It was only a few weeks ago as the Fourth of July weekend approached, that most U.S. city and state officials lifted restrictions after hospitalization and death rates related to COVID-19 declined to numbers not seen in well over a year.

In response, millions of Americans boarded airplanes, rushed out to their favorite restaurants and watering holes and yanked off those annoying masks with exclamations of “free at last.” But then, the inevitable occurred as a new version of the virus, the Delta variant, has emerged – far more contagious and deadly than its original form.

So, while the nation celebrated after seeing consistently downward trends in infections and deaths, it now appears that our celebrations were premature.

Forget the conspiracy theories dominating social media or the millions who have bought into Donald Trump’s rants that suggested we had nothing to worry about, leading many of his supporters to join the ranks of millions of “anti-vaxxers” who refuse to be vaccinated.

The fact remains, particularly in light of the Delta variant, that scores of Americans have refused to learn from the past – from history about previous pandemics, most notably the 1918 influenza virus – and been witless participants in the replication and unfettered spread of this new variant of COVID-19.

Now, with the Delta variant, the U.S. is averaging 1,000 new cases every hour and 30,000 new cases per day.

Forty-eight states have confirmed cases of the deadly, highly contagious variant.

Cases in Florida have doubled in just one week. And in Arkansas, cases have increased by 245 percent in one month.

The CDC has sounded the alarm saying the Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of all new cases – a startling announcement shared Tuesday during a heated exchange between health experts and members of Congress. “Breakthrough” cases have also been reported – that is, examples of those already vaccinated who have contracted the Delta variant. And there are lingering effects, perhaps lifelong health challenges, for those who have contracted the virus and survived.

In states like Louisiana, only 36 percent of the population have been vaccinated. And children under 12 still cannot be vaccinated, further confounding the plans of school districts and parents anxious over the future as the fall approaches when millions of children will return to classrooms – or not.

And let’s not forget how COVID-19 has impacted life expectancy rates in the U.S which dropped by 1.5 years in 2020, continuing a decline first observed in the first half of last year. The decline is the largest recorded in a single year since World War II.

To no surprise, the decline in life expectancies are even worse for Blacks and Latinos at 2.9 years and three years, respectively. Death has no regard for age, gender, race, political affiliation or any other differences that we often allow to separate the human race.

And so far now, and for the unforeseen future, COVID-19 remains our most formidable foe. And given the power of the Delta variant, no one is safe – not the vaccinated, not children under 12, not seniors – no one. We must allow science and common sense to guide our actions in the coming days, months – and perhaps into the next year.

Americans love to claim their rights as individuals in a nation guided by democratic principles. But now is not the time to hang on to notions of individuality, states’ rights and the like.

We are on one ship – and we will float or sink, together.

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