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Red Covid, an Update – The New York Times

Ocean County in central New Jersey is a mix of beach towns like Barnegat Light and suburban towns like Toms River and Lakewood. Household income in the county exceeds the US average.

Still, Ocean County is one of the least vaccinated places in the Northeast. Only 53% of residents received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine (or one dose from Johnson & Johnson). Only 26% received a booster injection.

The large number of unvaccinated residents in Ocean County has resulted in a horrific amount of Covid illness and death. Nearly one in 200 residents have died from the virus. That’s worse than the toll in Mississippi, the US state with the highest number of Covid deaths per capita, and worse than any country except Peru.

What explains vaccine skepticism in Ocean County? Politics, above all. The county is strongly Republican. Donald Trump won it by nearly 30 percentage points in 2020, and many Republicans — including those over 65 and vulnerable to serious Covid illness — are skeptical of vaccines.

This partisan divide has led to the “red Covid” phenomenon that I have described in previous newsletters. Today I have an update.

First, some background: In the early months of the pandemic, Covid cases and deaths were higher in Democratic areas, likely because they are home to several major international airports. The virus entered this country on the west coast and in the northeast. But he didn’t stop there. By the end of Covid’s first year in the United States, the virus had swept the country and there was no significant partisan divide in deaths.

It was only after vaccines became widely available, in early 2021 – and liberals were much more willing to get vaccinated than conservatives – that Covid became a disproportionate Republican disease. In the summer of 2021, the gap was skyrocketing:

As the graph clearly shows, the toll was even worse in the counties where Trump won by landslide than in the counties he won narrowly.

This phenomenon is an example of how the country’s political polarization has warped people’s thinking, even when their personal safety is at stake. It’s a tragedy – and preventable too.

A new study by four Harvard epidemiologists estimates that 135,000 unvaccinated Americans died unnecessarily in the last six months of last year. The Texas Tribune recently profiled a young, unvaccinated couple: She spent 139 days in intensive care; he asked, “Was it my fault?” They have both been vaccinated since.

There is a big new development. When I last wrote about Covid Red, in November, I told you that the month-to-month partisan mortality gap could be peaking, for two main reasons.

First, the availability of highly effective post-infection treatments, such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid, has expanded; if they reduce deaths, the decline may be greatest where the toll is highest. Second, red America likely developed more natural immunity to Covid — from previous infections — than blue America, given that many Democrats tried harder to avoid contracting the virus.

Sure enough, the partisan gap in Covid deaths is no longer growing as fast as it had been, as you can see in the new closeness between these lines:

During the Omicron wave, deaths increased less in red counties than in blue or purple counties. The most likely explanation seems to be that the number of Trump voters vulnerable to serious illness – which was still very large at the start of last year – has fallen, as more of them have developed some immunity to Covid from a previous infection.

But don’t make the mistake of confusing a gap that isn’t growing as fast as before with a gap that’s shrinking. The gap between red and blue America – in terms of cumulative Covid deaths – continues to grow. The red line in this second graph is higher than the blue line, which is a sign that more Republicans than Democrats or Independents have died unnecessarily from Covid in recent weeks.

Another takeaway: Even in deep blue counties, an inordinate number of deaths are occurring among unvaccinated or unboosted people. Vaccines offer incredible protection against a deadly virus, but many Americans have chosen to expose themselves.

Related: Vaccinating and stimulating more older people is probably the best strategy for reducing deaths, writes Sarah Zhang of The Atlantic. One way to do it: increase Medicare payments to advancing doctors and hospitals.

Virus developments:

  • California outlined a plan to treat Covid as a manageable risk that will “stay with us for a while, if not forever”.

  • This time is especially difficult for immunocompromised people. “It’s like living behind a veil.”

In recent years, “a certain politeness and good manners had become a defining characteristic of New York fashion,” writes Vanessa Friedman. This fashion week, which ended on Wednesday, welcomed a “more anarchic creative energy”.

Shayne Oliver’s three-day extravaganza featured tons of strap-on and skin. “The point was less the actual clothes than the energy they generated,” Friedman writes. “They were going somewhere, and not just in circles.”

Other standout moments: Julia Fox opened the show LaQuan Smith – fresh from her breakup with Kanye West – in a skin-tight cutout dress, and groundbreaking black models Beverly Johnson and Veronica Webb slid down the Sergio Hudson runway with 80s flavors Telfar hosted a “happening,” mixing brand and fashion TV projects.

So what does the new era of New York fashion look like? Check out Eckhaus Latta, which held its show in an old building in midtown Manhattan now slated for demolition. The mood of the show was festive; friends and family paraded down the runway, and the clothes retained “a singular shrewd intelligence that avoids easy categorization”. A poem was distributed: “The future is people walking down the street laughing. — Sanam Yar, a morning writer

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was celibacy. Here’s today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here is today’s Wordle. (If you’re worried about your stat streak, play in whatever browser you’re using.)

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