Monthly Archives: August 2021

American Common Good?

Some Americans No Longer Believe in the Common Good

They now are thinking only of themselves.


Common good, help


Written by Silas House and published in The Atlantic 8/22/2021

As a child in eastern Kentucky, I often helped my grandmother work in her large garden, lush with tomatoes, beans, okra, potatoes, and peppers. Granny was born in 1909, 62 years before me. As we hoed the long rows, I loved to hear her stories of living through the Great Depression and World War II. During the hard times of the 1930s, she said, neighbors banded together to help one another, pooling money to assist a destitute family or leaving food on the doorstep of a widow raising several children. While many fought fascism overseas, she and others saved rubber and tinfoil for the war effort and scrimped on food because of rationing on sugar, butter, gasoline, coal, and oil. “Not everybody was selfless, but most of us tried our best,” she told me as the heat bugs screamed around us. “That’s what you should always do.”

My own parents put these words into action. They cut corners so that they could help less fortunate kids from my school, or our church. I was taught to sacrifice my own comfort for the good of others, whether it be by volunteering my seat to elders in a crowded waiting room, letting a pregnant woman go in front of me in the grocery line, or giving half of my sandwich to a hungry classmate. I may not have always lived up to these standards, but I was taught to try. I’m sure I’m not alone. Sacrificing for the common good was something most of us were taught when I was growing up. Just a few decades later, I’m seeing people in my hometown, and all over the country, thinking only of themselves. They’re not just unwilling to make sacrifices for others during a pandemic; they’re angry about being asked to.

Last week, Governor Andy Beshear imposed a mask mandate for our schools here in Kentucky. After the brief respite offered by vaccination, I know it is tough to go back to masking and social distancing. But the backlash was immediate and charged. Parents gathered in front of schools and central offices with signs bearing slogans such as Let Our Kids Breathe and My Kids, My Choice. They expressed their outrage on social media. Our attorney general, Daniel Cameron, a protégé of Mitch McConnell, filed a petition with the state’s supreme court to stop the mandate, despite the fact that cases in Kentucky are climbing to pre-vaccination rates.

Jimmy Dyehouse, the superintendent of Science Hill Independent School District, near Somerset, not far from where my parents live, sent out a robocall to all the parents of the 440 students in his district announcing the mask mandate. On the recording, an exasperated Dyehouse apologized to parents for the fact that their kids would have to wear masks, called the governor “this liberal lunatic,” and said that he hoped the mandate would be overturned in court.

I spoke with Dyehouse because I wanted to understand exactly why he had such a problem with masks. He told me his students are “suffering” by wearing the masks, which were “nasty” and “unsanitary.” He said that many studies had proved that masks were ineffective. He didn’t cite any sources, but at least 49 scientific studies go against his claims, emphatically stating that masks are effective in the fight against COVID-19. Dyehouse feels that “the mental aspect of it on my little ones is more damaging than not wearing a mask,” claiming that it’s too scary for children to go into a school full of masked people. I brought up the idea that wearing a mask is a small sacrifice that could be seen as a patriotic duty, but he dismissed the notion. “Why should I have to wear a mask to help protect whoever, or somebody who chose not to be vaccinated, when they could put a mask on?” he told me. He didn’t seem to see any contradiction in the fact that his district includes only kindergarten through eighth grade, a tiny percentage of whom would be of age to get vaccinated. Besides, he added, he didn’t think that vaccination was going to get rid of the coronavirus, anyway.

My two children are grown now, but if they were too young to be vaccinated, I would be grateful to have the mandate. A lot of parents feel similarly, but I was struck by how many were aligned with Dyehouse’s line of thinking. I know parents who have complained about their children “being forced” to be masked. I wanted to speak with some of them about their decision. No one wanted to be identified by name or quoted. In public Facebook conversations, two of them said that their children broke down in tears at the news of having to go to school in a mask. Others say the masks hamper social life, hinder education by being a distraction, and keep students from understanding their teachers. Several told me the masks are making kids sick because they are breathing in the same carbon dioxide repeatedly, a claim that has been widely debunked. Doctors, nurses, factory workers, and others have long worn masks throughout the workday without adverse health effects. Many parents say their biggest issue is being denied their personal choice for their children. A common refrain is that some feel Beshear is enforcing the mask mandate for “a power trip.” Last year the governor was hung in effigy on the state-capitol grounds after issuing similar public-health mandates.

The situation is only made worse by the many elected officials in my state who seem determined to make masks a political issue. While our Democratic governor is begging people to get vaccinated and to mask up, Thomas Massie, one of Kentucky’s Republican representatives, joined two other members of Congress in suing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for enforcing a mask rule in the House of Representatives chambers. In July, Representative Regina Huff, a Republican who chairs the state House Education Committee, tweeted photos comparing Anthony Fauci’s encouragement to get vaccinated to the cult leader Jim Jones’s orchestration of the Jonestown massacre. Republican Senator Rand Paul recently had his YouTube channel briefly suspended because he was sharing false claims about the efficacy of masks, a punishment he welcomed as “a badge of honor.”

My grandmother had very little patience for political showboating, and I believe she would have been disgusted by the politicization of a virus that has now killed more than 620,000 Americans. I also know that she was a stridently independent and stubborn person who would have resented being told what to do. But any time I doubt that she would have supported masking, I think back to her tales of living through the 1918 flu epidemic as a child, of her belief that she had to help in the war effort, of her fears that one of her children might contract polio in the surge of the early 1950s. Maybe too few people today understand the necessity of putting aside one’s own comforts to help others. Perhaps our sense of community has suffered in the digital age. It seems to me, however, that most of the blame should go to politicians who care more about stirring up fear to defeat their opponents than they do about people’s lives or the economy. And I blame anyone who intentionally spreads misinformation to further their own agenda.

Refusing to sacrifice for the common good is an American problem, not just a Kentucky one; opposition to masking and vaccination is happening in such disparate places as San DiegoPhoenixPortlandKenosha, and New York CityA protest in Franklin, Tennessee, led to parents yelling at medical professionals who had spoken in favor of masking. One parent told them there was “a bad place in hell” for them. “We know who you are,” another threatened. “We will find you.” In Texas a parent ripped off a teacher’s mask, and in Northern California an anti-masker assaulted a teacher on the first day of school. In Los Angeles a reporter was attacked and one man was stabbed in an anti-vaccination protest. Likewise, a host of conservative politicians across the country is adding fuel to the flames with anti-vaccination rhetoric and legislation against masks.

