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the pandemic

The Forever Pandemic: Americans Decide to Keep It Going

Consider where we were with the pandemic. America had developed powerful vaccines to thwart the coronavirus and in the spring, President Biden was on track to reach his goal of at least one dose into the arms of 70% of the adult population by the 4th of July.

Then he hit a wall, coming up against the solid core of those fighting for the freedom to do as they pleased. No government could tell them what to do. No vaccine and no masks either, because no virus could violate their constitutional right to endanger all around them.

So, hope of herd immunity forsaken, along came the Delta mutation to gain a foothold in what Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head Rachel Walensky accurately called the "pandemic of the unvaccinated". Cases zoomed, currently at 150,000 a day. The U.S. is gaining on its January peak of 140,000 sick abed in hospitals with over 100,000 going into September, leading to over 1,500 deaths per day for
the first time since March. City after city, state after state, are sounding the alarm of no remaining beds; one in five ICUs report occupancy at 95% of capacity. The United States passed the 40 million mark in total Covid cases over the Labor Day weekend. Deaths now exceed 650,000.

Hospitals across the nation report that as high as 97% of the sick are unvaccinated. Southern states are the most affected, tracking nicely with the lowest vaccination rates. The overflow sees patients on gurneys lining hospital hallways. At the University of Mississippi, two of its hospital's parking garages were converted to Covid wards. That state’s hospital system is on the verge of collapse, says its hospital association. States are looking for refrigerated trailers to store the dead, just

as we saw in the first major outbreak in New York City a year ago March. "They're dying in droves", said a doctor in Knoxville, Tennessee, the state currently with the highest rate of illness. Doctors report disbelief of family members who refuse vaccination even after losing a family member, a degree of inexplicable vacuity.

What's caused this? The more transmissible variant, to be sure, but it got a strong assist from Americans of two sorts: One, those who bravely reject vaccines and masks, spurred on by right-wing talk radio and cable news to preserve their constitutional rights, engaging in combat against an infinitesimal foe that measures a 100 billionths (0.000000001) of a meter or so in diameter. The other, state governors who played to that faction by enacting executive orders that forbid mask and vaccine mandates. Together they proclaim the freedom to get sick and die.

at the front

Beyond the idiocy, their conduct is deeply immoral. Consumed by their narcissism, both factions give no thought to America's nurses and doctors whose boundless morality will take care of them when they show up at the emergency department of their local hospital.
Nurses are being driven to the brink for having to suffer through yet another surge. That is, if they don't quit, which many are understandably doing, leading to a shortfall. Why risk their lives for these irresponsible egotists who have refused vaccination, who let others do that to protect them, and then expect to be saved by medical personnel they expose to the disease? More than 1,200 nurses have died having lost their lives taking care of strangers.

Nineteen months into the contagion, nurses are exhausted physically and emotionally from the psychic trauma of dealing helplessly with so many deaths. A New York nurse writes,

"I am routinely expected to care for upward of 12 patients at a time by myself. I’ve had 20 patients by myself for entire shifts. I risk patient safety and human dignity and my license every time I come to work. It feels like a war zone".

They are even cursed by patients, "some of whom brim with hostility stoked by misinformation", as a New York Times reporter put it. "Patients urinate on the floor on purpose while yelling abuses at me", said one nurse. The Tennessee Medical Association had to issue a statement in support of their exhausted heroes reminding the angry public that “the enemy is the virus, not health care workers”.

So nurses are quitting, retiring from nursing or switching to less stressful and hazardous nursing jobs at corporations or schools. In
some hospitals, beds lie empty not for lack of the ill, but for lack of nurses to care for them. Mississippi has 2,000 fewer registered nurses than at the beginning of the year with coronavirus cases doubled over the past two weeks. A Denver nurse writes,

"Your health care workers will pull from deep wells of resilience and give everything, right up to the day we melt into tears, throw our badges down and leave with our middle fingers in the air. If you get sick, I hope there are health care workers left to take care of you. We stopped feeling like heroes long ago."

collective insanity

The rebellion against common sense and the insensate anger over masks and vaccines has been stoked by a diet of contrarian misinformation from right-wing media and the internet and from conspiratorial paranoia shared on social media, an authoritative source where someone just read something that must be true because a friend thinks so.

