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Placing Blame


I made a sorta New Year’s resolution to post about stuff other than covid, but covid takes up a lot of everyone’s mental space, and I am particularly angry about this latest surge. Maybe the next post will be about Russia.

This morning, one of my go-to virologists, Dr. Angie Rasmussen, tweeted a rage-thread. She gave a nice definition of endemicity, which I plan to use going forward because it works with my emphasis on prevalence.

In the rest of the thread, she enumerates policy mistakes. She doesn’t explicitly blame Joe Biden, but she mentions the White House, and others do explicitly blame Biden and “the Democrats.” It’s easy to blame the party in power and easy to believe the President can do anything with a snap of his fingers or by signing a piece of paper, but it’s not true. I agree that I would have preferred some of her policies, but let’s focus on what we actually have to change, not just yell at the easy targets.

She excoriates the White House for “finger wagging and responsibility shaming” people who “resist public health measures such as masks and vaccines.” I see this criticism a lot from people in public health, but I haven’t seen a strategy for getting to the hard-core urine drinkers. I’m all for getting vaccine patrols out in public and think we haven’t done enough to bring vaccines to those who might not get them otherwise. We don’t insist on asking nicely when people drive 100 miles an hour on the interstate, we ticket them. Seems reasonable to tell the insistently unvaccinated that they are spreading the pandemic and endangering themselves.

Other policy mistakes on the list require funding from Congress.

  • No policies that improve vaccine access (paid sick leave, child care, transportation)
  • No policies that offer meaningful financial relief for isolation/quarantine
  • No efforts to improve access to health care or support those with huge bills from COVID
  • No sustained support for people with chronic illness at higher risk and/or because of COVID
  • No mask mandate, much less providing quality masks to people at low or no cost
  • No rapid tests because of refusal to invest in them more than a year after their approval & despite promising them in early 2020

Republicans in Congress are betraying their responsibility to their constituents’ health by refusing even to consider proposals of this kind. Additionally, a few Democratic senators have joined the Republicans in this betrayal.

Republicans and their propaganda network have been condemning public health measures and legislative and executive attempts to put them into effect. They have brought lawsuits against regulations, and the OSHA lawsuit now being considered by the Republican Supreme Court could bring down the entire regulatory state. Pushback is to be expected, but there is a limit to how much time and energy the administration can put into countering that pushback, and, as in the case of the OSHA suit, there may be serious collateral damage.

The role of Big Pharma and the insurance companies isn’t discussed near enough, but we can see their influence in the decision not to make masks free or sent out to all families but rather reimbursable by insurance and the refusal to license patents to make vaccines globally available. What goes on in the discussions between them and the administration? Threats to furnish money to the Republicans for election ad campaigns? To condemn the administration publicly?

Vaccination requirements for travel, again, would be subject to Republican demonstrations at airports, and probably the airlines have spoken against them, although United today released a letter detailing how vaccinations have helped them to continue their business.

I mostly agree with her last complaint.

  • No clear guidance and lack of candor from officials who claim to want to build trust.

I think there has been some guidance, but the CDC in particular has messed up time and again. I’d like to see CDC briefings every week that would repeat the importance of vaccination and masking, give updates on numbers and what we know about the virus, and be clear about what is changing and why.

Criticism is useful when it is accurately targeted. Assuming Biden and “the Democrats” are responsible for everything that goes wrong only helps Republicans.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner

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