When I witness the vitriol swirling around the slightly uncomfortable prospect of wearing a little piece of cloth throughout the day, it is easy to grow weary. I admit that I’ve had moments of “COVID rage” at those who are not doing their part. Yet I remind myself that despite the complaints of Dyehouse and other superintendents, most school administrators in our state and country are going forward with their school year professionally. In support of Beshear’s mandate, the Kentucky Board of Education unanimously approved requiring masks in all schools. Even though parents are gathering to protest the mandate across the country, their numbers have been small in comparison with the many others who have been thankful for the requirement, realizing that this is one way to get children back into classrooms.

I try to remind myself that most of us are looking out for our neighbors when I see the bantam-rooster blustering of politicians such as Senator Rand Paul. The majority of us—about 170 million, or roughly 62 percent of all Americans adults—are fully vaccinated as of this writing. In Kentucky, we are in line with the national average, with 58 percent of adults fully vaccinated. According to a poll earlier this month, 56 percent of Americans agree that masking indoors is necessary again.

Those who are unwilling to sacrifice a small part of their daily comforts for the good of our country seem to be the loudest right now. But the statistics show that they are not in the majority. Most of us are thinking of one another. My grandmother would be proud.

About the author: Silas House, a writer based in Kentucky, is the author of six novels, including, most recently, Southernmost.

National Vaccine Mandate for COVID Vaccine

Should the Government Impose a National Vaccination Mandate?

Despite claims to the contrary, there are many routes to legally requiring COVID inoculation.

Written by Jeannie Suk Gerson and published in The New Yorker 8/26/2021

Earlier this month, a parent asked a question on the community-discussion listserv for the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school district where my teen-ager will start high school this fall. Since the state routinely requires students to have certain vaccinations for enrolling in public school, would it also require vaccination against COVID-19, once the F.D.A. moved the authorization status from “emergency use” to full approval? Other parents replied that they supported a requirement, predictably invoking science, public health, and communal values. But the vehemence of their opponents, in highly vaccinated Cambridge, took me by surprise. There were recriminations about interference with personal choice and references to Nazi Germany. One participant accused another of bullying and threatened to consult an attorney.

On Monday, the F.D.A. did grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for people sixteen and older, and a decision on the Moderna vaccine is likely to follow in weeks, raising the question of how far and wide the government will now push COVID-vaccine mandates. In July, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require some of its employees to get the vaccine or face possible termination. President Biden recently ordered all federal workers to attest that they are vaccinated or else wear masks and get tested weekly. Within hours of the F.D.A.’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the Defense Department announced that it would mandate that all 1.4 million active-duty military members be vaccinated. On the same day, public university systems in New York, Minnesota, and Louisiana rolled out similar requirements for students. Such mandates may be met with intense resistance: the Pentagon’s pre-F.D.A.-approval vaccination efforts, for example, were highly divisive, and more than a third of service members are, at present, not fully vaccinated.

Strong resistance to government-mandated vaccination isn’t new. In 1853, Britain imposed the first mandatory vaccinations, requiring parents to inoculate infant children against smallpox or face heavy fines. Violent riots broke out, fueling a national anti-vaccination movement that supported political candidates solely based on their stance on vaccination. In the late eighteen-nineties, some penalties were eliminated and conscientious objectors were allowed exemptions. But, by the mid-twentieth century, too many people—nearly half the population in some areas—were claiming exemptions, and the vaccination mandate was repealed altogether. Britain then dealt with outbreaks by other means, such as compulsory examination.

In the United States, there were few riots, but there were lawsuits. The most important case came out of Cambridge, in 1905. The Supreme Court considered a Massachusetts law that empowered cities’ boards of health to mandate vaccination of all residents if they found it “necessary for the public health or safety.” After an outbreak of a virulent strain of smallpox, the Cambridge board determined that vaccination was “necessary for the speedy extermination of the disease” and required all residents to receive the vaccine. A pastor from Sweden, who claimed that he had been made sick by a vaccine as a child, refused and was criminally convicted and fined. He challenged the law as a violation of due process, arguing that compulsory vaccination was “hostile to the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best, and . . . nothing short of an assault upon his person.”

The Court, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, disagreed, reciting the principle that individual liberty is not absolute in the face of “the common good,” and that “real liberty for all” depends on restraining individual exercises of liberty that harm others. The Court, as Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, was therefore “unwilling to hold it to be an element in the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States that one person, or a minority of persons, residing in any community and enjoying the benefits of its local government, should have the power thus to dominate the majority” that acts through the state’s authority to protect health and safety. The Court therefore held that a state had legal authority to require vaccinations. Seventeen years later, it also held that neither due process nor equal protection prohibited a San Antonio ordinance making vaccination a condition of children’s attendance in schools.

What Happens When Childhood Fears Are Bottled Up?

Since the nineteen-eighties, all fifty states have required vaccinations for school attendance, subject to some exemptions, including on medical and religious grounds. Vaccination requirements have long been challenged by religious objectors, but the challenges are routinely rejected, as long as reasonable accommodations are offered. Just last year, the Fifth Circuit heard the case of a former firefighter who had religious objections to a vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough that was required for his job, and who was fired when he rejected accommodations that the city offered: to transfer to a job that didn’t require the vaccine, or to wear a respirator mask at work. The court rebuffed the employee’s claims of religious discrimination and violation of First Amendment free-exercise rights. The pre-COVID legal landscape, in other words, was quite clear: a state could require vaccinations to protect public health, even imposing criminal penalties for noncompliance. And vaccination as a condition of attending school or of government employment has been widely, if not universally, accepted.

There has been a plethora of legal challenges to COVID-vaccine mandates imposed by public and private institutions, but courts have been quick to dismiss them. This summer, eight students sued Indiana University over its policy that all students must be vaccinated against the coronavirus unless they are exempt for religious or medical reasons. (Most student plaintiffs claimed exemptions, but still objected to the school’s requirement that exempt students wear masks and be tested twice a week.) The Seventh Circuit appeared to find it easy to determine that, in light of Jacobson, “there can’t be a constitutional problem” with requiring vaccination against COVID-19. Noting that “vaccinations against other diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, varicella, meningitis, influenza, and more) are common requirements of higher education,” the court was unsympathetic to the students’ complaints, given that they could choose to go to a school that doesn’t require the COVID vaccine, and that masks and tests for exempt students are “requirements that are not constitutionally problematic.” When the students then asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay to block the university’s policy, Justice Amy Coney Barrett simply denied it, without referring it to the full Court, perhaps indicating a lack of interest in reconsidering Jacobson in the COVID era.