That so many are persuaded not to get vaccinated owes a special thanks to talk radio. Conservative radio host and anti-vaxxer Phil Valentine even wrote and aired "Vaxman", a parody with his lyrics substituting those of the Beatle's "Taxman". Guess what he died from at age 61. Florida-based radio host Dick Farrel called coronavirus a “scam-demic” and “Vaccine Bogus Bull Shid!" and told listeners to ignore shots, until after three weeks in hospital he changed his mind. But too late. He died at 65.

Jimmy DeYoung had vaccine skeptics on his show and asked of vaccination campaigns "could this be another form of government control of the people?" before dying of Covid in August.

Conservative talk show host Marc Bernier said to one guest, “I’m not taking it … Are you kidding me?" calling himself "Mr. Anti-Vax". Before he died from Covid at 65 he tweeted that the government was "acting like Nazis" telling us to "Get the shot!".

Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk show host himself who is now editor-in-chief at The Bulwark, came up with these cases and a few more — a Texas Party official who slandered a doctor advocating Pfizer's vaccine as "an absolute enemy of a free people" and then died from Covid at age 45, and another Texan who founded a group “to educate and empower citizens… to secure God-given and constitutionally protected rights” who self-treated with ivermectin, a de-wormer for livestock that is talked up on Fox News, and then died from Covid at age 30.

mask wars

Everyone became an expert — columnists, radio hosts, people whose knowledge extended no further than internet posts about mask efficacy they'd just read posted by others with similar lack of knowledge. Rand Paul, Kentucky's other Republican senator, was suspended from YouTube for a video he made saying cloth masks were useless. He's a doctor (but an ophthalmologist) but just being a doctor doesn't make one an expert on masks. Fox News' Tucker Carlson regularly attacked mask wearing as a "sign of political disobedience" and said we should “call the police immediately, contact child protective services" upon seeing kids wearing masks, for him "child abuse".

Violence became a by-product. In September, health officials in two Colorado counties had to take three mobile vaccine clinics off the road due to attacks by anti-vaxxers who threw exploding fireworks and garbage at the units, drove a car up a curb toward a worker, hurled an unidentified liquid at a nurse, ran over signs, and screamed profanities that threatened the crew.

You may have seen video of men screaming "We know who you are" and "You should die" at a car with a doctor and his children. These were members of Tennessee Stands, an anti-vaccine, anti-mask, evangelical group that threatens vaccine supporters and organizes large, anti-mask protests outside school-board meetings, which have become flash points ignited by outrage over masks.


How to explain the phenomenon of Americans ignoring medical professionals and instead following political extremists whose advice has led uncounted listeners and viewers to their deaths?

governor malpractice

Of the 10 states with the most cases per capita, nine voted Republican in 2020. Nine states, all with Republican governors, have enacted bans variously forbidding school districts from mandating masks in the classroom or vaccination for teachers. To woo the Trump base, should the former president decline to run again, Republican presidential hopefuls among them have been intent on performing Trump strongman impersonations, using their states' school children as expendables.

The renewed pandemic has ravaged Florida where the Republican governor, assumed presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis, urges vaccination but has imposed no requirements, proclaiming Florida a "free society" where "people are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions". Those people decided to make August the worst month for Florida since the pandemic began 18 months ago, with more than 16,000 Floridians in hospitals in the week before Labor Day, 20,000 new infections a day, and an average of 262 virus deaths reported daily as August ended, a record for the state and leading all other states by a wide margin.

