As he concluded his landmark history of the 1918-19 influenza that killed upwards of 50 million people, author John M. Barry anticipated those who would bedevil efforts to overcome the pandemic he knew would inevitably follow.
It’s as apt a description of Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin as you’re going to find.
Barry acknowledged that medical science had advanced in the past century — with better tracking of viral infections, development of vaccines, anti-viral drugs and antibiotics to treat secondary infections. But in the end, it all would come down to the most vulnerable part of humanity’s arsenal against this threat:
“Either way, whether a politician saw an advantage and knowingly did something at best unproductive or whether he or she acted out of incompetence or fear, the human factor, the political leadership factor, is the weakest in any plan, in every plan. ...
“So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet the most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization can not survive that.”
In the 18-month battle against COVID-19, a sliver of Idaho’s leadership has stepped forward: public health district members, school boards and city councils required people and students to wear face masks. Private employers — notably those who deliver health care — are mandating their employees to get vaccinated.
A larger swath at least chose to do no harm. Count among them Idaho Gov. Brad Little. He’s willing to marshal resources — as he did Tuesday by calling in the National Guard and seeking federal assistance — to confront the pandemic. But he’s so intimidated by the rabid COVID-19 deniers within his own political base that he won’t impose mandates of any kind. Nonetheless, the governor by and large — with the notable exception of the state government’s workforce — has not stood in the way of anyone who is trying to do the right things.
And then there are those who peddle in falsehoods while doing everything within their means to sabotage the efforts of those who labor to slow this wave of death and despair from enveloping us.
McGeachin stands in a class by herself. In a recent press release, she stooped to virtually any tactic to keep you from getting a life-saving vaccination:
l Distortions — She reported 69.49 percent of British COVID-19 deaths involved vaccinated patients. That ignores the tens of millions of people who did not get sick because they were vaccinated. If anything, better than 98 percent of those hospitalized with the delta variant are unvaccinated.
l Deceptions — McGeachin suggests you’re better off getting the delta variant than being vaccinated: “... Natural COVID immunity is far superior to the immunity gained by the vaccine.”
That may be true, provided you’re among the group that survives. But a previous alpha variant infection may be no protection against delta. And as Ken Krell, the intensivist manning Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center’s crowded intensive care units, wrote in Wednesday’s Post Register, following McGeachin’s approach toward herd immunity comes with a monstrous cost:
“ ... To get to this added protection with a death rate of 1.5 percent, and with a population of 1.85 million, 27,750 deaths would occur in Idaho if the entire population was unprotected by vaccination.”
l Disruption — If nothing else, Little and most of Idaho’s health care providers have been consistent in their messaging: Get the shot. For her, stopping vaccine mandates is not enough. She wants to yank public service announcements that at least urge people to get vaccinated “until we are 100 percent sure they are safe.”
Here’s what you can be 100 percent sure of: If you come down with COVID-19, you will confront an overwhelmed health care system on the verge of implementing crisis of care standards.
Maybe McGeachin doesn’t understand what’s she talking about. That’s the charitable view.
The less than charitable view is that McGeachin believes her misinformation will resonate with the GOP primary voters she hopes will choose her over Little in next spring’s GOP gubernatorial primary.
Either way, COVID-19 is the common enemy and McGeachin has signed up to become its Quisling. — M.T.