Susan J. Demas: Hospitals are overrun by the unvaccinated. What happens to the rest of us?

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COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing at an alarming rate in Michigan. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing at an alarming rate in Michigan.

I never fully transitioned back into a post-COVID world after getting vaxxed and even boosted, because I understood that reality didn’t exist for millions of immunocompromised people, seniors and young kids who still can’t get the shot.

Wearing high-quality masks indoors, continuing to work from home much of the time and limiting travel — one of my favorite things in the world — seemed like small prices to pay while America got its collective shit together to reach herd immunity, especially as delta ran amok in the late summer and fall.

I understood that a loud minority was pretending the pandemic was over — why wouldn’t they, when Republicans like serial cover-up artist Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan have gleefully declared, “Real America is done with #COVID19”?

But like many responsible people, I was hoping we could limp along this winter, gradually boost vaccination rates with much-needed mandates and finally reach a point of normalcy for almost everyone when the last snow melts in Michigan by May or so.

As usual, however, the virus has other plans. Omicron is tearing through cities like New York, giving everyone big March 2020 vibes. It’s landed in Michigan (most likely there are far more than the six cases detected so far).

Almost all of these recent deaths were preventable by getting a few shots. But there are millions who have feverishly bought into COVID conspiracies spread by mostly vaxxed right-wing media figures and Republican politicians playing them for rubes. They’re gambling with their lives so rich people can score political points off them, but they think CRT-loving liberals are the real enemy.

– Susan J. Demas

Michigan has already been devastated by a late fourth surge, with hospitals across the state being overrun for weeks by mostly unvaccinated people. We’ve hurtled past 1.4 million cases and 25,000 deaths — and reports that the worst is behind us seem wildly optimistic between omicron and the impending holidays.

Almost all of these recent deaths were preventable by getting a few shots. But there are millions who have feverishly bought into COVID conspiracies spread by mostly vaxxed right-wing media figures and Republican politicians playing them for rubes. They’re gambling with their lives so rich people can score political points off them, but they think CRT-loving liberals are the real enemy.

Pandemic nihilism has a horrendous cost.

Meanwhile, health care workers, who were universally lauded as heroes at the beginning  of the plague, now face near-daily harassment and assaults from unvaxxed COVID patients and their families. We are breaking our health care system — which was already ridiculously expensive and inequitable — and more importantly, we are breaking the very people who have been trying to stave off mass death for almost two years.

Why, as a society, have we decided that’s acceptable?

But there’s really no time to ponder the big questions. We just have to steel ourselves against the impending omicron boom.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the latest variant — there’s some optimism that it generally results in more mild illness for the triple-vaxxed — but we do know it’s the most contagious version yet. And it dropped right before the holidays, because as we keep learning, pandemics don’t care about your plans.

Like clockwork, the worst people are out there with super-hot takes. First it was the highly coordinated right-wing talking point, “There will always be a new variant.” 

I mean, there will be, as long as the world doesn’t hit herd immunity, but Republican leaders want their unvaxxed base to believe omicron is a conspiracy cooked up by nefarious Democrats to snatch away your freedom (basically it’s a QAnon remix). Rep. Ronny Jackson put a fine point on it by labeling it the “Midterm Election Variant.” 

Then slick Ohio U.S. Senate hopeful J.D. Vance giddily tweeted last week, “Every one of you will get COVID.” (As a Michigander, I swear I’m not purposely picking on the Buckeye State; they’re just punching above their weight in crazy lately).

But this is what Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) — who tardily disclosed one bout of COVID last year — have been rooting for all along. They’ve told us COVID is inevitable, so they don’t have to do the hard work of coming up with plans to stop the virus’ spread and protect the most vulnerable. 

What happens if an emergency hits my family — like a freak car accident or heart attack? Will there be a hospital bed available? Or will an unvaccinated person get better care than those of us who have tried to do everything right and be good citizens?

– Susan J. Demas

For Republicans, every societal problem is too hard to fix (i.e. it might take some money from their billionaire donors’ pockets), so they spend all their time screaming about fake ones like Critical Race Theory.

And as a bonus, Republicans aren’t afraid to shamelessly bash Democrats like President Biden and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer when the death toll soars (with an assist from right-wing media)  — even when we know it’s disproportionately hitting their voters. That’s just a small price to pay if they can win in 2022.

So now we’re facing another pandemic-ravaged holiday season while contending with deeply broken people making everything worse. Like many, I’m most worried for my senior parents and relatives with health conditions. You never know when you’ll be the statistic for a bad breakthrough case.

But to be honest, I am more worried about what happens if an emergency hits my family — like a freak car accident or heart attack. Will there be a hospital bed available? Or will an unvaccinated person get better care than those of us who have tried to do everything right and be good citizens?

How can we say that’s right, moral or just? Like just about everything in this pandemic, it’s not. Alas, I really don’t have any words of comfort or joy to the millions who feel like they’re hanging on by a thread.


Originally published December 20, 2021 on Michigan Advance. It is shared here with permission.

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