On the day, July 28, that Newsday reported a doubling in the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections from just the prior month, the Nassau County executive was doing his almost daily feel-good photo op, sending off the 2023 NYS Little League Champion Massapequa Coast team to compete for the Metro Region Championship.
Blakeman took office in the midst of the Omnicron spike, declaring “COVID is over. Nassau is back in business.” And his policies since have shown his priorities.
Newsday’s report noted that it is not yet known whether the uptick is due to waning immunity from vaccinations or prior infections or whether this is a new variant. But don’t you think our Health Department should make an effort to figure it out? And shouldn’t they be encouraging people to get boosted (as of March 2023 only 39% of Nassau residents were fully vaccinated).
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hopes to become president so he can do to the United States what he has done to Florida, is so proud of his coronavirus pandemic denial, he actually made it illegal for cruise lines to require passengers and crew to be vaccinated and has since signed a permanent ban of COVID mandates. (Note: leprosy and malaria have both inconveniently emerged in Florida.)
A Trump-appointed Florida federal judge went so far as to overrule the concept of “public health” and the government’s ability to keep people safe from a highly infectious deadly disease.
The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy center, estimated that 70 percent of COVID deaths were “needlessly” caused by Trump’s lackadaisical, devil-may-care attitude toward coronavirus (“Not so infectious!” “60,000 die from flu each year, who knew?” “Herd Immunity!”), and his disparaging the very vaccine he spent $10 billion on Operation Warp Speed to develop. But he had no plan to actually vaccinate people and obstructed the incoming Biden administration from getting a head start, while touting horse medicine and drinking bleach.
Trump’s plan, which amounted to “do nothing,” was that herd immunity would end the virus all by itself – no matter that estimates put the number of deaths at 2 million (over 1 million Americans have died for 20% of 5 million deaths worldwide), people can get reinfected and new variants are emerging all the time.
Significantly, of the 128 million Americans who have had COVID, 28 percent suffer the often debilitating, life-altering effects of Long COVID (USAFacts.org), as many as four million of whom are too sick to work (https://www.brookings.edu/articles/new-data-shows-long-covid-is-keeping-as-many-as-4-million-people-out-of-work/)
In fact, despite being the richest nation and the most robust economy, where we all benefitted from free testing, free masks, free vaccinations, the United States lags the world in the rate of vaccination: only 80% of Americans have gotten vaccinated, only 68% boosted, putting us well behind Macau, Brunei, UAE, Qatar, Nepal, Chile, the list goes on. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/world/covid-vaccinations-tracker.html)
“The differences in excess mortality by political party affiliation after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults suggest that differences in vaccination attitudes and reported uptake between Republican and Democratic voters may have been a factor in the severity and trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S.,” according to a Yale study cited in the New Republic, “Covid-19 Vaccine Politics Linked to Excess Republican Deaths: Study”. (https://newrepublic.com/post/174574/covid-19-vaccine-politics-linked-excess-republican-deaths-study)
A recent New York Times investigation pointed to some 16,000 “excess” deaths and 61,000 hospitalizations in Florida that could have been avoided had DeSantis not discouraged vaccinations (only 60 percent of adults were vaccinated instead of reaching 74 percent) – a number that is likely too low since DeSantis fired and jailed the woman who was keeping score. (The Steep Cost of Ron DeSantis’s Vaccine Turnabout, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/22/us/politics/ron-desantis-covid.html)
The politicization of the pandemic was due to a calculation that taking steps to protect public health would adversely impact the economy and therefore political success (remember Texas Lt. Governor Dan Paxton saying grandparents would be willing to die to save the economy for their grandchildren?).
But the ongoing impact of the coronavirus – or any future pandemic – has much more damaging impacts on the economy: an actual decline in longevity, the ongoing cost to America’s health care system, not to mention lost productivity of 25 million people afflicted with long COVID. These would seem to outweigh the short-term economic impacts of a lockdown, expanded unemployment benefits and economic relief (which actually has helped keep the U.S. economy strong and people in their homes and jobs) of COVID-19.
The $2 trillion in relief funding, the moratorium on evictions and student loan repayments and the increase in child tax credit kept people in their homes and out of poverty, kept them on track to career, college, retirement, as opposed to derailing their future. The U.S. economy has remained the most robust in the world.
On the other hand, ongoing infestation of politicizing public health will impact how this nation, this state, this county and this community handles the inevitable next pandemic.
President Biden who came into office focused on saving lives (he is credited with saving 2 million lives), devising the most expansive vaccination program in history, making vaccinations, tests, masks, treatments widely available at no cost and has created the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy to deal with known and unknown biological threats or pathogens that could lead to a pandemic or to significant public health-related disruptions in the United States.
We assume we can just go about our lives normally – not wear masks, not bother to get boosted – because, after all, our government would tell us otherwise, wouldn’t they?
We posed questions to both County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Health Commissioner Dr. Irma Gelman about the rise in coronavirus rates, whether there is concern and what the county is doing about it, which were not answered by press time. Gelman’s spokesperson said her office was not allowed to answer press queries. (Nassau County has a website but it is not clear what the data is measuring: https://www.nassaucountyny.gov/5339/COVID-19-Data-Resources)
What is the role of a health commissioner if not to inform people to either allay concerns or encourage people to take precautions?
I don’t know if there is a need to mask up or keep socially distant. What I do know is that I can’t trust County Executive Blakeman to tell me.
Every candidate for every office, from president, to governor, to county executive to town supervisor to mayor should be asked this question: How will you handle the next pandemic?