No city or state has yet issued a straight-up requirement that all private citizens be vaccinated against COVID-19, along the lines of the Massachusetts smallpox-vaccination law upheld in Jacobson, but some have edged toward it. The closest so far is New York City’s requirement of proof of having received at least one dose for access to certain activities, including indoor dining, gyms, and performances. Various states have also ordered certain subsets of their populations, including health-care and nursing-home workers, school teachers, and state employees, to be vaccinated or face regular testing. The F.D.A.’s full approval of the vaccine this week makes it more likely that cities and states will impose general mandates on residents. If they do, they can feel confident that such requirements will be upheld by the courts, so long as they include medical and religious exemptions.

If, as seems probable, we see an increasingly dense and complicated patchwork of mandates emerge over the coming months, some might wonder about the possibility of a federal vaccination requirement. Beyond mandating inoculation of federal employees, the Biden Administration has pressured non-federal institutions to require vaccination, using the carrot of federal funding (or the stick of its potential withdrawal). As a condition of continuing to receive federal funding, the Administration has directed all nursing homes to require their staff to be vaccinated. Last week, Biden rebuked states that blocked schools from adopting mask requirements, and the Education Department suggested that infringing on school districts’ authority to adopt policies for safely returning to schools could result in withdrawal of federal funding. It is possible that the Administration could use a similar threat to prevent states from blocking school districts’ vaccine requirements.

The White House has made clear that directly imposing a national requirement on the general populace isn’t on the table, in part because many would question the government’s authority to do so in our constitutional system of limited federal powers. And, in fact, the government has never issued a national vaccination mandate—perhaps because, in the past, leaving that role to states and localities has sufficiently contained epidemics. If any federal statute currently provides authorization for a national COVID-vaccination mandate, however, it would be the Public Health Service Act, which gives several agencies the authority “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases” from foreign countries or between states. The government can use this law to pursue quarantine policies, and the statute, broadly construed, may also allow the government to mandate vaccinations to prevent interstate spread of COVID-19.

Alternatively, Congress could rely on the Spending Clause to pass new laws that condition the transfer of federal funds to a state upon its establishing a vaccination mandate. Congress could also use the Commerce Clause to institute a national requirement as a regulation of interstate commerce. But those sweepingly ambitious federal routes are guaranteed to become mired in tremendous political pushback that could ultimately increase public resistance to vaccination, not to mention constitutional challenges claiming federal overreach. Short of those methods, the federal government still has myriad ways that it may yet push states, institutions, and citizens to do more than they otherwise would, with an arsenal of inducements, pressures, conditions, and threats. Depending on how things progress with the coronavirus variants, a national vaccination mandate may remain possible as a last resort.

Dealing with Climate Concerns

The Antidote To Climate Dread

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the constant, dire news of record-breaking heat, fires and floods, here’s what you can do, according to climate scientists.

Written by Sarah Louise Grossman and published in Huffington Post 8/25/21

The reality of the climate crisis is dire — and it can be overwhelming.

In the past month alone, we’ve seen the hottest July ever recorded on the planet (again), the largest ever single wildfire in California history (again, just a year after the last one), and deadly floods devastating the Southern U.S. (again).

The United Nations’ recent climate report repeated what similar reports have been saying for years, with even greater certainty: Humans are the “unequivocal” cause of climate change, and the window to avoid catastrophic living conditions worldwide due to global warming is rapidly closing.

There have long been concerns in the climate science community about possible public “fatigue” at being bombarded with dire news of the worsening climate, and having this lead to widespread dread or overwhelm, which can create an emotional barrier to actually taking action.

But various climate scientists, speaking to HuffPost, rejected the idea that people are tired of too much bad climate news. If anything, they see progress in the ever-growing share of Americans who recognize climate change as a serious issue: A majority of the country, or 6 in 10 people as of a 2020 Pew Research survey, say global climate change is a “major threat” to the country, up from 44% in 2009. We need more coverage of the climate crisis, scientists said, not less.

Still, the experts recognized that for those paying close attention to the crisis, particularly people living in communities directly affected by fires, storms and floods, it can be exhausting.

“I get the fatigue and the climate grief,” said Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What kind of world are we leaving for the next generation?”

For climate scientists themselves, who have been sounding the alarm on this for decades, much of their own “fatigue” comes from what they see as a lack of sufficient action from political and corporate leaders, who have the power to implement the large-scale solutions needed to avert the worst.

I am ‘report fatigued.’ We need action,” Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric sciences program, wrote at Forbes this month. He called for more planning from local and federal governments for a transition to “a renewable energy economy,” and urged leaders to “address the disproportionate burden” of climate disasters on “vulnerable, poor, and marginalized populations.”

The experts HuffPost spoke to all had the same antidote to climate dread: Take action. The climate crisis is urgent, the changes needed are at a massive scale, but it doesn’t mean individuals can’t make a difference.

“We are now in an all-hands-on-deck moment,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s program on climate change communication. “We need everybody doing everything they can, at the individual level, community level, national government and business level. This is all of society.”

DAVID MCNEW VIA GETTY IMAGESA wildfire approaches homes on Aug. 24 in Wofford Heights, California.

For scientists tasked with communicating to the public the urgency of the climate crisis and what needs to be done, part of the challenge is the wide range of people’s understanding of just how bad the situation is.

Americans are deeply politically divided on climate change. About 72% of Democrats say human activity is contributing “a great deal” to climate change, versus just 22% of Republicans, according to Pew. A vast majority of Democrats say climate change is impacting their local community (83%), while less than half of Republicans do (37%). And while 89% of Democrats think the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, only 35% of Republicans think so.

There is another way to slice up the country when it comes to environmental issues, per Leiserowitz’s team at Yale: the “six Americas.” Through dozens of national surveys in the U.S. over years, the researchers identified six separate audiences who approach the climate crisis from different vantage points. These groups include the “alarmed” (around 26% of the U.S. in 2020 — encouragingly, up from 11% in 2014), who know that the crisis is happening, it’s human-caused and it’s urgent; the “concerned” (28% of the population), who know the crisis is human-caused, but think of its effects as more distant in time and place; the “doubtful” (12%), who aren’t sure if climate change is real, but think that if it is, it likely has little to do with human action; and the “dismissive” (at an all-time low of 7%), many of whom believe climate change isn’t happening at all.

When it comes to spurring action, Leiserowitz emphasized the need to “meet people where they are” in crafting messages that can get through to people all along the spectrum of climate understanding.

