By BRIAN A. HOWEY

MICHIGAN CITY – Hoosiers began the summer of 2021 in an almost giddy mood after Gov. Eric Holcomb’s “light at the end of the tunnel” address at the end of March. There was the miracle COVID-19 vaccine, which promised to reopen schools, restaurants and stadiums. ICU nurses and doctors could finally take a breather. Jobs were sure to follow.

That was the Memorial Day vibe.

And then there was President Biden’s promise of a Fourth of July COVID independence, with the U.S. reaching 70% vaccinated, supposedly on the brink of herd immunity.

On Labor Day, the stark reality has settled in. Here in Indiana, 50% of the population has refused the vaccine. Hospital ICUs are bulging, with 31.4% of ICU beds occupied by an overwhelming majority of unvaccinated Hoosiers. The ICU bed availability stood at 21.5% with 67.2% of ventilators available while hospitalizations stood at 2,518 on Monday.

The United States’ seven-day average of new COVID cases Monday (137,270 daily) dwarfs the average seen on Labor Day of 2020 (39,355 daily), according to Johns Hopkins University data. “We have 75 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on Sunday. “If we get the overwhelming majority of (these people) vaccinated, we could turn this around even as we go into the cooler weather of the fall.”

“Here’s the important thing: Everyone that I’m hospitalizing is not vaccinated,” Dr. Megan Ranney, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean at Brown University’s school of public health, told CNN. “This is a disease of the unvaccinated right now.”

If there is demonstrable anger, it has shifted among the vaccinated, who now see the 50% recalcitrant Hoosiers as gumming up the recovery. While West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis took political heat for calling the unvaccinated “assholes” earlier this summer, he was speaking for at least half the adults in the state. This could have profound political ramifications in 2022 and 2024.

The anti-vaccine percentage of the population are now pressing school boards and county commissioners to resist mask and vaccine mandates, even as the IndyStar estimated that 15,000 Indiana students have been forced into quarantine protocols, while the state reported at least 5,000 cases last week.

Gov. Holcomb firmly believes the control of the COVID-19 pandemic now lies in the hands of local governments and school boards, saying at a press conference on Sept. 1, “We heard loud and clear from locals they wanted this to be a locally mandated, fully supported. It’s regrettable that so many of our kids are out of the classroom on any given one day. It’s not just regrettable, it’s avoidable.

“And to the skeptics, to the unbelievers and deniers, I would just plead to look at the facts, to look at the numerical data that shows we can all stay safe if you get vaccinated,” said Holcomb, who has not followed “zombie Trump governors” such as Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida who have taken an anti-conservative position of having the state overrule local school boards and county officials advocating masking and other mandates. But Holcomb hasn’t used his political approval and command of the bully pulpit to barnstorm the state urging the unprotected to vaccinate, suggesting his approval is wide, but not deep.

According to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the need for pandemic success needs to be redefined. “It is really important that we convey that success does not equal no cases,” Murthy told Politico. “Success looks like very few people in the hospital and very few dying.”

The American economy stumbled with only 235,000 new jobs created in August. According to the New York Times, “The softness was most apparent in lower-paid industries in which employees deal with customers face to face, like restaurants, bars, stores and hotels. What’s more, the pace slowed just before federally funded unemployment benefits expired for 7.5 million Americans and as the dividends from a government stimulus package enacted early in the year were fading, hampering growth.”

According to the Real Clear Politics composite polling, just 30.1% believe America is headed in the right direction, compared to 60.6% who see it on the wrong track.

President Biden’s approval had declined to a RCP composite of 46.4% approving and 49.2% disapproving. Donald Trump is perceived even worse, at 41.3% approving and 52% disapproving. Congressional approval stood at 28.5% compared to 60.3% disapproving. Congressional leader approval stood at 34% for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 32% for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 21.7% for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and 20.5% for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Beyond the pandemic, Americans watched with approval as President Biden decided to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but with much disapproval in the way it was handled. A Pew Research Poll in late August revealed that 54% of U.S. adults say the decision to withdraw troops from the country was the right one, while 42% say it was wrong, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Aug. 23-29. It found that 69% of the public say the United States mostly failed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan. The public was broadly critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, with 26% saying it had done an excellent or good job; 29% say the administration has done an only fair job and 42% say it has done a poor job.

On the policy front, President Biden and congressional Democrats will seek to navigate the congressional demolition derby in the coming two months, attempting to pass an ambitious reengineering of the American social safety net with tiny House and Senate majorities and the prospects of no Republican support. If Democrats fail to pass the $3.5 trillion budget and $1 trillion infrastructure bill, they will enter the mid-term cycle with little to show for their efforts in the scant majority.

As September began, a new Texas abortion reform law that ends a woman’s right to the procedure after nine weeks, shifted that long-simmering issue into the fore. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to allow the law to proceed appears to have laid the foundation for the demise of Roe v. Wade later this fall, as well as a rekindled political fault line for the 2022 mid-terms.

According to a recent Pew Research poll, just 36% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they can trust government, compared with 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaners.

As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, comes into focus later this week, an AP/NORC Center Poll, Americans are balking on “intrusive government surveillance,” with just 27% who favor the concept while 46% oppose. In an AP-NORC poll conducted a decade ago, more favored than opposed the practice, 47% to 30%.