Thursday, December 1, 2022

Live Free And Die

The title co-opts the motto of New Hampshire as seen on their license plates — Live Free or Die — because Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has adopted the campaign meme of his state being the state where freedom really lives if you don’t mind dying for it.  And the way he dealt with Covid-19 proves that.

Charlie Pierce:

Presumably, they all sat witness at hospitals and bedsides. Presumably, they all made the arrangements and attended the funerals and laughed over the cold cuts and bulky rolls, and the beer and whiskey afterwards. Presumably, they all still mourn. But did any of them learn anything? Did any of them learn anything that they subsequently put into practice? Who were these people anyway, and what kind of monster did you have to be to lead them on? Who lives through a pandemic and makes war on the cures?

In September, the National Bureau of Economic Research attempted to answer all of these questions. And the answers remain, well, baffling even as Florida Gov. Ronald DeSantis (to name only one example) runs for president on the basis of his “highly successful” COVID policies, which held the butcher’s bill in that state to a mere 82,875.

We estimate substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available in our study states. Overall, the excess death rate for Republicans was 5.4 percentage points (pp), or 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democrats. Post-vaccines, the excess death rate gap between Republicans and Democrats widened from 1.6 pp (22% of the Democrat excess death rate) to 10.4 pp (153% of the Democrat excess death rate). The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available.

Then there was this finding, which was both predictable and utterly bizarre:

Overall, our results suggest that political party affiliation only became a substantial risk factor in Ohio and Florida after vaccines were widely available.

In other words, within this particular demographic slice of our fellow citizens, after the arrival of the vaccines that protected us from the pandemic, the pandemic got…worse, and political affiliation was a contributing factor. I’m not sure I ever want to meet anyone whose mind is not blown by this fact. But I’m damn sure not voting for a guy whose platform is built on pride in his “I was brave enough to do nothing” performance in the face of a once-a-century public health emergency.

As Philip Bump noted in the Washington Post last year:

Nearly 1.2 million residents of the Sunshine State contracted the coronavirus over those three months, nearly a third of the total the state has seen since the pandemic began in February 2020. More than 13,000 Floridians died as the virus whipped across the state, more than 17 percent of the deaths the country saw during that period despite Florida having only 6.5 percent of the country’s population. The good news is that the surge has abated. And for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), that somehow means that it’s time to boast about what a good job the state has done. “We’ve seen huge declines,” DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday. “Right now, Florida has the lowest covid-infection rate — case rate and infection rate of covidestim — in the country.” Obviously “right now” is doing a lot of work there.

And it’s going to have a rough couple of years, too.

It’s pretty clear that Ron DeSantis would literally crawl over dead bodies to win an election.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

When Public Health Becomes Political

There’s more to the lifting of the mask mandate by a judge in Tampa than concerns about spreading the virus.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended its public transportation mask mandate. Despite the extension, on Monday, news broke that a federal judge in Florida struck down the mandate that’s been in effect for 14 months, calling it “unlawful.” The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit filed in 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, which has a history of challenging mandates during the pandemic.

This means that the federal order is no longer in effect, and citizens are no longer required to wear masks on public transportation — at least, according to federal guidelines. (Local laws and businesses’ individual rules can supersede that.) In airports, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will, until further notice, no longer enforce the mask mandate.

Some airline companies may choose to issue company-wide mask requirements, similar to what happened under the Trump Administration in 2020. However, not many are choosing to do so. Airlines such as Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Alaska Air said they would make mask-wearing optional at U.S. airports and on domestic flights, following the reversal. Uber and Lyft said riders can keep their masks off if they want, and Amtrak said Monday evening that masks are no longer required for riders.

The news comes at a time when the BA.2 variant of the coronavirus, which research has shown to be more transmissible than BA.1, is the dominant strain in the U.S. — and, as a result, COVID-19 cases are on a slow rise. However, hospitalizations and deaths still remain low.

Yet the ruling by this federal judge is not a judgment on the effectiveness of masking, but rather a challenge to the notion that the CDC has the authority to implement a health mandate in a public health crisis in the first place. In the 59-page ruling, the judge argues that the public health agency only has the authority to issue regulations related to “sanitation,” which the judge interpreted to mean “measures that clean something.”

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” the judge argued. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”

The judge compared the effects of the mandate to “detention and quarantine,” noting that travelers who did not comply were “forcibly removed from their airplane seats, denied board at the bus steps, and turned away at the train station doors.”

“As a result, the Mask Mandate is best understood not as sanitation, but as an exercise of the CDC’s power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite concerns that they may spread a communicable disease (and to detain or partially quarantine those who refuse),” the judge wrote. “But the power to conditionally release and detain is ordinarily limited to individuals entering the United States from a foreign country.”

The judge also argued the mandate was illegal because the CDC didn’t seek public notice and comment on the policy.

However, public health experts disagree with the judge’s interpretation and argue that the CDC does have the authority to implement a mask mandate on public transportation. Some believe the move is strictly political, and worry about what precedent this ruling might set.

“In my mind, the ruling itself is an assault on public health; it’s very one-sided,” Leonard Marcus, co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University’s Harvard School of Public Health, told Salon. “I see this more as a political act than a real, careful assessment of public health.”

Notably, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle — who wrote the ruling — was appointed by former President Trump.

William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells Salon, agreed that the justification was more “legal” than a “public health” one.