One of the most significant factors in determining people’s level of concern about climate change, experts said, is whether they live in front-line communities experiencing the devastating effects of the crisis year after year, such as high heat, deadly fires or devastating storms and floods.

And those communities most vulnerable to climate change — including those experiencing slower recoveries in the aftermath of climate disasters — are disproportionately poor, Black and Latinx.

“When you see your family members die, your house washing out from under your feet, when your fishing grounds are not productive, plants are dying around you — and the root of that is climate change — it is personal,” said Isabel Rivera-Collazo, an assistant professor on human adaptation to climate change at the University of California, San Diego, who works with coastal communities in northern Puerto Rico.

There is “serious mental health fatigue” for people in communities directly affected by climate change, Rivera-Collazo said. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed thousands of Puerto Ricans and left hundreds of thousands without power for months, there was an increase in suicides.

Mourners carry the casket of Wilfredo Torres Rivera, 58, who died Oct. 13, 2017, after jumping off a bridge three weeks after Hurricane Maria, in Utuado, Puerto Rico.

For the scientists studying climate change, too, there is exhaustion in repeating the same message for years and not seeing an adequate response from corporations or government.

“All of us in the expert community know we should have acted 40 years ago, and the window is closing … At some point, you cross important thresholds and everything we’re experiencing now gets much, much worse,” Leiserowitz said. “So in the climate expertise community, of course we’re frustrated. We’ve been saying, ‘World, you need to take this seriously.’ … We’re all frustrated with the fact that the message hasn’t gotten through enough to drive the kind of action that is required.”

Rivera-Collazo pointed to the “burnout” she and other researchers feel from working with front-line communities and seeing the increased damage to those communities over time.

“I personally receive hundreds of phone calls asking me to do something, and I feel powerless. Apart from doing my research, how much more can I do?” Rivera-Collazo said, noting she goes to therapy to help with the mental health effects of her work. “I don’t have an answer to how to mitigate coastal erosion and the loss of biodiversity. There are small things we can do, but governments and corporations have much more power than single researchers and individual communities.”

Rivera-Collazo said she’s “particularly worried” for young people who may feel “despair” or feel “powerless” thinking that climate action is “not realistic,” given the relatively small impact of the individual decisions they can make — buying local goods, eating less meat, turning lights off, recycling — versus big corporations’ large-scale damage to the environment.

But Leiserowitz warned against such nihilism, saying individual action and systemic change go hand in hand. “You need both,” he said. “It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.”

“I can’t build a private bullet train from New York to L.A., so yes, we do need systems change to ultimately solve this,” Leiserowitz said. “But how do you get to systems change? We live in democracies. You get big systems change if the public is demanding action. It’s public and political will.”

He added that the world has “everything we need” right now to combat the climate crisis in terms of technology, policy ideas and money.

“We’re just missing the demand for those solutions,” Leiserowitz said. “Public and political will: That’s the missing ingredient.”

When you see your family members die, your house washing out from under your feet, when your fishing grounds are not productive, plants are dying around you — and the root of that is climate change — it is personal. Isabel Rivera-Collazo, assistant professor, University of California, San Diego.

Even so, knowing what to do as an individual in the face of a massive climate crisis is not so straightforward. Even among the most “alarmed” on Yale’s scale of “six Americas,” many still don’t know what they, or society, can do to address climate change effectively.

Climate experts shared some ideas for simple steps you can take now to get more engaged:

Conservation psychologist Susan Clayton suggested finding a group to join — or creating one of your own — whether its purpose is discussion, activism or community.

“Everyone thinks, what can an individual do? But think of a vote. Does a single vote make a difference in an election? Almost never. But I am committed to vote,” Clayton said. “My single action may not make a difference on climate change, but it’s a way of participating in a collective battle to deal with this crisis.”

  1. Make your household greener.

Leiserowitz noted that people’s individual decisions in their homes, when multiplied by millions of households, can make the difference in transitioning from an economy dependent on harmful fossil fuels to one that relies on much more eco-friendly renewable energy.

He suggested choosing electric cars over gas-run vehicles, replacing gas-burning stoves and furnaces with heat pumps, buying clean energy from your power company and putting solar panels on your roof.

“To achieve the big change we need, you need to engage the decisions of billions of people,” he said.

2. Care for your local beaches and parks.

In the communities in Puerto Rico that Rivera-Collazo works with, residents who’ve seen coastal erosion and the effects of storms on their beaches have been leading activities to stimulate biodiversity and reduce pollution, including reforesting an area damaged by Hurricane Maria and doing beach cleanups.

“Each time, we collect less and less trash, because of engagement with users of the beach,” she said. “One community member said for her it’s the most important. She feels she’s doing something.”

Rivera-Collazo noted that climate change is “larger than a single community on a three-mile stretch of coast,” but “once people feel ownership, they can push back on larger causes: governments, industry.”

Take action, even if you can’t see the effects of the climate crisis in your local community — yet.

Robert Bullard, a longtime environmental justice researcher and professor of environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston, noted that “Black and brown, lower-income communities” are often the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and have the fewest resources to recover after disasters.


In Houston, the same communities that were still recovering from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 were hit again by devastating floods in subsequent years and a major winter storm this February. That unusual storm caused widespread power outages, leaving some people freezing in prisons without running water and other people with spikes in their energy bills. “It’s one after the other,” Bullard said.

Rivera-Collazo also noted that “many of these communities carrying the burden of climate change are suffering other things,” including poverty and gentrification.

“When we say ‘what can we do’ to invite people to do more, remember some people cannot do more,” she said. “Others have to do more.”

Rivera-Collazo walks her students through an exercise to engage them on climate change, urging them to think of the basic things they consider necessary for “living well” in their daily lives.

“Start thinking about how those privileges you are currently enjoying, when they get impacted — not if, when — what are you going to do?” she said. She asks students to consider where their food, water and electricity come from.

“If you feel safe, if you feel distant, it means you’re not aware of your vulnerabilities,” she said. “Climate change is so big, everyone is being threatened.”

Don’t forget: There’s hope.


All of the scientists HuffPost spoke to said that the key to stopping dread and starting to take action on climate change is knowing there is hope. The worst can still be averted.

Leiserowitz noted that the U.S. is already “well into the transition” from fossil fuels to clean energy.

“Good news ― wind and solar are cheaper than fossil fuels in most parts of the world today,” he said. “This is where the future is going. The question is, will we make that transition fast enough?”

