National View: Masking, vaxxing don't betray anyone's politics

From the column: "Acknowledging that masking up again, depressing as the need to do so is, makes sense and will save lives."

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A "concerned Canadian" wrote to me the other day, "dumbfounded," he said, to read that so many Missourians are rejecting a lifesaving vaccine even amid this dangerous new wave of COVID-19. He said, as some health experts have, that refusing to get vaccinated is like deciding to stay on board the world's most famous sinking ship:

"Yes, Titanic passengers had every right to stay aboard, but none chose to do so. Why? Because the freaking thing was sinking! Put on a lifejacket (mask) and get into a lifeboat (vaccination). Unlike on the Titanic, there is enough life-saving equipment for everybody. Otherwise, you will end up in some cemetery like Rose and Jack."

Rose and Jack were fictional. In the James Cameron movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, Rose survived into old age, and Jack, who should have insisted that Rose make room for him on that floating door, probably never made it to any cemetery. Still, my correspondent's larger point is valid.

COVID-19 caused by the delta variant that's dominant now spreads more than twice as fast as earlier mutations of the virus. That's because those infected with delta can carry viral loads more than 1,000 times higher than those in people infected with the original strain.

How callous do you have to be to refuse to endure the undeniable but inconsequential hardship of wearing a mask to keep others safe? Some people do have health conditions that make that impossible, but many more seem not to care that this new viral beast is so much easier for even the vaccinated to pass around. To children who can't yet get vaccinated and those with compromised immune systems, who, like the frail elderly, are less protected by any vaccination. And how such selfishness came to signal either patriotism or conservatism leaves me as dumbfounded as my new pen pal.


The sprinkles on top of the gummy worms on top of this whole disgusting sundae of hypocrisy, though, have got to be the reports that some of those asserting that all of this is a matter of personal choice then have the gall to taunt, bully, and even physically attack those who do choose to mask up.

The man who pulled his car over to yell at Clara Kribs' masked 6- and 9-year-old sons in Kansas City recently is sick with something even worse than COVID-19. It's not a commitment to the concept of freedom that has him raving at children, but simple thuggishness.

Too many of our officeholders, meanwhile, continue to follow their most recalcitrant and misguided voters instead of trying very hard to persuade them. So instead of warning that, unlike him, this delta variant is not futzing around, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson warned instead against the imaginary threat of "federal agents" who were never, no not ever, going to be roaming the land jabbing the unwilling.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained exactly why we need to mask up again — because the delta variant is so much more easily passed on, even by those who have been vaccinated — Parson couldn't help disparaging the new guidance. He called it a setback to vaccination efforts, as if we can't do both.

Instead of acknowledging that masking up again, depressing as the need to do so is, makes sense and will save lives, the governor tweeted that the guidance, which has changed because the virus has changed, is "concerning" evidence of "cowering" in the face of political pressure, and only "promotes fear & further division." All tweeting is autobiography, right?

Still, there have also been some indications that the ferocity of the delta variant is changing minds. Vaccination rates have increased in recent weeks, though not nearly enough.

Those who tell their doctors and pharmacists that they are getting vaccinated in secret deserve credit: At least they're protecting themselves from serious illness, even if they're too ashamed to encourage others by letting anyone know that.

Kudos to everyone who has decided that masking or vaxxing are not betrayals to the tribe. You can't vote for President Donald Trump in 2024 from the cemetery, can you? Insert joke about dead Democrats casting ballots here, then please go get the shot.


Melinda Henneberger is editorial page editor at the Kansas City Star.

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