When several Florida school boards considered mandating that school children wear masks, DeSantis on July 30 issued an executive order that banned school districts from doing so. A Quinnipiac University poll says 6 in 10 Floridians support requiring masks in schools, but DeSantis has put his political ambitions first and the health of the children of Florida somewhere beyond concern. Sixteen of 67 Florida school districts have defied the governor's desist order, refusing to risk the lives of children in obedience to his political ambitions. One week into the new school year 8,400 kids in one Florida school district had to be quarantined.

A defiant DeSantis ordered his education department to withhold state funds from districts that refuse his orders and threatened not to pay the salaries of their school board members.

A judge in Tallahassee has twice sided with parents by overruling DeSantis close to the end of August and ten days later, saying the governor had overstepped his authority. Kids far from his mind, DeSantis filed an appeal within hours.

Not to be outdone, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who also has hopes to be the Republican candidate for president, forbade local officials from mandating mask use and added an executive order that prohibits local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines. Unsurprisingly, the state's vaccination rate is only 46%, and Abbott has seen ICUs in the state's hospitals overflow with Covid patients. At least 45 school districts had to shut down in-person classes, affecting more than 40,000 students.

The Texas Supreme Court stepped in to allow schools to continue requiring masks, but only while a legal battle between the governor and local officials gets sorted out in lower courts.

The CDC advises that teachers and children wear masks, but in Tennessee, when certain school districts followed that guideline and issued mask mandates, Republican Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order allowing disgruntled parents to exempt their children, effectively neutering the mandates. The upshot? The highest number of cases per 100,000 of population in the country and some 1,200 children every day getting sick. A video showed a doctor from Vanderbilt University outside a Knoxville school imploring "the help of our community to prevent..." but was heckled by parents on their way into a school board meeting, one saying, "I have children in grade school that I want to live free and this is all smoke and mirrors. This is tyranny".

In August, South Dakota once again staged its Motorcycle Rally, a year after last year's superspreader, with a half a million bikers pouring into the town of Sturgis, bringing the virus to the townspeople and surrounding area or acquiring it in the bars of Sturgis and giving it a ride back to where they came from. That was just fine with with Gov. Kristi Noem, an avid Trump worshipper who again rode into town on horseback and who hasn't invoked a single mandate since the pandemic began. She is another who thinks of self as presidential material. Noem on Fox News said the left was "accusing us of embracing death when we're just allowing people to make personal choices."

Additional to the Arizona legislature passing a state law prohibiting schools from mandating mask wearing, in August, Republican governor Doug Ducey even created two grant programs to give funds to school districts that rejected mask mandates.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed regret over a law he signed in April that banned mask mandates. But in now promoting vaccination he is faced with constituents such as a woman who told him she had been "praying that God himself will step in so that Christians are not forced by the employers and a mandate to get the vaccine".

what's coming

This fight by Republican governors to keep masks out of schools is at the expense of what's new about this outbreak, that younger people are falling ill. Pediatric hospitalizations, almost non-existent during the original Alpha contagion, are now higher than ever. The American Academy of Pediatrics says more than 1 in 5 Covid cases in the last week of August were in kids.

It is a political fight that these governors choose to wage just as a fourth wave of the disease threatens to overwhelm the medical system. For what that will look like, we turn to Idaho. Well to the right politically and home to a number of militia groups, Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Covid cases have shot up more than 40% in the last two weeks, hospitalizations are up 25%. Brian Whitlock, CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association, says almost all of the patients and certainly those in the ICU are unvaccinated. Hospitals are moving patients into classrooms and hallways to try to meet the demand that's coming through the doors. At capacity, they are faced with rationing. Whitlock posited "somebody in an ICU that's been on a ventilator for a couple of weeks and is not showing any sign of improvement" and giving that ventilator to someone younger "whose conditions may not be as acute…to hopefully save the life of another patient."

