A day of reckoning shows America's pandemic battle is sliding backward
If Joe Biden's July Fourth fireworks marked a moment to declare the darkest days of the pandemic over, Monday was the day when reality dawned that the nation's fight against Covid-19 is quickly sliding back in the wrong direction.
A hybrid version of American life that will pass for normality for the foreseeable future is coming into view, in which most of the vaccinated live and many of those who refuse their shots get sick or die.
In a moment of stark symbolism, new schools guidance released Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing dashed hopes that kids robbed of a chunk of their childhoods by Covid-19 could go back to carefree schooldays this fall. The prospect of millions of youngsters over 2-years-old in face coverings in class epitomized how the nation is still under siege from the virus. It's also likely to unleash yet another political culture war in some GOP states that abhor masking and have banned schools from seeking to protect the vulnerable that way.
In another shock to the national psyche on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points in its biggest drop of the year as alarm over virulent Delta variant infections hammered travel, leisure and energy stocks that had been juiced by the idea of a summer of freedom.
And at the same time, eyes were drawn toward Tokyo, where more worries loom. So often, the Olympics forge cathartic national unity thanks to athletes inspired to go faster, higher, stronger. Such a moment has rarely been so needed. But these Games are unlikely to offer that feeling of escape, as they often do -- a sheen of reflected glory for the White House.
Instead, first lady Jill Biden's trip to Japan later this week is likely to underscore the risk that this Olympic Games could be defined by the ongoing pandemic, as positive tests cloud Friday's opening ceremony -- including one by a young US gymnast. Still, the fact that the greatest sporting show on Earth will go on -- without crowds -- represents another moment of humanity seeking a semblance of recognizable life with the pandemic still raging.
All these developments, in many cases, represented a realization that hopes that the virus would be in the rearview mirror this summer were unfounded and that some kind of new national effort is warranted.
"If we don't get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you're going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert, told CNN's Kate Bolduan on Monday.