“It seemed a very narrow, a very, very, narrow and stretched rationale, at least, to this doctor who’s interested in public health,” Scaffner told Salon. “And I found that unfortunate.”

Marcus said he hopes that the White House appeals this ruling.

“I do hope that the White House will appeal it in due time,” Marcus said. “Simply because I think it’s important to establish that the CDC, for all of our benefit, has this authority and should exercise the authority, in the middle of a public health emergency.”

It’s unclear if the reversal of the mandate will be temporary or not, but Biden administration officials said they are looking into next steps.

“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps,” the Biden administration said Monday night. “In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.”

As of this morning, the White House says it will ask the Justice Department to appeal the ruling if the CDC asks it to.  But I think the chances are unlikely; once the masks are off, it’s going to be very hard to get them back on again.

Reading the judge’s justifications in her ruling, it sounds like she’s one step away from recommending horse-paste and bleach, and her logic about the CDC’s role in public health is, to be polite, bonkers.  The fact that she was appointed in the last gasps of the Trump administration and rated as “not qualified” by the ABA gives a bit more lift to the theory that this ruling is based more in politics and owning the libs than it is in stemming the rising tide of a pandemic.

Yes, we’re all tired of wearing masks.  I’ve got three or four in my bag that I take to work.  They are in the center console of both cars.  I’m taking a supply of masks with me when I travel this week.  I have one on a cord that I wear around my neck along with my ID badge, and I predict that masks, used or otherwise, will be come the symbol of the decade long after this phase is over.

Are they effective in keeping us healthy?  The evidence would indicate they are.  But they’re not effective when used as a political weapon, and that’s a disease we’re never going to get over.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Unmasked

From the Washington Post:

Federal officials stopped enforcement of a federal mask mandate Monday intransportation settings after a federal judge struck down the requirement, raising public health concerns and prompting several airlines to announce that face coverings are optional on domestic flights.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the Middle District of Florida said the mandate exceeds the statutory authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials last week had extended the mask mandate for commercial flights and in other settings, including on buses, ferries and subways, until at least May 3.

[…]

Airlines began announcing they were dropping the requirement, with some caveats for international destinations. In a statement, United Airlines said that “effective immediately, masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s mask requirements) or at U.S. airports.”

I’m sure a lot of people are happy to see the mandate go away, but frankly I’d rather have the removal come at the behest of medical advisors saying that it was no longer necessary, not from a Trump-appointed judge.  And I still have a supply of masks that I will take with me when I go to Kansas later this week; Covid-19 infections from the new variant are on the rise.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

A Glimmer Of Hope

From the New York Times:

The number of new Covid-19 cases in New York City rose more than twentyfold in December. In the past few days, it has flattened.

In both New Jersey and Maryland, the number of new cases has fallen slightly this week. In several major cities, the number is also showing signs of leveling off.

In Boston, the amount of the Covid virus detected in wastewater, which has been a leading indicator of case trends in the past, has plunged by about 40 percent since its peak just after Jan. 1.

“We really try not to ever make any predictions about this virus, because it always throws us for a loop,” Dr. Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, told GBH News. “But at least the wastewater is suggesting a steep decline, and so we hope that means cases will decline steeply as well, and then hospitalizations and deaths will follow.”

As Doron suggested, it’s too early to be confident that the Omicron wave has peaked even in areas with encouraging data — which tend to be the places where Omicron first arrived in the U.S. But there is good reason to consider that the most likely scenario. “Looks like we may be cresting over that peak,” Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said this week.

(Look up cases for your county here.)

A huge surge in cases that lasts for about one month, followed by a rapid decline, would be consistent with the experience in some places where Omicron arrived earlier than in the U.S. In South Africa, new daily cases have fallen by about 70 percent from the mid-December peak. The chart showing South Africa’s recent trend looks like a skinny, upside-down letter V.

For the record, here’s where it stands in Miami-Dade County.

We have seen this happen before with earlier variations of the disease: last summer it seemed like we’d gotten past the worst, only to have Delta and then Omicron come roaring back.  You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to understand that viruses evolve; e.g. the flu, which requires a new vaccine every year, or the common cold, which changes each time you get one.  We can’t let our guard down.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Testing, Testing

From the Miami Herald editorial page:

Thousands of people in Miami-Dade lined up at their nearest local library on Monday morning.

The libraries were giving away the latest bestsellers — not books this time, but free at-home COVID-19 test kits. And by the end of the day, about 90,000 tests had been distributed. It was the county’s next smart move to try to control the spread of omicron. By 9:30 a.m., it appeared most library branches were out of their tests kits.

It’s a sign of the times. Omicron has dragged us back to the testing lines of more than a year ago, before the first vaccines emerged. It’s like starting all over.

This fast-moving variant’s impact on the community differs from the delta variant, which proved to be a ruthless killer of the unvaccinated.

Omicron shows up with flu-like symptoms that spread incredibly fast, from restaurant staffs, to football players, to airline workers. Many more people appear to be positive, but fewer will die — maybe. And the unkindest cut? Omicron has come after the vaxxed and boosted.

The need for testing, which had almost disappeared before Thanksgiving, is back in full force. The testing kits offer an alternative to the long lines that again snake around places like Tropical Park, as local pharmacies have also sold out.

Libraries became distribution centers. On Monday, Coconut Grove Branch Library handed out its supply of tests kits before the library was set to open at 9:30 a.m., the Miami Herald reported.

