Massive COVID Surge Rattles Europe, Putting US at Risk Ahead of Thanksgiving

Trump supporters who spend their time ranting about the tyranny and mandates of vaccines and face masks should get up from the right-wing news trough to see what is happening in Austria. “Under new rules announced by the government on Sunday,” reports The New York Times, “adults and minors 12 and older who have not been vaccinated or recovered from a coronavirus infection cannot go outside except to buy groceries, seek medical care or travel to school or work.” The edict will affect some 2 million people, and will remain in place for 10 days.

Yikes, right? That’s some heavy shit right there. Here in the U.S., the majority of pro-science people who have been vaccinated watch in seething frustration as every gain made against COVID is driven backward again by a clump of bitter-enders tap-dancing on our last nerve while holding badly lettered “Stop the Steal” signs. Yet I haven’t heard it suggested here that we stuff those people into their homes and tell them to only come out for work and groceries. Austria has taken “not screwing around” to a whole new gear.

My immediate instinct — and second instinct, and third — is to be horrified by this. No amount of impatience with the war on facts being waged by the anti-vax crowd justifies imposing home detention on an entire segment of the population because they disagree with a government edict… right? Does it matter that it’s only 10 days, for now? Is this where we reach this Rubicon? Dare it? Austria and other countries that have such strict controls are they prepared for a huge, possibly violent backlash. You can bet your last dollar there would be one.

Austria, Germany, and other European countries have reason to be afraid, regardless of what they do. COVID-19 is again ravaging the continent with rapidly rising death and infection rates. “Case numbers have soared across the continent — more than 50 percent last month — and the worrying trend has continued this month as winter begins to bite,” reports NBC News. “The [World Health Organization] said Friday that nearly 2 million cases were reported across Europe in the previous week — the most the region has had in a single week since the pandemic began.”

Even more concerning is the deadly Delta variant COVID. has its own variantAY.63. First discovered in Norway back in June, the variant’s variant has since spread across the country. Researchers believe that AY.63 does not pose a greater threat than the Delta variant, and that vaccines are still highly effective. This is good news, of course, until the next variant comes along, and the one after that, and “Does all our stuff still work?” becomes the breathless question of the moment.

The U.S. just lifted restrictions on international travel after 19 months, and this latest European COVID surge is a difficult time. New rules are in place — inbound visitors must have proof of vaccination and a recent negative test in order to board an international flight — but COVID is COVID, and will find a way. There are two possible entry points to the virus: travelers under 18 years old are exempted from the rules as well as travelers from 50 countries with low vaccination availability.

Also, accordingTo CNBC, “U.S. Citizens are not required to show proof of vaccination before departing. However, if they do not, they will have to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within one day, instead of three days for travelers with a Covid vaccination record.”

The cold has returned to the northeast and is ready to return for another long visit. The prospect of large Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings is real, as well as the travel required to bring distant families together, are all looming. Nineteen months of this have left the public feeling numb and more vulnerable to virus fatigue. While the vaccinations will make a big difference, Europe and its more severe control measures may mean that another fall/winter outbreak of infections is inevitable. This thing isn’t finished with us yet, and may never be.

As ever, we come to the moment where it is time to sing a few verses of everybody’s least favorite life anthem, “It Didn’t Have to Be This Way.” From Politico:

New emails and documents released by a congressional committee investigating the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic show the extent to which top White House officials interfered in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to warn Americans about Covid-19.

The transcripts and emails show how Trump and his associates in the White House blocked media interviews and briefings with CDC officials in the early days. They also attempted to alter public safety guidelines normally cleared by the agency. And they instructed agency officials to destroy evidence that could be interpreted as political interference.

The documents further underscore how Trump appointees tried to undermine the work of scientists and career staff at the CDC to control the administration’s messaging on the spread of the virus and the dangers of transmission and infection.

Although the horse has left the barn on this, I believe Austria has it backwards. Instead of locking down the unvaccinated population, we should have sent Trump’s enablers home and made it impossible to foment this mass act of negligent homicide. Water under the Bridge, yes, but think of the possibilities.

Keep your eyes closed, use your mask, get boosters and shots if possible, and have your children vaxxed if necessary. While this winter won’t be as severe as 2020’s, it is unlikely that any truly horrible variant will rise. The infection rate in the United States has risen by 14 percent to just under 86,000 cases over the past seven days. Over a thousand people have died in that time.

We are not finished with this yet, and it’s time to harden ourselves to this truth. We are now in another COVID winter, and we will need to keep our hearts strong.