FiveThirtyEight: “When the delta variant swept through the Southern U.S. in summer 2021, the hot spots were easy enough to see. Huge swaths of red in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama swelled on COVID-19 tracker maps, like stop lights warning travelers to avoid the region. The culprit also seemed straightforward: Low vaccination rates in conservative communities. The Biden administration fueled this perception by calling COVID-19 a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” framing the crisis — incorrectly, according to some experts — as a localized problem that could be solved if enough Republicans simply got their shots. That era was easy to conceptualize compared to our current quagmire. Now, thanks to the omicron variant, hot spots are everywhere. The first states to see rising cases were also those with high vaccination rates, including Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. It’s hard to call this a pandemic of the unvaccinated when one in every 30 New York City residents was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the space of a single week during the peak of the city’s omicron surge, and over 80 percent of adults in the city are fully vaccinated. The new, omicron-drenched landscape means we can no longer find hot spots just by looking at a map. In fact, the most important hot spots are less visible: They’re among the people most vulnerable to severe disease and in the settings that are capable of shutting down society when outbreaks swell. When COVID-19 is everywhere, visualizing data can only tell you so much. For example, a COVID-19 map that visualizes entire counties or states obscures the vulnerable populations within. Vaccination rates for these larger areas can be misleading, said Enrique Neblett, a professor of health behavior at the University of Michigan. Highly vaccinated states still have large pockets of unvaccinated people, who are much less protected from severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Instead of thinking about which states are being affected most, think about who is most vulnerable. In other words, start with the elderly. When it comes to risk of severe COVID-19, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are among the most dangerous settings. Nursing-home residents were among the first in line for vaccines last winter, but immunity has now waned for vulnerable seniors. Booster shot intake has been slow and uneven, too: As of mid-December, the share of nursing home residents fully vaccinated and boosted ranged from 70 percent in Vermont to just 17 percent in Arizona, according to AARP…”