygienist refuses because she just doesn't like needles.
In the recent past, virus-related surges in Europe and other countries, have acted as an early-warning signal for what could be in store for the U.S. in the next few weeks. I have noticed that in the past week, President Biden, his Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank Jerome Powell, and a slew of medical experts have expressed their concerns over the spread of the delta variant within the U.S
Most businesses and consumers seem to be ignoring these foreign red flags. Certainly, the stock market doesn't appear to care, or see the delta variant as a "clear and present danger." I hope I am wrong in sounding the alarm. The last thing the economy needs at this point is to experience a roll-back of our newly won gains.
Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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