‘Going in the wrong direction’

THROUGHOUT THE COVID-19 pandemic, two big data points have stood out as indicators of where things stand: The level of infections and sickness and the trendline showing where things are heading. Infections and hospitalizations may be way down from their peak, but there is plenty of reason for worry about the trajectory of the pandemic. 

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Anthony Fauci stated bluntly on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. 

The twin culprits: the Delta variant of the virus, which is proving to be far more contagious than the original coronavirus that hit the US, and continued vaccine resistance, with more than 40 percent of the eligible population of US residents 12 and older still not inoculated against COVID.

The New York Times reported yesterday that fears of a COVID resurgence seem to be prompting some to finally roll up their sleeves, with more than half a million people getting vaccinated on a single day last week. The “reluctant, the anxious, the procrastinating” is how the paper described those who are not unalterably set against getting vaccinated but had put off until now taking the one step health experts say can put the brakes on the pandemic. 

In Massachusetts, Provincetown seems to be the canary in the COVID resurgence coal mine, with a cluster of cases there prompting the resort town to reimpose masking recommendations. Meanwhile, in another sign that the pandemic is far from over, city officials announced recently that all public school students in Boston will be required to wear masks this fall. It’s raising questions about whether a broader return to masking mandates is in order

The state has the second highest vaccination rate in the country, with more than 62 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated. But that still leaves a lot of people unprotected from the highly transmissible Delta variant. 

While public health officials and elected leaders here, from Gov. Charlie Baker down to mayors and city councilors, have been on an all-out campaign to encourage residents to get vaccinated, those messages have to compete with well-oiled misinformation campaigns and wild rumors that continue to find a receptive audience across the country.

In Mattapan, the Boston neighborhood with the lowest vaccination rate, at 39.9 percent, public health workers are colliding head-on with that dangerous messaging mishugas. 

Globe columnist Marcela Garcia says the neighborhood’s large Haitian population has been particularly vulnerable to vaccine misinformation. The director of a local nonprofit there told her of a Haitian immigrant who showed her a WhatsApp video of a radio host warning listeners that “God does not want them to take the COVID-19 vaccine.” If they do, the host warns, they’ll develop a rare disease within a year or be turned into an animal. 

If people buy into such warnings, it’s pretty hard to reason with them about the danger of COVID. Health officials are pushing ahead, with a focus on having trusted leaders in low-vaccination communities leading the charge. 

With unvaccinated people now accounting for more than 97 percent of COVID hospitalizations in the US, public health officials have sought to further emphasize the most important thing people can do to combat the deadly virus by describing the current phase as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” 

While concern about equity in vaccine access dominated the early rollout of COVID vaccines in Massachusetts, that is no longer a problem, with plenty of vaccine available and community sites in places like Mattapan ready to administer. The challenge in boosting vaccination rates among those who have held out until now is convincing them that their lives — and those of their loved ones — depend on it. 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

Housing and schools top Boston priorities for federal money: Boston is poised to receive more than $550 million in federal aid through the American Rescue Plan Act and there is no shortage of ideas for how to spend it among the five major candidates for mayor. But two areas — housing and schools — seem to be bubbling to the top of the list. Acting Mayor Kim Janey called housing the top priority for the funds at a recent forum. City Councilor Andrea Campbell has called for 80 percent of the $558 million to go to infrastructure improvements for Boston public schools. City Councilor Michelle Wu says she’d earmark $200 million for housing. Former city economic development chief John Barros says the largest chunk of the money should go to addressing homelessness and housing needs, while Annisa Essaibi George said the opioid crisis should be a top priority. Read more

Is VaxMillions a big bust? Today will be someone’s lucky day, as the state conducts the first of five drawings to hand out a $1 million prize as well $300,000 in college scholarship money to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. But it’s not clear how effective the effort has been at incentivizing residents to get vaccinated. Less than half of the 4.3 million residents who are fully vaccinated and therefore eligible for the drawing have registered for the free chance at the winnings. What’s more, the weekly vaccination rates have been falling. Read more