For Rivera-Collazo, hope comes from seeing front-line communities “not just sitting back and crying,” but taking it into their own hands to clean and replenish local coastlines. “They are doing things. That for me is a source of hope,” she said. “People are not sitting back and waiting for somebody to come save them.”

Bullard, who is 74, locates his hope in young people “beginning to flex their political muscle, voting and getting into policy positions,” and particularly youth who are “demanding transformative change rather than incremental baby steps.”


And Caldas, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, had a message for the not-so-young: “The youth fighting so hard … At one moment or another, their parents’ generation is going to wake up to the fact that their kids are fighting for a mess they are making, and they should get engaged.”


Climate Change Heating Up

‘Code red for humanity’: UN report gives stark warning on climate change, says wild weather events will worsen

Written by Doyle Royce and published in USA Today 8/9/2021

  • Evidence shows that carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate change, the report says.
  • Almost 200 countries have signed up to the Paris climate accord.
  • The report comes three months before a major climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
Hundreds of top scientists released a devastating report Monday on the danger that human-caused climate change poses to the world.
Calling it “code red for humanity,” the landmark report was released in Geneva, Switzerland, by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Many of the changes seen in the world’s climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion – such as continued sea-level rise – are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years, according to the report.
Wild weather events – from storms to heat waves – are also expected to worsen and become more frequent.
“Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways, (and) the changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said Panmao Zhai of the IPCC.
The evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, even as other greenhouse gases and air pollutants play a role.
The 3,000-page report “provides an unprecedented degree of clarity about the future of our planet, and the need to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – our emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute.
‘Worst is yet to come’: Disastrous future ahead for millions worldwide due to climate change, report warns
The authoritative report, which calls climate change clearly human-caused and “unequivocal,” makes more precise and warmer forecasts for the 21st century than it did last time it was issued in 2013.
“If this IPCC report doesn’t shock you into action, it should,” said Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute. “The report paints a very sobering picture of the unforgiving, unimaginable world we have in store if our addiction to burning fossil fuels and destroying forests continues. One of the most striking takeaways is that we may reach 1.5°C of warming a decade earlier than the IPCC had previously found.”
Almost 200 countries have signed up to the Paris climate accord, which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 F), by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times.
The report projects that in the coming decades climate changes will increase in all regions. For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.

Sex Education in the United States

Sex Education In The United States

Is Broken,

But It Doesn’t Have To Be


Written by Molly Longman and published in Refinery 29 July 26, 2021

Maddie* remembers walking into a sweaty, small practice gym one morning at Xavier High School, a private Catholic institution in Cedar Rapids, IA, for a unit on health. As she took a seat on the bleachers with her classmates, a teacher passed out brand new textbooks and permanent markers to everyone. For the first 20 minutes of class, the teacher instructed Maddie and the rest of the kids to turn to a specific chapter and black-out certain sections — ones that discussed topics such as sex, abortion, and birth control. “They said, ‘If you want to learn about this, do it on your own time, but we’re not going to cover it in class,’” remembers Maddie, who asked to be identified by her first name only for privacy reasons. “Who’s going to read up later, though? Looking back, it’s like, Holy cow, we didn’t even have the opportunity to learn.”

Meggie Gates also went to Xavier, though they graduated before Maddie, and remembers using sex ed textbooks in which entire paragraphs were redacted. Gates’ book was old; it was the same edition their sister, who’s seven years older, had used. Refinery29 contacted various current members of leadership at Xavier High School to ask about the books, but as of press time, has received no response. In an email, Tom Keating — who was the principal of Xavier from about 2004 to 2018, when Maddie and Gates were students, and now the executive director at the Iowa High School Athletic Association — said: “I don’t believe it would be appropriate for me to comment since I am no longer part of the Xavier administration”


Maddie’s and Gates’ experiences aren’t unusual. Young people around the world go without access to comprehensive, medically accurate, and inclusive education about sex, sexuality, relationships, and health. In the U.S., only 28 states and the District of Columbia mandate that both sex education and “HIV education” be taught in schools, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research and policy organization. Even fewer states — 18 — mandate that the information taught be “medically accurate,”a term that is left up to individual states to define, but is generally understood to mean that the information is grounded in evidence-based, peer-reviewed scientific research.States that don’t require sex ed information to be medically accurate are free tomake unscientific, unproven, or even false claims about sexual health, such as conflating hormonal birth control or emergency contraceptives with abortion — and some curricula neglect these topics entirely. Federally, $110 million each year is spent on education that only covers abstinence, says Leah Keller, a policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. Yet, research shows that abstinence-only education doesn’t reduce the likelihood that 15- to 19-year-olds will engage in sexwhile comprehensive sex ed has been shown to significantly reduce reports of teen pregnancy. (Sexual activity and pregnancy are commonly used in research as markers of a program’s success, though those metrics are inadequate when it comes to providing a complete picture of meaningful sex education.)

“There is this critically uneven patchwork of federal and state sex education policies,” Keller says. As a result, kids are left with different understandings of sex and sexuality, depending in large part on where they live, what kind of school they attend, and who they end up with for a teacher. What’s more, ​​36 states and D.C. allow parents the option to remove their child from instruction entirely.

In an attempt to determine where traditional sex ed has fallen short, how that’s affected people, and how learning gaps can best be bridged, Refinery29 conducted a survey of 1,425 people in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. One key finding: Although 80% of the respondents received a formal sex education in high school or middle school, only 5% said sex ed fully prepared them for the real world. This impacted them in tangible ways. As Gates says: “What I didn’t learn shaped me.”

The R29 Sex Re-Education survey asked respondents about the subjects they wish had been covered more comprehensively in their sex education curricula. People had a lot to say, but three key areas bubbled up: sex, sexuality, and sexual health as it relates to the queer community; consent education; and pleasure. What was clear from the results was that these gaps meaningfully impacted people, leading them to associate sex and sexual wellness with fear, confusion, and shame, instead of confidence and empowerment.


For far too long and in far too many schools, LGBTQ+ kids haven’t seen themselves reflected in curricula — to this day, five states still require that only negative information be provided about being queer, and another 12 require a positive emphasis on heterosexuality, the Guttmacher Institute notes. This has serious ramifications. “As a queer young person, I had a lot of conversations within romantic and platonic relationships about the validity of queer sex,” says Makayla (M.K.) Richards, a Georgia State organizer for the organization URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. “I was wondering, ‘Is this valid if it’s not penetrative penis-and-vagina, or cis-hetero-normative, sex? Does my pleasure matter if it’s outside of the scope of what society would deem as ‘normal?’” But beyond a conversation about the topic in their general health elective, they received no explicit sex education, according to Richards.

