LENOX — Are you fed up with people in our midst who are sabotaging efforts by health agencies to protect our residents from the resurgence of the COVID delta variant?
Whether you are or not, here are reasons to call out the anti-vaxxers who are prolonging the nation’s public health emergency, all under the misguided banner of personal freedom and choice in the teeth of a pandemic that has taken the lives of 310 Berkshire County residents and 670,000 people across the nation:
1) A revealing letter to the editor from Tri-Town Health Department Chairman Dr. Charles Kenny and Executive Director James Wilusz published in The Eagle and other media this week points out that “like the Department of Defense in a war against a human enemy, during an epidemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wages war against a disease. Both departments have the same mandate: protect our homeland and its citizens. Boards of health are the local command posts of the home guard.”
The letter from the agency serving Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge points out that a Stockbridge resident, who remains unidentified, has been “systematically spreading misinformation to undermine the directives of the boards of health and CDC. … We ask the responsible citizens of our communities to support their local boards of health and to deplore publicly the subversive behavior of this misguided individual.”
2) At Friday’s meeting of the Southern Berkshire Public Health Collaborative, which covers 10 towns, including Great Barrington, Wilusz referred to the “million-pound elephant in the room” over mask directives.
“Some towns are getting beaten up over it,” he said. “We weren’t looking for a heavy-handed enforcement threat, we were asking people to step up.” He detailed “the battle we’re fighting, the misinformation and the lack of real facts out there. That’s a secondary war we’re fighting to try to get the right information out there” as some people show up claiming, “masks don’t work, vaccines don’t work!”
3) After the Richmond Select Board adopted the local Board of Health directive for indoor masking in the town’s handful of public spaces, it put off a decision on whether to require town employees (not including school staffers) to be vaccinated.
During a lively debate, veteran Selectman Roger Manzolini described mask mandates as “morally corrupt.” Contrary to CDC guidance, he claimed that “a middle-aged person who’s healthy, there’s no reason for that person to be vaccinated. Most adults will do the right thing for themselves and the community. I’d be personally offended to be told that I have to inject something into my body. It’s just wrong; it’s against my rights and my liberties.”
I hesitate to cite Manzolini, a likable gentleman who has served the town admirably during his quarter-century as a selectman. At a previous meeting, he reluctantly acknowledged that he has been vaccinated.
C’mon, Roger, you don’t have to be embarrassed. While conceding the virus is serious, Manzolini contended that “as a country we’ve overreacted to it.”
Tell that to the families and friends of the 310 Berkshire residents who have perished because of COVID and the 7,788 others who have suffered from the virus but have recovered.
Select Board Chairman Neal Pilson commented that “we’re no different from the rest of the country. We like to think of ourselves as being educated, up to speed, protective of each other, but we’re just like everybody else.”
4) In Adams, the Board of Health encountered blowback last week over a proposed letter recommending an indoor masking directive.
“This is not a mandate,” said Chairman David Rhoads, who drafted the letter. “It’s not a regulation. It’s a call to action.”
As reported by The Eagle’s Francesca Paris, Rhoads was surprised when some of the 15 people attending the meeting occasionally broke out into shouts and jeers, with some questioning the severity of COVID-19. One resident went mask-less in Town Hall, despite town rules, and held up a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag as he protested that the directive would be “unreasonable,” “unscientific” and unconstitutional.
At this week’s follow-up meeting, Rhoads told me Friday, the letter wasn’t approved, pending a potential health board vote Sept. 29. After several town officials questioned the “legalistic” tone of the directive, the document will be revised to incorporate a directive into a “pep talk.”
Some residents at Wednesday’s meeting raised objections, while others contacted Rhoads directly seeking a strong statement supporting masking and social distancing.
5) A recent foray into Litchfield County in northwest Connecticut reminded me that here in the Berkshires, we’re rather fortunate, despite the occasional naysayers. It was disconcerting to see waitstaff at a Norfolk restaurant mask-less while serving customers. You rarely see that in our county. I was sorely tempted to walk out.
6) Hopscotching for headlines down to New York City: A hostess at Carmine’s, an Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was assaulted by three tourists from Texas after she asked to see their proof of vaccination Thursday, police said, four days after enforcement of the city’s vaccine mandate for indoor diners began.
The tourists argued with the hostess over the requirement and, as the altercation escalated, the women began punching the hostess, who is 24 and was left bruised and scratched up. The three women were arrested and charged with assault and criminal mischief before being given desk appearance tickets and orders to return to court.
(7) Then there is rapper Nicki Minaj, who has 22 million followers on one antisocial media channel. Her tweet claiming, absurdly, that the vaccine causes impotence went viral, a term for messaging popularity that has always seemed bizarre. Who wants to be spreading something viral! The White House offered her a phone call with scientists to set her straight, and last I heard, she was planning to get the jabs.
The bottom line: The pandemic death toll (670,000) has surpassed the U.S. Civil War, infamous for having the highest American death toll of any war in history. COVID has also claimed more lives than of American soldiers than World War I (116,516 deaths), World War II (405,399), Vietnam (58,220) plus Iraq and Afghanistan (more than 7,000) combined. Another comparison: Cancer kills about 600,000 Americans annually.