Most of us have discerned by now that our new normal — no matter how many times our local, state and national officials talk about "when we get back to normal" — is likely to be closer to never being normal-as-we-have-known-it ever again.
In Hamilton County and at state levels, at least, the only constant between our old normal, our new normal and our foreseeable future normal for now continues to be government disconnect.
Take last week's story about "unknowns" (44%) of race and ethnicity in our COVID-19 vaccine data, despite Tennessee's self-congratulatory pats on the back for the state being among the first in the nation to consider social vulnerability in distribution — an aspiration that neither local or state officials could actually prove.
And take Friday's story about Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes saying she could not immediately provide data about the number of second dose vaccine appointment slots created, the number that were filled, the number of county residents eligible for a second shot and the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses the department was holding for those appointments.
On Monday, Barnes clarified that the department has enough second doses in storage to cover anyone needing it. She said the department even provides some second shots to people who may have received their first dose through another organization, such as an employer or a residential facility. But she also clarified that the department does not distinguish first and second doses in its storage of vaccines. And she said health officials will not hold back second doses if they are not taken up by available appointments. And finally she gave the numbers: As of Jan. 23, the county had more than 6,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and nearly 3,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine assigned to either first- or second-dose appointments in the coming days. And she clarified that though they don't know exactly when or how many additional doses of vaccine the county will be assigned in coming days and weeks and months, they expect to get some.
Is everything clear enough yet?
Look, we get it. We understand we're in a new world of logistics confusion. But that's no excuse ever — on any day — for not being completely transparent — even just from Friday until Monday.
We're in a new world of public health worry, too, and our leaders should not be adding to it.
Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. still are averaging just under 3,100 a day — down about 250 deaths a day from two weeks before. But can anyone argue that a 9-11 death toll a day is still an alarmingly high level?
Despite the hope of vaccines, the need to snuff out this virus becomes more urgent daily. Now we are in a race between the vaccine and the obvious ability of COVID-19 to mutate into still more dangerous forms.
Health experts have warned that a more contagious and possibly more deadly variant sweeping through Britain (and already reported in 20 states including Tennessee and Georgia) will probably become the dominant source of infection in the U.S. by March. Another mutant version, now circulating in South Africa, is resisting our current monoclonal antibodies treatment.
President Joe Biden has declared "war" on COVID. He has upped the daily goal of vaccines to 1.5 million shots, added South Africa to a list of more than two dozen countries whose residents are subject to coronavirus-related limits on entering the U.S., and also has signed an executive order allowing the government to use the Defense Production Act to boost production of vaccines, testing and protective equipment.
Biden's administration was expected to tell governors on Tuesday that they will get about 16% more vaccine doses starting next week, and Dr. Anthony Fauci says scientists are preparing to adjust vaccines to address the the British and South Africa virus mutations.
Still, the Biden efforts won't immediately alleviate shortages, and on the state and local level we can and must do more. More vaccines will mean more needed vaccination manpower. More logistics homework.
In Hamilton County, despite considerable confusion, about 7,000 people, 1.92% of our population, have received both vaccine doses, according to the most recent public data from the state. Among Tennessee's estimated 6.8 million people, 486,000 vaccines had been administered as of Jan. 24. Nationwide, about 1% of the populace is vaccinated.
We must up the ante.
Neither Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee nor Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ever declared statewide mask mandates. What's more, they dithered for weeks on end about whether counties would be allowed to declare their own. They should move on state mandates today.
Lee has chosen to spurn the CDC's guidance that vaccine access be opened to all residents 65 and older — leaving Tennessee's cutoff at 75 and older. All that does is hold up more people being vaccinated while departments have trouble filling vaccine appointments for whatever reason. Lee should man up on this now.
As for local leaders, data being "unknown" or "not available" is unacceptable.
If Hamilton County or any county doesn't have the manpower or wherewithal to parse its own data, does it have wherewithal to vaccinate?
And if not, why not?