Richards’ family helped them fill in the gaps in their education. “I was lucky to be having these conversations at home,” they say. “I was raised by a Black grandmother and aunt who were committed to ensuring we knew most of the things we needed to, to say no to things we didn’t want to do, and to know the value of expression.” Still, they add, “I had to do a lot of unlearning and figuring out the ways that queerphobia and transphobia taints our perceptions about what is really sex.”

Gates also didn’t see themselves represented in their sex ed classes, something that had long-term repercussions. At Xavier, Gates says heteronormative marriage was held up as something of a gold standard — something that was not only aspirational, but was actually the only acceptable way and circumstance to have sex. “I never wanted that, and later on when I learned I was a lesbian, the stress and anxiety of having to live up to this thing I wasn’t — that was intense,” Gates says. “That permeates today. The compulsive heteronormativity was drilled into me. Sometimes I still question why I don’t want to have that perfect nuclear family. I’ll still have stress dreams where I’m questioning if my sexuality is valid: Should I be with a man? Is that the only way I can have stability?

Although Keating declined to comment on Xavier’s lack of LGBTQ+ inclusivity to Refinery29, Gates interviewed him for a 2018 article in the Iowa-based magazine Little Village. In a quote addressing LGBTQ+ youth suicide rates, he said, “It’s a fragile time in regards to where your life is going, and I don’t want to harm that. We can’t be in denial [that] there are LGBTQ students at Xavier, but at the same time we can’t be in denial of what Catholic teaching says and our responsibility to the Catholic Church as a Catholic school. That’s the challenge.”

Yet, gender-inclusive and affirming sex ed can literally be life-saving, says Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist with The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on crisis and suicide prevention within the LGBTQ+ community. “We know that when LGBTQ+ youth find that their schools are affirming, they report lower rates of attempting suicide,” she says. That’s no small statement: 42% of LGBTQ+ youth and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

But inclusive sex ed doesn’t mean just “covering” queer issues. “The biggest misconception when training adults is that they’ll think, And then on Thursday I’ll teach the LGBTQ+ lesson,” says Brittany McBride, MPH, the associate director of sex education at Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization and advocacy group dedicated to sexuality education, with whom Refinery29 partnered with for our Sex Re-Education program. “But this needs to be brought into every lesson.” When sex ed offers an accurate representation of what exists in the world, it’s easier for kids to relate to the information they’re being taught.


Too often, sex ed curricula glosses over consent. As one Sex Re-Education survey respondent said, “We were just told ‘just say no.’” Gates believes that their lacking consent education and the patriarchal narratives they were taught about relationships early on led to negative consequences. “The first time I was sexually assaulted, I didn’t want to [do anything sexual], but I did want to be near someone, and didn’t know how to just ask for that without making it transactional,” they explain, adding that they think more information about consent would help men, women, nonbinary people —everyone.

Others wish consent education would include what to do after an assault. “Nowadays you might get an education about consent, but you don’t learn what to do if you end up in a situation where you are a victim,” points out Gigi Robinson, a body image and chronic illness advocate. “Nothing is saying here’s how to cope and how to report it and, importantly, that it’s not your fault.”

“Not only did we not learn about consent for ourselves, but we didn’t learn how to be bystanders,” adds Renata Valquier Chavez, speaking about her experience as a freshman at the public Sidney High School in Sidney, IA, during the 2012/2013 school year. [Writer’s note: I was a senior at SHS when Valquier Chavez was a freshman.]“We weren’t really taught how to see signs. If we were all at a party and saw someone was being made uncomfortable by someone else, even though we grew up with that person, I feel like if we had learned what to look for, we would have felt a little more free to call someone out and say, ‘Hey, knock that shit off.’” She adds that she wishes alcohol had been mentioned in relation to consent, too. ”It’s frustrating to remember,” she says, especially because, “the culture of not asking for consent was considered normal.”

Aaron Misner, who was in the same health class as Valquier Chavez, also doesn’t recall consent being covered in the course, or learning how to practice safe sex. “The lack of adequate sex education definitely trickles down, causing rotting of the community, and it’s not creating a healthy and safe environment for everyone in the town,” he adds.

Refinery29 reached out to administrators at SHS to comment on how they handled consent in their sex ed curriculum. “We cover these topics several times during Jr. High and High School,” current Sidney High School principal Kim Payne responded, in an email. She said all high school students are required to take health, but, “I cannot speak for what was taught in 2012/2013 as I was not associated with the district at that time.” Payne sent a link to the Health Literacy Standards taught in Iowa, and noted 21.9-12.HL.2 “is taught to help students make good choices and be active bystanders.”

Refinery29 also contacted Rev. Amy Johnson, who Valquier Chavez, Misner, and I all had as a health teacher at SHS. She said she touched on safe sex with an “abstinence is best” message at “the school board’s direction” during the years she taught health in Sidney, but said that she did teach about safe sex practices other than abstinence; touched on consent and the impact of alcohol and drugs on decision-making; and generally followed the Iowa academic standards. “We talked about no meaning no and that consent is something that is fluid, and you can say no at any point and either person can say no,” she said.

When told that two students had said they weren’t taught this sort of information, Johnson said that it was possible their parents had opted them out of taking the health class in which sex ed was a unit; later, both Valquier Chavez and Misner say they checked with their parents, who don’t remember this being the case.

But, Johnson said she hadn’t covered how to be an active bystander in class. “You know, [looking back] we should’ve, but we did not. We talked about peer pressure, but we didn’t talk a lot about how to keep one another safe, other than just the basic, don’t put yourself in that situation where you don’t feel comfortable being alone with someone and things like that,” she said, adding, “I think it’s really important for me that people know about their health and how to be safe and healthy.” Johnson, who has since moved away from Sidney, noted that she began working at SHS as an English teacher and aid, and only became certified to teach health and take over the courses after another teacher abruptly stopped teaching the class in 2007 or 2008. SHS administrators did not respond to Refinery29’s question about this.

Ideally, the basics of consent should be taught to kids when they’re as young as two or three, so they know they don’t have to do things like hug relatives if they don’t want to, says Tina Schermer Sellers, PhD, a clinical sexologist and author. “It should be teaching kids to ask for what they want, to be able to say yes or no, and how to accept a ‘no’ graciously,” she explains. “It’s important to know that consent is complex, and that it’s okay to withdraw consent if you’ve already given it.”

