Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sunday Reading

Enough With The Unvaccinated — Leonard Pitts, Jr.

We were almost there.

That’s the most frustrating thing about the most recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that even those who are fully vaccinated against the disease should return to wearing masks indoors in cities that are COVID-19 hot spots. It was only two months ago the CDC said we could put our masks away.

We were this close to getting this thing under control, to seeing one another smile, to cookouts, to visiting grandpa, to signing off Zoom, to normal. Now we see it all slipping away as inexorably as the tide going out. We return to masking up, hiding our faces like bank robbers.

Some of us are vexed with the CDC over its shifting guidelines, but you won’t get an amen from this corner. Scientists have to follow science, and if this is where the science leads, so be it. No, if you’re looking to apportion blame, blame the delta variant. And blame, too, those people who refused to wear masks or be vaccinated, and the public officials who seconded them. Blame the ones who said these were matters of “personal choice.” As if personal choice supersedes public interest.

And how often have we seen news stories about those same people, newly repentant and freshly contrite, their minds changed after coming nose to nose with their own mortality, courtesy of COVID?

“I thought it was a joke,” an Arkansas man named Lamonte Boyd recently told CBS News.

“I wish I could go back in time,” a Missouri man named Louie Michael told a local Fox affiliate.

“Having seen this up close and personal I’d encourage ALL of you to put politics and other concerns aside and get it,” a man named Mark Valentine declared on Facebook. Like his brother, Phil, a conservative radio host and vaccine skeptic in Tennessee, Mark was unvaccinated. At this writing, Phil is on a ventilator in critical condition, and Mark has changed his mind.

There is an old Southern expression: A hard head makes a soft behind. Translation: Your stubborn defiance will get you spanked.

Well, those people have been well and truly spanked. But the rest of us are being spanked, too. Falling infection numbers have hooked a U-turn. We face the prospect of returning to isolation, to ordering in and watching talk shows produced in spare rooms. One feels like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part 3” — “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

As has often been noted in this space, human beings are not wired to change their minds. To the contrary, 40 years of behavioral-sciences research tells us that when bad information gets stuck in human brains, it tends to stay there.

But the bad information now impeding vaccinations — i.e., they contain tracking devices, they were manufactured too quickly, it’s all a government hoax — is a literal matter of life and death. So let’s stop asking nicely. Let’s impose coercive measures. Just as children can’t go to school without proof of vaccination, adults shouldn’t be able to bank, shop or enter public gatherings without same.

Yes, that would be a drastic step. It would likely lead to a repeat of last year’s anti-mask unrest. Remember the siege of the Michigan statehouse? Remember the confrontations in restaurants and stores? It was not pleasant, and this go-round would likely be worse. But what other option do we have?

You do not endanger the lives of the many to humor the misconceptions of the few. They can’t or won’t change their minds. It’s time to recognize that.

And do it for them.

Who Knows Better? — The Miami Herald editorial on Gov. DeSantis vs. the local school boards on dealing with the pandemic.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho vowed to be guided by “science, by medical experts and public health experts” before deciding on a mask mandate for the next school year.

Good. That’s what you’d expect from the leader of Florida’s largest school district in a county with high transmission rates in a state where COVID-19 is running rampant.

However, Gov. DeSantis is forcing Carvalho and other school-district leaders to make these decisions based on the governor’s interpretation of public health, which means we’re all in trouble.

Friday, DeSantis signed an executive order that essentially bans school mask mandates, prohibiting districts from violating “parents’ right . . . to make health decisions for their minor children.”

School boards that dare to cross the governor can lose state funding. In other words, the governor is willing to knee-cap school districts in order to make his constituents deathly ill.

Just hours before DeSantis’ announcement, Carvalho told the Herald Editorial Board he would consult with the district’s medical task force, which will meet before school starts on Aug. 23. He will also look at what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended. Carvalho previously had said masks would be optional, but that was in late June, before Florida became the pandemic’s epicenter thanks to the highly transmissible delta variant.

An internal CDC document obtained by the Washington Post, based on still-unpublished data, states delta might lead to more serious illness and that it’s as contagious as chickenpox and more contagious than the Ebola virus or common colds. That prompted the federal agency to advise fully vaccinated people to go back to wearing masks indoors.

The CDC and the Academy of Pediatrics also reached a consensus: Schools should be open, and universal masking is recommended for children older than 2 “because a significant portion of the student population [under the age of 12] is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated,” the Academy of Pediatrics wrote in a July 9 advisory.

Carvalho said it’s “probably a fairly accurate prediction” that the task force would end up recommending a mask mandate. Among the experts advising Carvalho is U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a Miami Palmetto Senior High graduate.

“We have been a district that’s well informed by science, by medical experts and public health experts and that will not change under my leadership,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. “The CDC has opined, the American Academy of Pediatrics has opined and the [Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics] has opined as well. And, you know, they all agree in terms of protected and preventive measures.”

If only school districts could base their decisions on the needs of their communities, by looking at infection rates in their back yards instead of being forced to follow an irresponsible blanket state policy that applies anywhere from rural to urban counties.

“I’ve been very clear I believe that generalized pronouncements via executive order, or state statute, that basically don’t differentiate between conditions — which may vary significantly from South Florida, Central Florida, the Panhandle — that don’t take into account how different those conditions may be and the impacts they may have, may not necessarily be in the best interest of our communities,” Carvalho said.

DeSantis’ order is nothing more than a governor throwing a tantrum after the Broward County School Board approved a mask mandate this week, defying his threats of taking legislative action. If only he showed the same vigor to encourage more people to get vaccinated as he does for keeping them maskless.

The order will send districts scrambling to figure out how to please the governor while protecting the health of students and staff.

“In light of the release of the Executive Order, we certainly hope to be able to craft protocols that ensure full funding of our children’s education, while simultaneously protecting their and their teachers’ health and well-being,” Carvalho said in a statement released Saturday.

Local control makes sense, right? Well, not in Florida.

DeSantis’ reaction to the pandemic has gone from vowing to protect the economy against shutdowns to making a mockery of a virus that’s killing Floridians (38,900 and counting). At least he says vaccines are effective, which is way more than what some Republicans will dare to profess.

At a recent speaking engagement in Utah, DeSantis made fun of mask wearing. He opened up his speech at the American Legislative Exchange Council by looking at a mostly unmasked crowd and saying:

“Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” our governor asked. “I don’t see you complying,” Politico reported.

His Friday announcement happened at a Cape Coral restaurant where — surprise!— most people were not wearing masks, the Sun Sentinel reported. That’s typical fashion for a governor who sells campaign drink koozies and T-shirts emblazoned with “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

DeSantis doesn’t have to like masks and he can tour the country all he wants mocking them.

But playing off parents’ rights against the right of Floridians to live in good health will likely hurt the very people whom he’s working hard to accommodate — to say nothing of the rest of us.

Doonesbury — Save the date.

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