OPINION

Starting to right past wrongs: James Jennings and Ajamu Brown say Boston should engage the issue of reparations for slavery. Individual payments might be considered, but they say reparations should also include community-focused efforts, including those focused on homeownership and business development, two areas where race-based policies have had devastating effects. Read more

Boosting the vote: Real estate executive Peter Palandjian, founder of the nonprofit A Day for Democracy, which works to encourage CEOs and leaders of other organizations to publicly pledge to help their employees access their right to vote, says Massachusetts should pass two pending bills that strengthen support for workers exercising the franchise. Read more

Tax holiday helps: Lasell University professor Paul DeBole says Gov. Charlie Baker’s idea for a two-month sales tax holiday is a good one that could make a real difference for those who have struggled through the pandemic. He says it makes more sense than committing the revenue windfall the state is experiencing to more state spending. Read more.  

A call for straight talk: Janet Domenitz runs through several commonly used terms that bug her because they do more to obfuscate than explain, including referring to gambling as “gaming” and the greenwashing phase “waste to energy,” which seems to make a virtue out of trash that gets burned. Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

A bill with more than 100 cosponsors in the House and Senate would add three years of service to the pension calculation for all state employees who worked outside their home from March to through December of last year, a move that one fiscal watchdog called “outrageously irresponsible” without knowing its price tag, which he said would run into billions of dollars. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A “Refounding Fathers” event billed as a “patriotic networking” opportunity for right-wing activists in Auburn, organized by the controversial Super Happy Fun America, draws Trump supporters and protesters – and, apparently, members of the Proud Boys white supremacist group. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Provincetown reinstates an indoor mask mandate after a COVID cluster there affected more than 500 people. (MassLive)

Despite a court ruling allowing the use of electric shock devices at the Rotenberg Center, a school for people with disabilities in Massachusetts, disability advocates say they will continue pressuring the school to eliminate their use. (MassLive)

North Adams, Pittsfield, and other Massachusetts communities are among the plaintiffs scheduled to get some money from a multi-billion dollar settlement with the Sackler family over their role in perpetuating opioid addiction. But it is not yet clear how much money any individual plaintiff will get. (Berkshire Eagle

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A Texas judge’s ruling preventing new applicants to the Obama-era DACA program is disheartening to local immigrants and immigration attorneys. (Telegram & Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Under threat of a lawsuit, Haverhill considers whether to switch from an at-large to a district-based system of voting for city council. (Eagle-Tribune) CommonWealth reported in January 2020 on the issue of scrapping Haverhill’s all at-large council, a change Mayor James Fiorentini supports. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl slams Gov. Charlie Baker for his moderate stands on climate issues and unemployment benefits and says he doesn’t rule out supporting Donald Trump should the former president make another White House run in 2024. (Boston Herald

Annissa Essaibi George will appear in the top spot on the ballot in Boston’s September 14 preliminary mayoral election. A new super-PAC, “Bostonians for Real Progress,” is formed to support Essaibi George. (Dorchester Reporter

The Dorchester Reporter runs a primer on all 17 candidates vying for at-large seats on the Boston City Council.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A job at Amazon’s Fall River distribution center, which handles large, heavy items, can be grueling work — and it’s only made worse, the Globe reported on Sunday, by the roadblocks the company puts up to some workers’ getting compensation and coverage for care when injured on the job. 

Ron Davis, the founder WAMF Consulting in Springfield, is leading the fight to increase the number of Black and Latino people serving on the boards of banks and major corporations. (MassLive)

Condo developers in Boston say they see no let up in demand despite talk that the pandemic might be leading people to shun city living. (Boston Globe)  

Apartment rental prices are taking off as many people find home buying unaffordable. (Boston Business Journal)

TRANSPORTATION

Boston Magazine rates the public bathrooms at MBTA stations in Boston. 

PASSINGS

Bob Moses, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement who shunned the spotlight and went on to found a nonprofit that viewed math education as a continuation of the fight for equality, died at age 86. (New York Times)