SAY WHAT?-Behold, if you dare, dumb white privilege at its most lunatic.
Somehow, this country's idiot, ignorant, anti-science masses have determined that kids going back to school amidst a surging COVID variant presents the perfect murderous opportunity to bravely declare they "choose freedom," also sick and dead kids, possibly including their own, as a reasonable price to pay to own the libs and enjoy the brief, bitter illusion of control over a life and country that feels to be spinning out of their control.
Leading the heedless charge, among others, is Rand Paul, Kentucky's non-board-certified ophthalmologist with no expertise in infectious diseases who's persistently spread COVID misinformation even though he was the first Senator to get it, after which he wandered around the Capitol maskless while claiming to be immune and then proved his hypocrisy chops by getting the vaccine just in case.
This weekend, the guy who single-handedly stalled an anti-lynching law got kicked off YouTube by "left-wing cretins" for spouting more dangerous drivel about the need to resist - "they can't arrest all of us" -- "the mandates, lockdowns, and harmful policies of the petty tyrants and feckless bureaucrats." "No one should follow the CDC's anti-science mask mandates," said Paul, who ostensibly represents a state where COVID is "exploding" with 2,500 new cases a day and pediatric hospitalizations up 118%. Threatening to block with his imaginary power any moves to restrict in-person work or school, he decried "fear and propaganda" and proclaimed, "I choose freedom" - a rant so deranged we probably weren't alone in thinking a piece in The Onion about him rallying intubated COVID patients in the ICU to rise up and rebel was real.
On Planet Earth, meanwhile, a relentless pandemic -- with its "almost unimaginable" ICU mortality rate of about 35% -- has savaged America's already dysfunctional health care system, with too-scarce critical care physicians leaving in droves and suffering unprecedented levels of PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Since the spring of 2020, volunteer psychiatrists have fielded over 3,000 calls from doctors seeking help with their sense of loss, rage and grief as they've seen up to 20 of their patients die each week, often alone -- a brutal psychological process one doctor calls "death by a thousand paper cuts."
Now, with a vaccine here and entirely avoidable losses re-traumatizing them, many say their reserves of empathy have run dry and the anguish is even worse. That crisis is felt most keenly in GOP-run, rabidly anti-science states where Stone Age pols have fanned the flames, masks have become a mindless battleground, hospitals are filling, and vaccination rates remain stubbornly low. This week, the ripples of that cognitive dissonance surfaced with a WTF vengeance in deep-red Tennessee, which has one of the country's lowest vaccination rates and where the state last month fired its top immunization official and ended vaccine outreach to teenagers after unconscionable right-wing tantrums to ensure it stays low.
Today, just 40% of the state's population is vaccinated, cases of the deadly Delta variant are up as much as 98% and "everywhere," kids with COVID -- average age 9 -- are being hospitalized four times the rate of a month ago, cases in patients under 10 have more than doubled in a week with a corresponding rise in multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), health experts project children's hospitals will be full by next week, and anyone with a working brain agrees grim things will get "a lot worse."
Naturally, then, Tennessee parents attending this week's school board meetings about COVID protocols sensibly, selflessly agreed to take all reasonable precautions to protect their kids. Just kidding. In fact, mobs of angry anti-maskers packed the meetings, chanting "NO MORE MASKS!", heckling officials enforcing a local mask order as "a bunch of commies," citing the Federalist Papers and the Bible to affirm "our children’s (freedom) to breathe oxygen,” and feverishly denouncing proposed mask mandates as "this utterly insane charade" to satisfy "delusional psychotic hypochondria."
At a rowdy meeting in a wealthy white enclave outside Nashville, parents included physicians and other health providers who urged the board to mandate masks. "There is only one enemy amongst us and that is COVID," said a pediatrician. "We need to mask up." They were harassed by shrill anti-vaxxers-and-maskers so often security finally ejected one yahoo; in enraged solidarity, a few dozen others stomped out, waving signs and shouting see you in court.
Eventually, the board approved a temporary mask mandate for kids too young to get vaccines; masks will be optional in middle and high school. The compromise did nothing to calm the fury of livid parents who stood outside the meeting yelling “WILL NOT COMPLY!" and "NO MORE MASKS!" as attendees streamed out. Several ambushed doctors who'd testified on behalf of reason, science and young lives; as they climbed into their cars, red-faced white madmen screamed at them, "We know who you are. You can leave freely, but we will find you," “You will never be allowed in public again," “There's a bad place in hell for you!" and the basic "Fuck you!" Unlike scenes of abuse involving black people, cops mostly just stood there.
When video of the mob surfaced, many were appalled. "Let the unvaccinated anti-maskers get by on the blood of Jesus and a three-year-old’s definition of “freedom,” aka, “You can’t tell me what to do,” said one. Also, "Pack your things (and) let them die the way they want, drowning in their own fluids." They, or their kids, may yet. On Tuesday, Tennessee reported 275 new COVID cases and eight new deaths, the highest numbers since January. Two children died in Memphis over the weekend; an 11-year-old died on Monday. A total of 36 children are currently hospitalized in the state. Thirteen are in the ICU. Five are on ventilators.
(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.