Enter your email for Refinery29’s newsletter

But, “the consent focus is a pretty low bar, really, if what we want for young people is good, positive, sexual experiences,” says sexuality educator Greg Smallidge. “Having sex with someone? This is deeply layered, vulnerable, spiritual, messy stuff. And if sex ed isn’t willing to talk deeply about the mess, then it’s dishonest.”


Tied up with consent education is pleasure education, Dr. Schermer Sellers says. If you’re not taught that sex can feel good, it’s harder to identify it when something feels bad, she says. Even so, sex educators know that pleasure is one of the trickiest subjects to cover in their curricula.

“​​We definitely see more backlash from parents and communities when discussing pleasure in sex ed, even though pleasure is an important part of sexuality,” says Caitlin Viccora, the program manager of healthy and supportive schools at Advocates for Youth. “Often, folks are more comfortable teaching about the risks related to having sex, such as unintended pregnancy and STIs, rather than the positive aspects of sex and sexuality.”

Perhaps because this area of sex education can be so fraught, many curricula simply leave out any discussion of sexual pleasure, or they focus on the male orgasm because it’s “productive,” neglecting to talk about women’s pleasure, our survey found. But ignoring the topic doesn’t mean kids will stop having questions about it — and treating these questions as though they’re shameful can cause folks to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, often affecting them for years to come.

Maddie, for instance, remembers attending a school talk where a religious speaker came to tell her school about the sin of premarital sex: “They gave us a piece of tape, had us stick it on our arms, and then pass it to the next kid to do the same. As you got going, it wouldn’t stick as well. The implication was that when you met your future spouse, if you had sex with other people first, you’d be used up,” Maddie says. Gates recalls a similar exercise, in which a speaker taped two construction paper figures — one pink, and one blue — together, then ripped them apart to illustrate how if you have premarital sex, “you leave your soul behind.” This fed into a culture of judgement at the school, Maddie and Gates say. “After those classes, it was like, ‘Oh, Amy’s been having sex with so and so? She’s disgusting,’” Maddie says. Gates adds: “It was, if you have sex, you’re a slut and everyone will talk about you.”

At Caelyn’s* Christian school in Tennessee, she remembers a guest speaker who came in to teach sex ed passing a cup around and asking each kid to spit in it. Then, he asked if anyone wanted to drink it, as a way of demonstrating the sanctity of virginity and the concept of “used goods.” “Even at the time I thought it was a pretty rotten thing to do,” says Caelyn, who asked for her last name to be withheld for privacy reasons.

Dr. Schemer Sellers says linking premarital sex — or any sex — to shame has myriad negative impacts, including making kids feel alone and like they can’t talk to anyone. “Research reveals that sexual shame impacts people’s ability to trust, communicate, and intimately or vulnerably attach emotionally or physically,” she adds. “It also causes people to doubt their sexual desire, and if they have the right to protect themselves in sexual encounters.”

When Maddie graduated high school, she didn’t feel she’d been fully prepared to have sex or relationships in college. “When I did later have sex, it was difficult for me at first to have conversations about it because I was so used to not talking about it,” she reflects. “Everything was always swept under the rug and it made it weird and difficult to talk about what you wanted and to have conversations like, ‘Do you like this? I like that.’ For so long, unless you were talking about having a baby with your spouse, talking about sex felt a little bit dirty and uncomfortable, like this mortal sin.”

Modern sex education falls short in many other ways besides these. Notably, racism and classism pervade sex education curricula. “Lots of sexuality education isn’t culturally responsive, and there’s no understanding of the historical context with Black and brown bodies,” says Tanya Bass, PhD, a sex educator in North Carolina. Dr. Bass also notes that, with the ongoing prevalence of systemic and medical racism, it’s essential for people to be informed about the choices available to them, specifically when it comes to issues such as birth control methods. “People aren’t learning about the history surrounding the coercive use of LARCs,” Dr. Bass says, referring to long-acting reversible contraceptives such as IUDS. There’s a history of medical professionals disproportionally “offering LARCs as contraceptives [to Black and brown people] instead of giving people all the options and information,” she says.

Our systems, including educational institutions, “have historically been touched and influenced by white supremacy culture and were built on the oppression of marginalized communities,” says Sara C. Flowers, DrPh, the vice president of education and training at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “In order to work to disrupt that and work towards reproductive freedom and justice, it’s key to ensure that sex education is comprehensive, anti-racist, and accessible and inclusive of the needs and realities of all young people.”

Many sex ed lesson plans also neglect discussions around how to treat STIs, or about health issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or vaginismus, gaps that could delay diagnosis and treatment and leave people in pain. According to our Sex Re-Education survey, people left sex ed feeling “nervous” and “embarrassed,” with unanswered questions about anatomy, STIs, pregnancy, and general sexuality. That’s a far cry from how the advocacy and policy organization SIECUS: Sex Ed For Social Change imagines sex ed in their guidelines: as “a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about such important topics as identity, relationships, and intimacy.”

Learning accurate, inclusive information about sex and sexuality early on is affirming for young people. McBride says proper sex education can be compared to teaching a kid about water safety. “Say, you’re alone in a room, listening to your friends swim in a pool outside, something you’ve never done before. You hear people having fun, and it sounds amazing,” she says. “If I take the time to explain that you have to take swimming lessons and wear sunscreen and have to reapply before you go in, there’s less likelihood of you wanting to get in yourself without being equipped.” If kids are left without guidance, they’re more likely to just jump in the pool — maybe even right into the deep end without knowing how to swim. All sex education does is “remove the mystique that comes with sex,” McBride says.

There’s no simple remedy to this problem. But “it’s 100% worth working on, because when it’s done intersectionally and comprehensively, health education is life-saving work,” says Justine Ang Fonte, M.Ed, MPH, an intersectional health educator. And schools are a good place to start, since they are still a top source of information for people: 45% of respondents in the Refinery29 2021 Sex Re-Education survey said they first learned about sex in school. Nearly as many — 44% — said they learned through friends, while 31% reported learning about sex through TV and movies, 27% cited their parents as resources, and 26% cited pornography.

School curricula can be analyzed, overhauled, and changed for the better, according to advocates such as McBride. Many people who spoke to Refinery29 see The Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act, which is in Congress now and aims to fund comprehensive sex education for students, as a positive step forward. Some, like Keller, hope to defund abstinence-only sex ed entirely. A few advocates who spoke to R29 were skeptical that meaningful advancements could happen in classrooms within their lifetimes.