At the busy West Kendall Regional Library, a long line of about 150 people stretched from the front door to the sidewalk. Kits were quickly depleted.

We ask Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to keep the test kits coming — if they can be found. She’s consistently taken the lead in keeping the community safe, despite the challenging headwinds blowing in from Tallahassee.

But we also urge President Joe Biden to quickly fulfill his promise, made just before Christmas, that the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free of charge for people to use at home.

But that won’t happen tomorrow, and we commend the county for handing out test kits when they’re most needed.

A week from now the schools will have re-opened.  My school is trying to order test kits.  We shall see what happens, knowing that we can’t count on the state to do anything; they’re too busy fighting for “freedom.”

Thursday, December 16, 2021

800,000

We’ve passed 800,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S.

Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 800,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database, as the pandemic neared the end of a second year and as known virus cases in this country rose above 50 million.

The new death toll — the highest known number of any country — comes a year after vaccines against the coronavirus began rolling out in the United States. It also comes at a tenuous moment in the pandemic: Cases are rising once again, hospitals in some parts of the country are stretched to their limits with Covid patients and the threat and uncertainties of a new variant loom.

More than 1,200 people in the United States are dying from Covid-19 each day.

Once again, we’re leading the world, but not in a good way, and the omicron variant is spreading.

I’ll make this short and obvious.  If you haven’t gotten the booster, get it.  You can walk into a pharmacy and get it as easy as you can pick up a bottle of aspirin.  So go.  And if you’re anti-vax, then go ahead and die.  Just don’t infect anyone on your way out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

They’re Pro-Virus

The Republicans blame President Biden for the surge in the pandemic as they fight every attempt to stop it.

As cases surge once again in some parts of the country, Republicans have hit on a new line of attack: The president has failed on a central campaign promise, to tame the pandemic that his predecessor systematically downplayed. Democrats are incredulous, dismissing the strategy as another strand of spaghetti thrown at the wall.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates hit back hard: “If Covid-19 and inflation had lobbyists to help them kill more American jobs, Kevin McCarthy would be their favorite member of Congress,” he said. “He is actively undermining the fight against Covid, which is driving inflation.”

What this tells us is that the Republicans are pro-virus: they are actively encouraging people to get sick and die just to show the world that no one can tell them what to do. This is behavior that you would normally hear from a five-year-old brat, but that’s an insult to five-year-olds.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Isn’t That Special

Florida has a lot of problems to deal with, including sea level rise, underfunded school districts, and healthcare for the poor and the elderly among them.  So Gov. DeSantis is calling a special session of the legislature.  But it’s not to address any of those problems; it’s to make an ad for his re-election campaign next year and possible White House run in 2024. From the Washington Post:

TALLAHASSEE — A special legislative session dubbed “Keep Florida Free” begins Monday at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants lawmakers to pass more measures to block coronavirus vaccine mandates by public and private employers.

The four bills being considered would ratchet up the penalties for businesses, local governments and other entities that require workers to be vaccinated against the virus and students to wear masks in school. According to DeSantis (R), the session will strengthen as well as augment rules already in place — in part through his own executive orders.

“At the end of the day, we want people to be able to make informed decisions for themselves, but we’ve got to stop bossing people around,” DeSantis said last week as he officially announced his 2022 reelection bid. “We’ve got to stop the coercion. We’ve got to stop trying to browbeat people.”

By again calling legislators back to Tallahassee, he added, “We’re going to be striking a blow for freedom.”

But some say the governor has gone from fighting the coronavirus to fighting efforts to combat it. This week’s special session is the second one this year, and even in the GOP-controlled legislature, not all Republicans are on board.

“I support freedom for businesses to make sure they’re successful,” Senate President-Designate Kathleen Passidomo (R) said recently.

Democrats have been highly critical of the gathering. DeSantis and his allies “want to throw some red meat to the base and keep them happy,” said state Rep. Michael Grieco of Miami Beach. “Decisions are being made based on politics, not based on the well-being and health and safety of Floridians.”

Though the governor initially supported the vaccines when they became available early this year, he now calls them “jabs” and promotes stories about individuals who claim to have been harmed by them. His new state surgeon general refuses to wear a mask and says that when it comes to being vaccinated against coronavirus, “people need to continue and stick with their intuition and their sensibilities.”

Physician Peter Hotez, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a leading expert on the virus, calls DeSantis part of an “anti-science aggression” that is making it more difficult to combat the pandemic.

“We’ve lost 150,000 unvaccinated Americans since June 1 whose lives could have been saved if they’d been vaccinated,” Hotez said Monday. “And we’re about to lose another 50,000 by the end of the year based on projections. And this is happening because of misinformation or disinformation.”

This evil little troll is fine with running roughshod over the rights of businesses and school districts to run themselves — something that used to be the core of Republican belief in “smaller government” — so he can feed the base beast of the Trumpers in the state. That more people may get sick and die is just collateral damage.

The question then becomes how many more people have to die in order for Ron DeSantis to get re-elected?

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Update: Going For #3

It was swift and mostly painless, and that was just getting the appointment for my booster shot of Covid-19 vaccine.

