ESTRICH: Cracks in the foundation


COVID-19 has all but disappeared from California. At this writing, our positivity rate — the percentage of tests that are coming back positive — is 1.2%.

California has gone from being one of the worst places in the nation for COVID-19 to being the best. The joke is that everyone who could get COVID already got it. The reality is that California has been helped by the absence of a strong anti-vax movement in the state.

But there are cracks in the rosy picture.

COVID has laid bare the race gap, the class gap, the education gap and the employment gap, along with the digital divide and the partisan divide in this country. The cracks in our foundation have been painfully clear, whether you are measuring the rates of infection, the mortality rates or the rates of vaccinations. Pick your favorite; the numbers will show that educated middle- and upper-income white people were less likely to get COVID and 3 or 4 times less likely to die if they were to get it.

The vaccine is free in America. The big vaccination sites in Los Angeles County were nowhere near West LA or Beverly Hills or Sherman Oaks, where white people are the majority. There are no mobile vans nearby, no community centers offering vaccines, no outreach efforts in Brentwood, O.J. Simpson’s old stomping ground. It doesn’t matter. A free vaccine and a convenient location haven’t been enough to close the huge gaps between whites and Hispanics and Blacks.

But the situation at home simply cannot be compared to what we are seeing in the rest of the world.

There is no bigger gap right now than the gap between us and them, between the United States, where vaccines are sitting in freezers, and India, where it has been reported that only 2% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Part of the blame is being placed squarely on the government. The Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. Yet until the current emergency, the government had only ordered enough vaccines for some 4% of the population.

But India is hardly the only country in trouble, and it has more resources to rely on than most. Europe is struggling. The Middle East is suffering. And in most of Africa, vaccination rates are in the single digits.

In Kenya, as of May, the vaccination rate is less than 2%, and in South Africa, which has been hit hard, it was even lower. The most optimistic estimates from the U.N.-backed COVAX program are that 60% of all Africans will be vaccinated in one year from June.

Our economy is supposed to be fully “open” this June. But no one is talking about full-blown herd immunity anymore. So what do we do about the rest of the world?

We banned the flights from China. Flights from India are being banned. Do we ban flights from South Africa? How about flights from Brazil and Argentina, both of which are reeling from COVID outbreaks, far outstripping the availability of vaccines? What about Mexico, to where many Americans have been flocking for vacation? What’s to stop unvaccinated Americans from bringing back the virus? What’s to stop unvaccinated Mexicans from crossing the border to work? Should we all start visiting our enemies in Asia instead of our friends in Europe?

Our relationship with the rest of the world has been complicated enough without COVID. Much of the world depends on our tourist dollars. Many Americans are ready to go — somewhere. The world may be ready to open its doors to us, but are we ready to open our doors to the world?

Pandemics are earthquakes of a global proportion.

Cracks get bigger when the earth moves, as anyone from California can tell you.