In a speech September 9th, the president announced all out requirements for vaccination. Any business with more than 100 workers must be vaccinated or tested weekly. So must any workers at health facilities that receive payment from Medicare or Medicaid. All administration employees and government contractors must take in the vaccine — and with no option for weekly testing. "This is not about freedom or personal choice. It's about protecting yourself and those around you", he said.

Republican governors exploded and are suing. Could they have made it any clearer that they have become sociopathic in their sole concern for political imagery over the lives of children, medical workers, and their own citizens? Republican governor of South Carolina Henry McMaster tweeted, "Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian". And to make this pandemic endemic, he could have added.

6 Comments for “The Forever Pandemic: Americans Decide to Keep It Going”

  1. Al Rodbell

    What has not been acknowledged is that Trumps vaunted “Warp Speed” vaccine’s were not approved by the FDA for a reason. It is only after years of studying the complex sequala of these biogenics.that there can be a cost/benefit evaluation.

    Now we are learning of risks, which is casting doubt on the safety of all vaccines. . .

  2. The piece itself is first-class journalism — exhaustive reporting on the present state of play, fair, and angry in all the right places, not least the observation that the anti-mask anti-vaccine position is deeply
    immoral. I live three blocks from the Lenox Hill emergency room and have thus been almost daily witness to suffering by the sick and heroism by the frontline medical people. I can’t imagine there’s a soul there who would agree with Dr. Barnett, whose views strike me as borderline nuts.

  3. Dr David Barnett

    The misinformation is mostly on the masking and vaccine side, which, of course, encourages the crackpot theories on the other side. So let’s forget the crackpots and look at reality.

    1) Masking outside a clinical context (and with full clinical discipline) serves no useful purpose, and can actually increase the risk of contracting pneumonia.

    2) The Covid vaccines provide no meaningful benefit to the healthy under 60s, while the risks are quite large. For example Pfizer’s own test data show that their vaccine does not remain confined to the inoculation site, but accumulates in other tissues such as ovaries. And since the vaccines cause tissue damage as part of the mechanism for provoking an immune response, the CDC website on the fertility issue is either incompetent, or worse, deliberate misinformation.

    3) RESISTANCE EVOLUTION 101: Measures that merely slow Covid spread should not be applied universally because that only promotes obsolescence of the measure. For example, even if the vaccines were 100% safe, universal vaccination merely accelerates obsolescence of the vaccine. How does that help the vulnerable who might actually benefit from a vaccine?

    • John doyle

      Nice of you to volunteer to be the poster child for this article.

    • Robert Neviaser, M.D.

      There is no scientific evidence that wearing masks increases your risk of developing pneumonia. There is more than ample evidence that the vaccine is safe in people under the age of 60. Similarly, there is no evidence that the vaccines destroy tissues. Finally, vaccines do not become obsolescent. Just look at all the vaccines that have been given over decades against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus.
      People wearing masks frequently, and for years – such as all kinds of surgeons – have no higher risk of pneumonia. It is also noteworthy that the Japanese (and I think people in other Asian nations as well) wear masks when they have respiratory illnesses so that they don’t infect others around them. That public health precaution would seem to be illogical if it increased their risk of pneumonia since they are already respiratory compromised.

      • Dr David Barnett

        Surgeons do not wear masks continuously, and generally do not perform operations when they are unwell.

        The first line of defence against a respiratory pathogen is the mucus lining the airways etc. pathogens landing there are generally swept away in the normal course of free breathing. The masks help to keep those pathogens nearby, giving them more chance to diffuse through the mucus to cells that they can infect.

        For the same reason, elderly patients who breath shallowly are more prone to pneumonia than patients who move about and breath more freely.

        As for vaccine safety: Pfizer’s own data show that the lipid package does not remain confined to the inoculation site as it is supposed to do, and accumulates in tissues such as ovaries. There are no data whatsoever on the long term risks, such as provoking auto-immune responses. Given that the ABSOLUTE risk reduction for the under 60s is minute, the ABSOLUTE risks of the Covid-19 inoculations exceed any possible benefit,

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