My appointment was for 5:45 p.m. at the CVS Pharmacy in Palmetto Bay on US 1.  I checked in at the pharmacy counter, waited while two other people got their shots, then got mine.  The pharmacist, Cindy, was friendly — we chatted about antique cars — and I barely felt the “little pinch.”  Over and done, I stopped to replenish my supply of low-dose aspirin.  Checking out at the cashier took longer than getting the shot.  (By the way, the shot was free thanks to Medicare.)

Twelve hours later, I have no side-effects other than a bit of soreness at the injection site.  I did have some weird dreams involving me teaching a high school theatre class and then reporting to Det. Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach).  Other than that, I’m fine.

Oh, yeah, I did have to reboot my implanted microchip.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Going For #3

This is from last Friday, but it’s still news.

Millions of Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus have the green light to get a booster dose — a shot aimed at fortifying their defenses against a highly transmissible variant that ignited a fourth deadly wave of illness.

The actions this week of two of the nation’s major health agencies open the newest chapter in the 18-month campaign to stop the coronavirus but not without tensions.

In a rare move, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky late Thursday overruled her agency’s advisory panel and added a recommendation for boosters for people whose jobs put them at risk of infection.

The advisory panel had made a recommendation that largely mirrored an authorization issued a day earlier by the Food and Drug Administration, with a call for a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 65 and older, nursing home residents and people 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions six months after completing their second shot.

The panel also said younger people, 18 to 49 years old with underlying medical conditions, may assess their own risk and choose to get a booster if they want one.

Some staff at my school who are not over 65 have already gotten their third shot because of working with children. And I’m getting mine this afternoon. I too work in an environment with children and a lot of other people. I’m also going to visit my mom in a couple of weeks and want to protect her, and I wanted to get it before Mitch McConnell shuts down the government.

Here in Miami, signing up for it was pretty simple. I googled my nearest CVS, filled out the online form, and got an appointment. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Dosing The Dog

Anyone who’s ever had to give a dog a pill knows that you don’t just give them the pill.  You have to hide it in something like a piece of meat or chicken.  (With Sam, it was peanut butter until he got wise and hacked it up.  We switched to chicken nuggets from Costco.)  Well, to Michael Flynn, the disgraced and Russian-owned Trump national security advisor, apparently that’s the track the Deep State is going to take with getting people to take the Covid-19: they’re going to hide it in salad dressing!

Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser to the Trump administration who has embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory and advocated the violent military overthrow of the United States, has a new conspiracy theory: the Deep State is going to vaccinate your salad dressing.

Flynn, who was fired, prosecuted, and ultimately pardoned over his lies to the FBI in the Russia investigation, brought up the idea on a far-right internet show on Wednesday.

“Somebody sent me a thing this morning where they’re talking about putting the vaccine in salad dressing,” said Flynn. “Have you seen this? I mean it’s — and I’m thinking to myself, this is the Bizarro World, right? This is definitely the Bizarro World … these people are seriously thinking about how to impose their will on us in our society, and it has to stop.”

It’ll never work. How many MAGAbots order a salad? Funyons, maybe, or PBR, but salad? Nah.

HT to Balloon Juice.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday Reading

Buh-Bye — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

“If you want to leave, take good care, hope you make a lot of nice friends out there”

— from “Wild World” by Cat Stevens

This is for those of you who’ve chosen to quit your jobs rather than submit to a vaccine mandate.

No telling how many of you there actually are, but lately, you’re all over the news. Just last week, a nearly-30-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department surrendered his badge rather than comply with the city’s requirement that all employees be inoculated against COVID-19. He joins an Army lieutenant colonel, some airline employees, a Major League Baseball executive, the choral director of the San Francisco Symphony, workers at the tax collector’s office in Orange County, Florida, and, incredibly, dozens of healthcare professionals.

Well, on behalf of the rest of us, the ones who miss concerts, restaurants and other people’s faces, the ones who are sick and tired of living in pandemic times, here’s a word of response to you quitters: Goodbye.

And here’s two more: Good riddance.

Not to minimize any of this. A few weeks ago, a hospital in upstate New York announced it would have to “pause” delivering babies because of resignations among its maternity staff. So the threat of difficult ramifications is certainly real. But on the plus side, your quitting goes a long way toward purging us of the gullible, the conspiracy-addled, the logic-impaired and the stubbornly ignorant. And that’s not nothing.

We’ve been down this road before. Whenever faced with some mandate imposed in the interest of the common good, some of us act like they just woke up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. “There’s no freedom no more,” whined one man in video that recently aired on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” The clip was from the 1980s, and the guy had just gotten a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt.

It’s an unfortunately common refrain. Can’t smoke in a movie theater? Can’t crank your music to headache decibels at 2 in the morning? Can’t post the Ten Commandments in a courtroom? “There’s no freedom no more.” Some of you seem to think freedom means no one can be compelled to do, or refrain from doing, anything. But that’s not freedom, it’s anarchy.

Usually, the rest of us don’t agonize over your intransigence. Often it has no direct impact on us. The guy in “The Daily Show” clip was only demanding the right to skid across a highway on his face, after all. But now you claim the right to risk the healthcare system and our personal lives.
Thank you for supporting local journalism

So if you’re angry, guess what? You’re not the only ones.

The difference is, your anger is dumb, and ours is not. Yours is about being coerced to do something you don’t want to do. Like that’s new. Like you’re not already required to get vaccinated to start school or travel to other countries. For that matter, you’re also required to mow your lawn, cover your hindparts and, yes, wear a seatbelt. So you’re mad at government and your job for doing what they’ve always done.

