We could see them: glimmers of hope on the horizon.
Thanks to the vaccines, we thought we were near the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had taken the lives of more than 600,000 U.S. citizens and more than 4 million worldwide. We were putting away the masks, leaving our homes and resuming life as we once knew it.
But suddenly, infection rates are beginning to rise again, nationwide, and with them, COVID deaths. The U.S. is averaging more than 30,000 new cases a day — twice the seven-day average just three weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
More than 1,000 new cases were reported in North Carolina on Thursday — the highest rate since May.
The majority of the new cases are of the delta variant, which is about 50% more contagious — and which is infecting younger people. Some 83% of new patients in the U.S. are under 50.
And 99% of these new cases occur in people who have not been vaccinated.
Why is this happening?
Largely because of deliberate efforts to spread doubt about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness — largely led by Republican government officials and conservative pundits.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy leveled a broadside on Thursday in which he declared misinformation about COVID to be “a serious threat to public health.” He’s accused tech and social media companies of not doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous health misinformation.
But that misinformation, spread on social media, originates with people like influential Fox News pundits Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, apparently in an attempt to undermine President Biden’s success in fighting the virus. In a recent op-ed for the LA Times, former Fox contributor Jonah Goldberg wrote, “When Donald Trump was president, Operation Warp Speed was an own-the-libs triumph … now (Ingraham) and many other right-wing media figures are engaged in fearmongering over the alleged dangers of vaccines we would not have, were it not for Trump.”
Incidentally, Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch was among the first to be vaccinated. There’s little doubt that Ingraham and Carlson have been vaccinated, also, though neither will confirm or deny.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been raising funds with “Don’t Fauci My Florida” T-shirts and passing legislation to block vaccine requirements — even for private businesses, a violation of typical conservative dogma. This, despite the fact that almost 3,000 Floridians are being hospitalized with COVID each day, the highest number in the nation. New cases there have increased by 42.9% over the past two weeks.
Republican officials throughout the country are demanding that schools and businesses reopen, with no safety precautions and no vaccination requirements, even as infection rates are rising. It’s almost as if they want people to die.
Some, including N.C.’s own Rep. Madison Cawthorne, have portrayed government attempts to vaccinate citizens as a fascist attempt to control people. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Cawthorne claimed that volunteers going door-to-door to encourage vaccinations could all be in preparation for taking Americans’ guns and Bibles.
That is sheer, absurd paranoia.
There’s also a paranoid fringe that is trying to portray the recalcitrant unvaccinated as some kind of special class deserving of protections — a claim that turns the concept of civil liberties on its ear. Nobody has the “right” to infect others with a deadly disease.
So what do we do? “It’s going to take all of us, working together,” Murthy says. “Individuals, for example, can check their sources before they share stories online. Is it coming from a scientifically credible source? And if you’re not sure, don’t share.”
Forgive our skepticism. That’s not likely.
It would also help if former President Trump urged his followers to take the vaccine he took.
But what would help would be for North Carolina’s Republican legislators to speak up and urge their constituents to be vaccinated — for the good of our people and our economy. Indeed, they must do so now, rejecting the anti-science, anti-cooperation wing of their party. Our state should not have to suffer through another shutdown — or increased death rolls — because they were complicit in the organized spread of COVID disinformation.