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AP photo by Frank Franklin II / The Boston Red Sox take batting practice Thursday at Yankee Stadium in New York. They were scheduled to face Yankees that night in Major League Baseball's return from the All-Star break, but the game was postponed after multiple New York players tested positive for COVID-19.

When the Milwaukee Bucks host the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, they'll do so without at least two of their assistant coaches due to COVID-19 protocols. The New York Yankees had six players, including star slugger Aaron Judge, test positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, altering the dynamic of their weekend series against their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. On Sunday, tennis player Coco Gauff announced she has tested positive for the virus and will no longer be able to represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics, which start Friday.

Anybody notice a pattern here? Is everybody still so sure we have this vicious virus where we want it? Is no one concerned those bold predictions of full football stadiums this fall and packed college basketball arenas next winter may yet come a cropper?

Instead of the old line, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings," is it not time to start an international campaign along the lines of "COVID-19 isn't eradicated until every last person is vaccinated"?

It's way past time to quit looking at this as some sort of political conspiracy. What we have here is a societal nightmare that appears to be getting worse just when we thought everything was so much better.

Once again, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Or as Dr. Catherine O'Neal, an infectious disease specialist from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told CNN of the continuing, if not escalating, danger of being unvaccinated as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads like wildfire: "This year's virus is not last year's virus. It's attacking our 40-year-olds. It's attacking our parents and young grandparents, and it's getting our kids. You have to get vaccinated. That's the only way to end it."

Read those words again. Read them slowly. Memorize them. Trust in them.

"You have to get vaccinated. That's the only way to end it."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards backed up O'Neal by saying 97% of his state's deaths since February that were related to COVID-19 were tied to people who had not been vaccinated.

Yet here we are in mid-July, at least six weeks after most Americans should have been vaccinated had they chosen to do so, and the numbers are again going in the wrong direction.

According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, nationwide vaccination rates are dropping, while 46 states are reporting the rates of new cases this past week were at least 10% higher than the rates of new cases the previous week.

In a CNN interview Saturday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said of the ongoing, if not growing reluctance to get vaccinated: "We probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that's being spread now."

My parents grew up with polio. They often talked of swimming pools and movie theaters being closed to help prevent the spread of the dreaded disease, which often caused paralysis in children. In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with that virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died. But when Jonas Salk developed the vaccine in 1955 that eventually eradicated it from the United States less than 25 years later, there was no social media to instill distrust for it. There was, instead, overwhelming joy and relief over Salk's vaccine.

These are not those times, however. COVID-19 is also not polio. Its variants are causing new problems, even for the vaccinated, though there is great evidence the vaccination greatly reduces the impact the virus has on the body of almost all who have taken it.

Still, when less than 50% of the country has been willing to be vaccinated, one can't help but wonder what lies ahead. We thought we'd be playing football to somewhat large crowds last season, that COVID-19 would be largely under control by basketball season. Didn't happen. With the current surge in new cases, can anyone say with certainty we won't be right back to limited crowds again this school year?

Even as this column is being written, protests are under way in Japan to postpone the Olympics yet again.

As protester Karoi Todo told The Associated Press on Sunday: "This is ignoring human rights and our right to life. Infections are increasing. To do the Olympics is unforgivable."

The United States is a free country, which means we don't force people to be vaccinated against their will. And maybe that's as it should be. But perhaps the story of Kim Maginn, a 63-year-old woman who recently died of COVID-19 after refusing to get the vaccine, will change some stubborn minds.

"She was in the best shape of her life," her daughter, Rachel Maginn Rosser, a registered nurse, told CNN. "I tried several different tactics (to convince her to get the vaccine). I think eventually I would have been able to convince her, but then she got COVID. So there wasn't any more time to try and convince her."

Against stories such as those, even the slightest concern for sports returning to normal this fall would seem indefensible.

But we need something, anything, to wake us up to the need to embrace something bigger and more important than ourselves.

Or as Dr. O'Neal said of the Delta variant: "Understanding how different this is and that we can't take our experience from last year and apply it to today and assume we're going to be OK is our biggest fight right now."

That's OUR fight. All of us. Together. The baseless claims of social media be darned.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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