But the rest of us, we’re mad at you. Because this thing could have been over by now, and you’re the reason it isn’t.

That’s why we were glad President Biden stopped asking nicely, started requiring vaccinations everywhere he had power to do so. We were also glad when employers followed suit. And if that’s a problem for you, then, yes, goodbye, sayonara, auf wiedersehen, adios and adieu. We’ll miss you, to be sure. But you’re asking us to choose between your petulance and our lives.

And that’s really no choice at all.

Doonesbury — You say you want an evolution…

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sunday Reading

Don’t Tell DeSantis — The Miami Herald editorial on the history of getting vaccinated goes far beyond his beady little eyes can see.

In 1777, there weren’t chants of “My body, my choice” at political rallies or governors selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” campaign T-shirts.

But George Washington’s decision to mandate that Continental Army soldiers be inoculated against smallpox wasn’t easy. There were no safe, widely tested vaccines like the ones used for the coronavirus today, and inoculation in the 18th century was controversial and risky. It required exposing healthy people to the smallpox virus by scratching it into their arm or having them inhale it through the nose, generally causing a mild infection that led to immunity but, also — occasionally — death.

Washington wrote that if his army got widely infected, “We should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.”

That was the first mass military inoculation, according to the Library of Congress. Since then, vaccine mandates inside and outside the military — and opposition to them — have been woven into the fabric of American life. In fact, we’re living with vaccine mandates right now — and not just for COVID-19.

But in the GOP playbook, vaccine mandates are a new concoction by the freedom-hating far-left and government bureaucrats. Could long-standing vaccine mandates be the next target in Republican-led states like Florida? We once thought that would be a far-fetched possibility. Not so much today.

Want to attend state-funded Florida International University? You must show proof of two MMR shots, for measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination for hepatitis B and meningitis are also “strongly recommended,” but not mandatory, and require the signing of a waiver.

Want to work at taxpayer-funded Jackson Health System? Whether you’re a doctor or a cafeteria worker, you’ll need a flu shot and proof of MMR and chicken pox vaccination. The hospital system also requires workers to get COVID shots or face restrictions, such as wearing an N95 mask at all times. Religious and medical exemptions apply for the COVID and flu shots, spokeswoman Lidia Amoretti-Morgado told the Herald Editorial Board.

Want to send your children to a public school in Florida? Unless you have a religious or medical exemption signed by a doctor, get ready to prove they received shots for polio, hepatitis B, chicken pox, MMR and DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis).

Florida’s school mandate is stricter than those of other states such as Colorado, where parents can object to vaccination on “philosophical” grounds or because of personal beliefs. But don’t tell Florida’s lawmakers. They don’t need any help coming up with bad ideas.

Vaccine mandates have been part of everyday life for Americans for more than a century for the simple reason that they work in controlling or eradicating diseases. Thanks to widespread vaccination, the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States happened in 1949.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading the charge against local governments that require COVID vaccination from employees, announcing in a recent news conference that he will start fining local officials. Mandates seem to be a greater issue than the misinformation that was propagated at his own event, when a Gainesville employee took the stage to claim falsely that the COVID vaccine “changes your RNA.” DeSantis, apparently suffering from a case of amnesia, said he doesn’t “even remember” what the man who was standing next to him said.

Many say the COVID vaccine is just too new to be mandated. But the approval standards set by the Food and Drug Administration — which gave the Pfizer shot full authorization last month after reviewing data from more than 40,000 people who participated in a clinical trial — are more stringent than what was in place in 1809, when the first state vaccine law was enacted in Massachusetts for smallpox.

In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts upholding a Cambridge City mandate. The court rejected the idea of an exemption based on personal choice because it would strip the legislative power from its function to “care for the public health and the public safety.” In 1922, the court denied a challenge to childhood vaccination requirements. More recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to a Maricopa County policy that excluded unvaccinated children from school when there is an unconfirmed but reasonable risk for the spread of measles.

“The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” the court wrote in the 1905 case.

In other words, the Supreme Court said freedom doesn’t give you the right to harm others.

But these days, the liberty that Washington’s inoculated troops fought for has been turned into a cloak for anti-vax entitlement and selfishness. Those attitudes have always been part of American society, but partisan politics has never played such an important role with conservative principles becoming intertwined with vaccine hesitancy.

And that raises a scary possibility: If so many Americans believe the COVID vaccine to be harmful or ineffective, who’s to say vaccine mandates for diseases that we thought long eradicated won’t come into question next?

A flawed — and later debunked — study and online conspiracies fueled by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy led many parents in the late 1990s and 2000s to believe MMR vaccines caused autism. There were 22 measles outbreaks across the nation in 2019, the second highest number of reported outbreaks since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’re already seeing that the fervor against the coronavirus vaccine has jeopardized public access to information about immunizations in general. Tennessee health officials, under pressure from lawmakers, stopped all adolescent vaccine outreach for COVID as well as other diseases in July. Health department employees were told to remove the agency logo from vaccine information given to the public, and the state fired its top vaccine official. After The Tennessean broke the story, drawing national condemnation, the state resumed most outreach efforts.

In past times, we would brush off what happened in Tennessee as an isolated case of lunacy. But today we cannot so easily dismiss the idea that lunacy might prevail against established — and effective — public-health measures.