In the meantime, generations of young people are seeking out important, sometimes urgent, information through the internet, their peer groups, and medical professionals. When asked what they’d like to see covered in sex education, our survey respondents asked for science-backed answers to questions they found themselves asking the internet, such as how to react to a positive STI test or how to have safe oral sex. They also reported wanting to know whether the experiences they were facing, including something that had happened during sex, were “okay,” or a cause for concern. They asked for more information regarding consent, pleasure, and sex ed as it relates to the LGBTQ+ community. And if they don’t get that information from their schools and parents, they’ll look for it elsewhere; most often on Google, where 60% of survey respondents and 70% of Gen Z respondents get their sex information.

And so, we listened. Based on what we learned, Refinery29 is hoping to bridge the gap between what schools currently offer and what young people desperately need, with two series of short videos that offer up answers to the questions people actually have. “Is It Okay?” delivers science- and expert-backed answers to common sexual health-related questions, and “What I Wish I Had Known” allows well-known people to speak directly about, well, everything they wish they’d known when they were younger.

Our hope is that Sex Re-Education can provide help to the 95% of people who don’t feel that their school — or their parents or their friends or the internet — adequately prepared them for the real world and their experiences in it.

Corona Virus – Delta strain

Why the Delta Variant is So Concerning: What You Need to Know

Answers to key questions about this even more contagious coronavirus

Written by Robert Britt and published in 7/30/2021

Here we go again. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious than anything we’ve seen during the pandemic so far. It’s so contagious, it’s squeezing out its SARS-CoV-2 brethren to become the predominant variant in circulation.

So what should you do?

Whether you are vaccinated or not, it’s time to mask up and take other preventive steps if you wish to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones and the people in your community, experts say.

Given the situation is evolving quickly, here are answers to the key questions you might have:

What is the Delta variant and where is it?

From very early days, the original pandemic-producing coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, has been mutating in mostly insignificant ways. Over time, left to hop from one human host to another, those mutations have added up to several variant strains of the original with some significant new features, including greater transmissibility. The Delta strain has emerged as the most infectious.

And it’s everywhere. More than 80% of new Covid cases in the United States were caused by the Delta variant as of July 17, compared to just 30% on June 19 — a huge increase in a short time.

How infectious is the Delta variant?

Very. The CDC now says this strain of the coronavirus is more infectious than the common cold, the flu, Ebola, smallpox and chickenpox, according to internal CDC documents obtained by the New York Times.

Do the vaccines work against the Delta variant?

Yes, but perhaps ever-so-slightly less so, according to a study published July 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Vaccines were never said to be 100% effective, and so far it appears they’re holding up very well against all known variants. “Covid vaccines are not perfect. But they are darn good, and keep you alive. Even with delta, alpha, gamma, kappa, lambda, etc.,” tweets Mayo Clinic researcher Vincent Rajkumar, MD. [See details on Elemental from science journalist

Tara Haelle


If I’m vaccinated but catch the Delta variant, how bad will my Covid be?

There’s no guarantee a vaccine will prevent serious illness, but your odds of a mild case go way, way up. “In CDC’s data they showed vaccinated people had a 25-fold reduction in risk of death, a 25-fold reduction in risk of hospitalization,” says Scott Gottlieb, MD, former commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration.

If I’m vaccinated, can I catch and spread the Delta variant?

Yes. In such a “breakthrough” case, as they’re called, you’ll carry as much virus in your nose and throat as an unvaccinated person who caught it, and so you can spread it just as easily, the New York Times reports. This is why adding (or reincorporating) other layers of protection is so vital right now.

If I haven’t been vaccinated yet, should I just skip the shot altogether?

No. As of today, a vaccinated person is still thought to be about ⅛ as likely to catch Covid-19 as an unvaccinated person, all other things being equal, according to Bob Watcher, MD, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“Vaccines prevent [the] vast majority of infections, transmission, and nearly all hospitalizations, deaths,” says Ashish Jha, MD, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

I want to protect myself and others. Should I mask up again?

Absolutely. Whether you are vaccinated or not, whenever you’re around people you don’t know, whenever you’re in crowded places (especially indoors) a mask offers a crucial layer of protection against catching Covid-19 and against transmitting it.

“With Delta, we’re facing an even more formidable foe,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC. “The virus has adapted to become twice as infectious, which means we need to double down on protection, including masks. But the good news is vaccines are still doing their job — keeping people out of hospitals and the morgue.”

Keep in mind: Even if you’re vaccinated, you could catch Covid. A new study of breakthrough cases found most were mild or asymptomatic, but about 19% of them developed “long covid,” symptoms like fatigue and loss of smell that persisted beyond six weeks.

A No-Excuses Guide to Wearing and Caring for Face Masks

We’ll be wearing masks for a while. Everything you need to know about this new fixture in our lives.

What else can I do to protect myself and my loved ones?

The advice has not changed for many months: Layers. Upon layers. Upon layers. To refresh:

  • Mask up.

  • Get vaccinated.

  • Avoid crowds.

  • Limit the amount of time you spend around other people — 10 minutes at the grocery story is less risky than 20 minutes, other things being equal.

  • Open windows and otherwise improve ventilation.

  • Upgrade AC filters to HEPA quality or virus-trapping ratings.

No single protective layer is 100% effective, but combining them affords the highest level of safety.

Air Purifiers, Air Filters, and the Best DIY Hacks to Reduce the Coronavirus Risk

How to clear the air in your home to protect against airborne Covid-19 transmission


Can children catch Covid-19 and pass the disease to others?

Absolutely. While children usually have milder symptoms and have lower death rates, they can catch Covid-19 and transmit the virus, and they can die from the disease. Health experts recommend all students, teachers and staff wear masks during in-person schooling.

“As a parent myself of 3 kids, I understand the sentiments of frustrated parents and what the Delta variant means for in-person school openings,” says Syra Madad, DHSc, an infectious disease epidemiologist with NYC Health + Hospitals. “The most important step is to ensure all those around our kids are vaccinated and that we consistently apply risk reduction measures.”

Will the coronavirus keep evolving?

Yes, so long as it’s spreading — so long as we humans allow it to keep spreading — it will continue to morph. “The virus will likely become more transmissible, because this is what viruses do, they evolve, they change over time,” says Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist with the World Health Organization.

What’s the bottom line?

“Yeah [the] Delta variant is bad. Like really bad,” says Jha, the Brown University physician. However he adds: “Our vaccines are good. Like really good. Breakthrough infections happen. Sometimes they may spread to others. But if enough people get the shot the pandemic does come to an end.”