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Why Puerto Rico Leads The U.s. In Covid Vaccine Rate — And What States Can Learn

Why Puerto Rico Leads The U.s. In Covid Vaccine Rate — And What States Can Learn

“There was so much concern with, when the pandemic started, that we have such a fragile health care system,” she told NPR’s Audie Cornish on All Things Considered.
Which U.S. state has the lowest COVID-19 rate right now?

It’s in Puerto Rico, where more than 73% of the total population is fully vaccinated. The U.S. national average is just over 57%.

The high vaccination rate stands in contrast to Puerto Rico’s initial vulnerability to the coronavirus. Four years after Hurricane Maria destroyed the electricity grid, power outages still occur regularly. Many municipalities face a shortage of health care facilities and workers.

The U.S. territory responded with some of the strictest pandemic measures in the country, including nonessential-business closures, stay-at-home orders and mask mandates.

Mónica Feliú-Mójer, the director of communications and science outreach for the nonprofit organization Ciencia Puerto Rico, says that people responded pretty well to the measures.

It’s not California, home of America’s strictest mask and vaccine requirements. Nor is it Vermont, even though 71 percent of residents there have been fully inoculated — the most in the country.

No, the state with the fewest daily COVID cases per capita is the same one that recently had more than any other: Florida.

It’s been quite the reversal. In mid-August, Florida was averaging about 25,000 new cases a day, or about 116 for every 100,000 residents. That was the worst rate in the U.S. — and one of the worst in the world. Awash in the hypercontagious Delta variant, the Sunshine State became one of the epicenters of the global pandemic.
During the past two months, however, Florida’s daily average has plummeted by more than 90 percent, to about 1,700 cases, or eight for every 100,000 residents. That’s roughly half of California’s current COVID rate and less than a quarter of Vermont’s. Hawaii (with nine cases for every 100,000 residents) is the only other state in single digits.

But don’t congratulate Florida just yet.

Like everything else about America’s COVID ordeal, the state’s declining infection numbers are being turned into political talking points. Conservatives on Twitter and Fox News now claim that Florida’s turnaround vindicates the hands-off policies of Republican Gov. (and likely 2024 presidential hopeful) Ron DeSantis, who spent his summer prohibiting local schools, businesses and governments from trying to minimize transmission by requiring masks or vaccination while emphasizing costly post-infection treatments such as monoclonal antibodies instead.

“DeSantis critics and the mainstream media remain quiet as Florida’s COVID numbers drop,” read a recent headline on Newsmax, a right-wing site.

“Well it’s official, Florida currently has the LOWEST per capita COVID cases among the contiguous 48 states,” Steven Krakauer, executive producer of “The Megyn Kelly Show,” tweeted last week. “Looking forward to the next batch of DeSantis media coverage that’s sure to be coming soon…”

Patrick Lane was the recipient of the Chosen Coug Award, given to a parent or family member who made a positive impact on their student’s WSU experience. Katie wrote the nomination essay on her phone while planning his funeral.

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With Patrick’s parents watching from WSU president Kirk Schulz’s suite, the timing of the presentation wasn’t lost on Katie. She, like just about everyone in the stadium, knew that WSU coach Nick Rolovich — standing nearby on the sideline — faced an Oct. 18 deadline to become compliant with the state’s vaccine mandate or risk termination. Rolovich, the state’s highest-paid employee at roughly $3 million annually, was seeking a religious exemption to avoid getting vaccinated.

“I definitely got pretty emotional toward the end of the announcement just because I did start to realize like, ‘Oh my God, he’s right over there. He can hear what’s going on right now,'” Lane said of Rolovich. “But this isn’t going to change his mind, and that hurt because my dad was a healthy guy and he didn’t deserve to die — nobody deserves to die from this.”

The presentation took place during a short break in the second quarter during WSU’s game against Stanford. As words from Katie’s essay were read over the PA system, a picture of her with her dad was shown on the video board and the crowd was informed of how he died.

Like Rolovich, Patrick Lane was hesitant to get vaccinated. He wasn’t against vaccines, his daughter said, but despite pleas from her to get vaccinated, he told her he felt safest waiting for full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full FDA approval on Aug. 23, three days after he had tested positive. On his deathbed, he told his wife via FaceTime he didn’t want to die and that he should have gotten vaccinated.

Katie Lane’s on-field moment may not have resonated broadly during an unprecedented week in Pullman, but it underscored the message the university wanted to send to the fans inside the stadium. For months, Rolovich’s unwillingness to get vaccinated sent the opposite message, which became a source of embarrassment for many faculty members.

Less than two hours after Lane’s presentation, the Cougars came back to beat Stanford 34-31 for their third straight victory. Players doused Rolovich in Gatorade, and those who spoke publicly made it clear they wanted him to stay.

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