Doonesbury — Dream a little dream…

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Shots Fired

From the Miami Herald:

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida will fine local governments $5,000 for each employee who is required to be vaccinated, threatening some cities and counties with millions of dollars in penalties for adopting strict vaccine “mandates.”

During a Monday news conference in Alachua County, DeSantis vowed to fight Gainesville’s requirement that employees be vaccinated by the end of the month or be fired.

“We are not going to let people get fired because of the vaccine mandate,” DeSantis said. “You don’t just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully over this issue, over what’s basically a personal choice over their individual health.”

The result could be the state imposing millions of dollars in fines under a new state law barring Florida businesses and local governments from requiring proof of a vaccine “to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity’s operations in this state.” A new Department of Health rule enforcing the law is set to take effect Thursday.

Gainesville, Orange County and Leon County have each passed requirements that employees be vaccinated or be fired, with exemptions for religious or medical reasons. DeSantis noted that Orange County has thousands of employees.

Other counties and cities, such as Miami-Dade and Tampa, have adopted less onerous approaches, requiring employees be vaccinated or submit to weekly tests. DeSantis’ spokesperson did not respond when asked whether the $5,000 fines would apply to that policy.

Miami-Dade County says this will not apply to it because it doesn’t require vaccines. It requires testing, but you can opt out if you have proof of vaccination.

“The policy he announced are for governments requiring vaccines,” said Rachel Johnson, communications director for Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “If that’s the case, it shouldn’t have any impact on our policy, which is just requiring testing with the option to opt out if you are vaccinated and choose to present the information that you are vaccinated.”

It’s a personal choice to wear white after Labor Day. It’s not a personal choice to endanger the lives of other people because you’re a snowflake who can’t wear a mask or would rather ingest horse dewormer.

It’s easy to understand why DeSantis would politicize the vaccine issue: it’s his idea of how to rally the fear and loathing of the gullible and the weak. He doesn’t have to actually come up with a comprehensive mission to govern; all he has to do is rattle off the Trumpist line of lies and bullshit and he’s home and dry. The downside is that it’s killing people, but as far as he’s concerned, that’s a small price to pay for staying in power.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Opposite Overreaction

If you wanted proof that President Biden’s latest moves to get America vaccinated against Covid-19, all you have to do is look at the explosive hair-on-fire response from the Republicans.

Max Boot in the Washington Post:

If there was any doubt about the necessity of President Biden’s expanded vaccine mandate for millions of Americans, it was dispelled by the hyperbolic Republican reaction to his Thursday announcement. “Republicans explode with fury,” noted Fox “News” Channel. Republican governors threatened to file suit to stop what Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) called ”this blatantly unlawful overreach.” Fox News accused Biden of being “an authoritarian” and declaring “war on millions of Americans.” Breitbart claims he went “full totalitarian” and the Federalist called it a “fascist move.”

Blinded by partisanship and populism, Republicans have lost all perspective. The crux of their argument — to the extent that they have one — is that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no right to tell companies with at least 100 employees that workers must either get tested weekly for covid-19 or present proof of vaccination. This is the same OSHA that has issued myriad regulations over the years governing such aspects of workplace safety as the placement of step bolts. (“The employer must ensure . . . step bolts are uniformly spaced at a vertical distance of not less than 12 inches (30 cm) and not more than 18 inches (46 cm) apart.”)

I have no idea how many workers have been injured by misplaced step bolts — frankly, I’m not even sure what step bolts are — but I am guessing it is not many. I do know, however, how many Americans have been killed by covid-19: 655,000 and counting. If OSHA can protect against the menace of step bolts, I’m pretty sure it can protect against the deadliest pandemic in a century.

Perhaps the GOP simply objects to the government telling any business what to do? Except, oops, Republican governors and legislatures are doing precisely that when they tell private companies that they can’t ask for proof of vaccination. At least six red states — Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota and Texas — have prohibited most companies from demanding “vaccine passports.” So, apparently, Republicans think it’s okay for the government to force businesses to surrender to a deadly pandemic but it’s not okay for the government to mandate that businesses protect their employees and customers.

Perhaps the most tone-deaf reaction came from Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas, who just signed a law effectively outlawing abortion. He now takes his stand on “protecting Texans’ right to choose whether they get the COVID vaccine.” As Molly Jong-Fast of the Daily Beast tweeted: “So conservatives want to make sure that women can’t get abortions but they are also against vaccine mandates because ‘my body my choice?’ ”

These are the same governors of states that have vaccination mandates in place for school children: vaccinations against highly communicable and sometimes life-threatening diseases such as measles, mumps, and chicken pox (which can lead later in life to shingles). On the other hand, there is no mandate to vaccinate against polio or smallpox, two deadly diseases that once ravaged the world. Why is that, you may wonder. It’s because everyone was vaccinated against them to the point that they have both been eradicated. By vaccines.

The real reason the GOP is raising holy hell about these mandates, it is because they realize that they’re on the losing end and their flaming hypocrisy is showing. Corporations and chambers of commerce are behind the mandates because they are keeping their employees healthy, which is good for business, both as workers and as customers. The only ones who are adamantly opposed to the mandates are the bug-eyed loons who claim that Bill Gates is injecting them with microchips and Jesus will smite down the disease all by himself. Whether it’s karma or Darwin, the crazies are getting their comeuppance if they’re not getting the shots.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Enough Already

Via the Washington Post:

President Biden announced sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates Thursday designed to affect tens of millions of Americans, ordering all businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be immunized or face weekly testing.

