For most of August, my partner and I cruised the Danube and Rhine Rivers. We began our trip at SeaTac, where we had to show proof of full vaccination before boarding, and we wore masks for the entire 20 hour-flight to Bucharest, Romania.

At no time did we feel that our freedom had been curtailed. Quite the contrary, we were thrilled that these precautions had given us the freedom to travel safely for the first time in 16 months. The freedom to infect others is simply a license to endanger public health and let people die.

At our Bucharest hotel, we took our first COVID-19 tests, and we were tested every morning for the entire cruise. One couple tested positive, and they were not allowed to board the ship the next day. We assumed that they were put in quarantine, and we learned nothing more about their fate.

We were taking the rapid antigen tests, which are now 90 percent accurate. We were required to spit in a tube, and the results were known in time for our morning excursions. One new guest, boarding in Budapest, somehow didn’t understand that it was salvia that was supposed to be put in the tube!

Mask wearing was required on the ship, and at every stop we were asked to don them for any indoor visit. When we arrived in Germany, we were issued the nation’s official N-95 masks, the indoor wearing of which was strictly enforced. In Austria and Germany, we also experienced contact tracing for the first time.

As far as I can ascertain, every European nation except Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy and Belarus still has an indoor mask mandate. All except Belarus are almost infection free, but Sweden, resisting pandemic restrictions until a partial lock-down in September 2020, has had a poor pandemic record. With 38 percent of the population of the five Nordic countries, Sweden has reported 76 percent of the covid deaths.

In the last two months, Western European mask and vaccine mandates have produced a stark contrast of peak covid deaths with 2,536 in the U.S. versus Denmark (44), Portugal (78), Belgium (89), the Netherlands (131), and Spain (357). Numbers are adjusted for population.

Vaccine mandates in Europe have boosted the average participation rate to 70 percent now. In Portugal 86 percent are now fully vaccinated, and, in a country of 10.2 million, peak COVID-19 cases have dropped from 1,432 on Jan. 28 to 291 on Oct. 18. A low American vaccination rate of 56 percent led to 196,841 new cases on Aug. 27.

Over 80 percent of Italians are now fully vaccinated and proof of one jab is required for entering any business or workplace. There have been protests, but not anything at all comparable to the U.S. Cases in Italy topped out at 41,194 on Nov. 13 and dropped to 1,595 cases and nine deaths on Oct. 18.

I’ve done a calculation comparing these Northeastern states (Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine) with 36 million people to 37 million Southerners (Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Lousisiana). Approaching European numbers, the former have an average 65 percent vaccination rate, while the latter have averaged 48 percent.

At the highest point in each state in the last two months these red states reported 43,629 cases while the blues had only 10,754. On Sept. 13, Tennessee alone registered 11,977 cases. In the Lancet medical journal, researchers have estimated that 22,000 more lives could have been saved if Texas and Florida had followed the covid protocol of the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts, as some on the right call it.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “about 90,000 more Americans likely died from June through September for failure to get vaccinated.” The estimated toll for September alone was 49,000 more casualties. The study also found that, during this period, the disease was also the leading cause of death for the 35-54 age range — second leading cause for all ages.

In his inaugural address Donald Trump spoke about “American carnage,” even though violent crime rates fell to their lowest under Obama. The real slaughter was the hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths because of the negligence of Trump and his allies.

Gier is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. Email him at

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