Columnist John Sheirer: Spread some sanity

  • In this Feb. 11, 2021 file photo, President Joe Biden visits the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md. This summer’s coronavirus surge has been labeled a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” by government officials from President Joe Biden on down. That sound bite captures the glaring reality that unvaccinated people overwhelmingly account for new cases and serious infections. AP

Published: 9/13/2021 9:05:22 AM

I’m thankful that we live among so many reasonable people here in the Northeast. That includes the people we interact with every day, and, just as importantly, the people who make the laws for our states. Our greatest export isn’t Ben & Jerry’s, Boston Cream Pie, or cider donuts but our basic, old-fashioned common sense.

Imagine if we lived where people carry military-style rifles in public without repercussion? What if we faced government-imposed obstacles to voting? What if our children were denied basic protections from infectious diseases? Worst of all, what if we lived where people we don’t even know could report us to the authorities if they didn’t agree with our private health care decisions?

That sounds like the Taliban territory, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s Texas with its free-for-all gun policies, voter restrictions, anti-mask school decrees, and vigilante-style anti-choice laws that bring to mind “under his eye” from Margaret Attwood’s “Handmaid” novels.

Unfortunately, even in a reasonable place like western Massachusetts, absurdity lurks. I recently saw this message spray-painted in giant letters on the side of a building just a few miles from my home: “Done playing pandemic. If you die you die. Masks don’t work libs. Its a flu.”

Nonsense like this is an anomaly here, but in Republican-controlled areas, it’s closer to the norm. In some red states, Republican-sponsored policies ban local schools from issuing mask mandates to protect children. School board meetings around the country have been disrupted by Republican mobs who threaten violence if their children are required to wear a mask to school. This is happening as the virulent delta variant surges, children are being infected at increasingly higher rates, and hospitals are once again filing with COVID-19 patients.

Polls show that strong majorities of Americans are getting vaccinated and support mask mandates. I’ve been accused of misrepresenting Republicans, but anti-mask, anti-vaccine Republicans are extending the pandemic, which puts everyone at risk, drags down the economy, and leads to continuing restrictions.

The idea that “masks don’t work” simply denies reality. The vast majority of infectious disease specialists say that a properly worn mask protects the wearer — and, more importantly, protects others. An infected person wearing a mask is far less likely to infect someone else. Blaming “libs” for advocating masks is like blaming hats for rain. It’s absurd.

The same is true of vaccine reluctance. One Republican friend of mine claims he hasn’t gotten vaccinated because he has a strong immune system and could survive COVID-19, which, he says, is no worse than the flu. He wouldn’t consider getting vaccinated until full FDA approval, but when the FDA recently approved the Pfizer vaccine, he ranted that Dr. Anthony Fauci is a liar, and his friends who live near the “Pfizer factory” in Michigan told him not to trust the vaccine.

These claims are obviously ridiculous, but they show two common threads among so many Republicans these days. First, he doesn’t understand the basic facts about COVID-19, masks and vaccines. He dismisses experts but believes random “friends,” ominous YouTube videos, and screeching, right-wing media figures who recommend treating COVID-19 with livestock dewormer.

Second, he’s only thinking of himself. He doesn’t wear a mask because he says it won’t protect him, and he won’t get vaccinated because he thinks he doesn’t need it. He’s not thinking about the people he could infect by not wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. He ignores the fact that he’s part of a community. For too many Republicans, “We the People” has become a forgotten concept.

To any Republicans who regularly wear masks and are fully vaccinated … thank you. But please ask yourself some serious questions. Why are so many Republicans anti-mask and anti-vaccine? Do you ever wonder why your party affiliation is a leading indicator of rejecting masks and vaccines, the two essential ways to stop the pandemic?

Are Republicans really so misguided that they think we’re all just “playing pandemic”? Do Republicans understand the difference between medical/scientific expertise and the ability to post unsupported claims on the internet? Are Republicans so nihilistic that they embrace the death-cult philosophy, “If you die you die”?

Why do so many Republican politicians and media figures (the vast majority of whom are vaccinated, including former president Donald Trump) question vaccines? Why are these Republican leaders against children being required to wear a mask to protect themselves, along with their classmates, teachers and parents?

Most importantly, how can Republicans think that the biggest problems we face as a nation are that too many people vote, guns are too scarce, women have too much choice, and children are too protected from a deadly disease?

Again, I’m glad I live in a reasonable part of the country. Recently, I attended meetings at my worksite for the first time in 18 months. It was great to see my masked and vaccinated colleagues in person again. But I’m grateful to be primarily working from home again this semester, especially since the misinformed, unmasked and unvaccinated have made life more dangerous for everyone, including those of us who have done our part to make things better.

My message to anyone who wants the pandemic to end is simple: reevaluate what your political party stands for, get vaccinated, wear a mask, and spread some sanity.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher from Florence. His latest book is “Stumbling Through Adulthood,” a collection of short stories. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.


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