Biden also said that he would require most health-care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to vaccinate their employees, which the White House believes will cover 50,000 locations.

And the president signed an executive order compelling all federal employees to get vaccinated — without an option for those who prefer to be regularly tested instead — in an effort to create a model he hopes state governments will embrace. He is also ordering all staffers in Head Start programs, along with Defense Department and federally operated schools for Native Americans, to be vaccinated.

“We’re in a tough stretch, and it could last for a while,” Biden said in an address from the White House. He added, “What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat covid-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner.”

Taken together, the moves represent a major escalation by Biden of the pressure against those who have resisted vaccination. The announcement comes amid growing signs that the highly contagious delta variant, and the persistence of vaccine resistance, are combining to drag out the pandemic, slow the economic recovery and prevent Biden from turning his focus to other matters.

Biden adopted a newly antagonistic tone toward the unvaccinated Thursday, underlining his shift from cajoling to coercion as he placed blame on those still refusing to get shots for harming other Americans. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said. “And your refusal has cost all of us.”

Amen, brother, with a cherry on top. We have borne the resistance and the bullshit long enough. If people want to refuse to get vaccinated, that’s their own problem, but they cannot be allowed to spread this virus to the rest of us. And for those who think that the president is being some kind of dictator and is violating the Constitution, let them take it up with the Constitution and the laws already on the books that grant the federal government such power over federal employees and those who take federal money to run such programs as Head Start or have contracts with the federal government. And yes, the federal government can implement and enforce those rules. It’s what you get when you sign up. Read the goddam fine print for once.

As for those who claim their “freedom” is at stake, just show me where in the world anyone has the right to endanger other people because they insist on being an asshole. Every state has laws against driving while intoxicated, not to keep people from drinking but to keep the other people on the road from being killed. And frankly I am quite tired of explaining that to imbeciles. So screw your “freedoms.” Get the shot and shut up.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Mask Up-Date

From the Miami Herald:

A Leon County judge on Wednesday blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration from enforcing a ban on strict mask mandates in schools after vacating a stay on a ruling tied to a parent-led lawsuit.

That means 13 school districts with mask requirements that allow only medical opt-outs can keep enforcing their mandates. Their ability to do so might be short lived, however, as the state intends to ask the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee to reinstate the stay. There had been no announcement from the 1st DCA as of 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Judge John Cooper said his rationale for lifting the stay came down to whether DeSantis and his administration had followed the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a newly enacted state law that the state invoked when issuing a blanket ban on mask mandates with no parent opt-out.

“This case has generated a lot of heat and a lot of light, but the bottom line is this case is about enforcing the law the Legislature passed, and that’s why I think setting aside this stay is appropriate,” Cooper said.

The underlying court decision on Wednesday is part of an ongoing, broad parent-led lawsuit that contends DeSantis and his administration overstepped their legal authority when issuing a blanket ban on mask mandates amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the governor is trying to keep the cat in the bag about his run for president in 2024, labeling such speculation as “nonsense.” Translation: of course he is but not until he gets the blessing from the alte kaker in Palm Beach.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Compelling Interest

From the Miami Herald:

Miami-Dade public schools officials told the Florida Department of Education in a letter Wednesday that the DeSantis administration is violating the state constitution by trying to prevent the district from carrying on with its mask mandate for students and staff in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school district was responding to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s demand Friday that it document its rationale for its mask protocol by the middle of this week. The district’s response was due by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

In its letter, signed by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman, the district maintained it was within its right to mandate mask wearing as a means to protect students, faculty and staff amid a surging coronavirus pandemic.

Further, it said the Florida Department of Education was violating the Parents’ Bill of Rights, the new Florida law signed by DeSantis in July, by trying to stop individual districts from implementing their own requirements for facial coverings.

“It is clear that the School Board has a compelling state interest in controlling a deadly communicable disease, like COVID-19,” Carvalho and Tabares Hantman wrote. “Accordingly, the School Board relied on the advice of medical and public health experts and exercised its duty to protect the lives and health of students and employees through the least restrictive means possible.”

In a reasonable world, it would be a no-brainer that the local school district has the right and obligation to protect the life and health of its students, teachers, and staff, not to mention the other people who deal with the schools such as contractors, vendors, and visitors.

Then again, “no-brainer” seems to be an apt description of the DeSantis administration’s approach to dealing with the pandemic when it comes to the public schools. The idea of “small government,” the mantra of the conservative movement since time out of mind, appears to only apply if it doesn’t get in the way of political ambition, and it’s pretty obvious that the governor will do whatever it takes to appeal to the anti-vaxxers and worm-ridden as long as he gets on Fox. That’s his compelling interest, and it trumps the needs and the lives of the students, teachers, and staff in the Florida public schools.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Jesus Take The Wheel

How many ways can someone come up with finding an excuse for not doing their job? The dog ate the homework, or it’s someone else’s job, or, hey, God will provide. It seems like the governor of Mississippi is a master of finding scapegoats.

Via TPM:

Back in April of this year, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) blamed the lackluster vaccination situation in the Magnolia State on “a very large African American population” and “a lot of rural people.”

Currently, just under 38 percent of Mississippi is fully inoculated against COVID-19, making it the second least vaccinated state in the country, lagging only behind Alabama.

In just the past week, the Republican governor addressed the recent deadly surge in COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths in his state, telling a group of state Republicans on Thursday that there might be a more pointed reason why COVID rates are so high in Mississippi: the state is just too religious!

Mississippi is currently experiencing pandemic death rates on par with New York and New Jersey, early hotspots of the coronavirus as it first began to spread across the U.S. last year. In the past two weeks, Mississippi has risen to No. 1 in the U.S. for COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people — the state has confirmed 8,279 deaths since the start of the pandemic, meaning 279 deaths for every 100,000 residents, according to the New York Times and the Mississippi Free Press‘ calculations.

But people in the state are just not afraid of the virus due to their religious beliefs, according to Reeves, who said last week that the church-goers might play a role in the recent spike.

“I’m often asked by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle about COVID … and why does it seem like folks in Mississippi and maybe in the Mid-South are a little less scared, shall we say,” Reeves said on Thursday, according to multiple local reports.

“When you believe in eternal life — when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don’t have to be so scared of things,” he continued. “God also tells us to take necessary precautions. And we all have opportunities and abilities to do that and we should all do that. I encourage everyone to do so.”

The problem is, he’s barely encouraged the most basic COVID-19 mitigation measures. As one of the least vaccinated states in the country, he’s been criticized for his mousey messaging about the shot. By July, he finally encouraged Mississippians to get the vaccine, but with a crucial caveat:

“The best way to protect yourself is to become vaccinated. There are shots available and free. I just encourage Mississippians to protect themselves. And for those who don’t make that choice I respect your right to make that choice,” Reeves said. “… I am not an elected official who thinks I am automatically smarter than everyone else and can tell everybody what they can and cannot do with themselves.”

His unhelpfulness on COVID goes beyond being milquetoast about encouraging vaccination. Earlier this month, he told reporters he was opposed to vaccine mandates, especially for public entities. He’s taken similar stances against masking rules for public schools and even downplayed the severity of the virus’ impact on children to being “the sniffles” in most cases, despite at least six child COVID deaths in his state, according to the Mississippi Free Press.

And back in July, when the CDC announced new masking rules for the vaccinated, Reeves boiled the whole thing down to a political plot from the federal government.

“It reeks of political panic so as to appear they are in control,” Reeves said. “It has nothing — let me say that again — it has nothing to do with rational science. … In Mississippi, we believe in freedom.”

But yes, blame the church goers, Black people and rural folks, instead.

Unlike the governor of Florida, he’s not doing it for political gain or the prospect of running for president. It would appear that he’s just stupid.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Sacrificial State

Like hurricanes, political malefactors and their movements start with a small circulation of disturbed weather, then grow by absorbing the energy around them until they become dangerous, spreading their destruction far beyond the central core. History is replete with such examples, creating empires and sending out crusades and missionaries bent on conquering by coercion, temptation with promises of great wealth and power, and if that fails, then by murderous means.

One of their most effective methods is the tried and true Blame the Others. It has worked since the dawn of time, and like the robocalls that promise to extend your car’s warranty, keep coming because there is always someone who will buy it.

We have seen it work in this country before, and as Charles M. Blow in The New York Times articulates, we are seeing now.

Republican politics have become oppositional politics: Deny the science, demean the media, own the libs. Conservatives are less defined by what they are for than by what they are against.

Donald Trump put this concept on steroids because it was beneficial to him as a strategy. He framed himself as the antithesis of Barack Obama. He was against immigrants and Muslims. He was against cultural conciliation. He was against the rapidly approaching future of America, one in which white people would lose not only their numerical advantage but also their societal primacy.

Furthermore, very few facts helped Trump, so he waged war against facts themselves. He denied, diminished and dismissed them.

And as a result, at the peak of their intransigence and callousness, his party catastrophically mishandled the pandemic. They refused to follow the science or act with caution. And, because of their reflexive opposition to the facts, untold numbers of people who didn’t have to die did.

The relationship between leader and followers in the religion of resistance was cyclical: Trump reflected the base, and they reflected him. The base began to have certain expectations from their politicians, expectations they made clear: The base must not only be followed, but also affirmed. The mob is the master.

[…]

Perhaps no politician has taken the reins from Trump with more vigor — and disastrous effects — than Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a man who thinks he could be the next Republican president. But to supplant the last leader of his party, he has to out-Trump Trump.

To accomplish this meteoric rise, he needed to do two things. First, become the darling of the Trump freedom fighters, fighting for the right to get sick and die. And second, he has to be the opposite of the establishment, in this case Joe Biden and his administration. If Biden swerves left, DeSantis must swerve right, even if the hospitals in his state are overrun and the funeral parlors reach capacity.

[…]

Some bodies must be sacrificed to appease the gods of partisan resistance.

To keep the spotlight, DeSantis is employing many of the same tricks as Trump: fighting with the media about coverage, deflecting blame onto Biden and convincing his followers that folding to facts is the same as forfeiting freedoms.

As DeSantis said in early August, “We can either have a free society, or we can have a biomedical security state.” He continued, “And I can tell you: Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions.”

Yes, Florida, DeSantis is allowing you to choose death so that he can have a greater political life.

The question becomes then: How many of my fellow Floridians are willing to sacrifice their lives or those of their families, friends, co-workers, or the rest so that Ron DeSantis can win an election?