Virus Outbreak Florida

With COVID-19 cases surging in his state, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed an executive order to prevent schools from mandating masks. Florida also has passed one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. 

RICHMOND — Maybe it’s the water. That’s what we say when we can’t figure out why something weird is happening.

And right now in the United States of America, we are behaving in a most peculiar way on two fronts, the two V’s: voting and vaccination.

You’d think — in a democracy that long ago sorted out who can vote — it might be a no-brainer to let voters do their thing. We managed an amendment letting all male citizens vote and its partner, the 15th, which guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race. And then, after some very stalwart American women left their black wood stoves and their chickens to persist, the voting door opened to women. (Not that the 19th Amendment made women equal, but at least their votes were equal to men’s.)

It’s a hundred years since women gained the vote, 76 years since Medgar Evers came back from his World War II service, wasn’t allowed to vote in Mississippi and went to work as a civil rights leader, registering voters. (Which led to his being shot and killed in front of his home in 1963.) It’s 58 years since we let 18-year-olds vote and half a century since we passed the Voting Rights Act. Each of these events expanded the voter base.

Now we have one state after another figuring out ways to shrink voter lists and have fewer people go to the polls. And the changes apparently target Black and brown people as journalists point out the closing of polling places in certain neighborhoods and tighter rules about getting an absentee or mail-in ballot.

Texas Democrats put their state’s proposed new rules for voting in front of the nation when they walked out on the vote and trekked to Washington to seek congressional help. But, it’s Georgia, Florida and Iowa that have proposed the most restrictive measures, with Arkansas, Montana and Arizona not far behind.

Corporations don’t like to take stances on political issues, at least out loud. But, in March, Delta and Coca-Cola — each headquartered in Georgia — broke silence. The New York Times reported that Delta’s chief executive had written an internal memo saying Georgia’s new limits on access to voting do “not match Delta’s values.” And a similar statement came from Coca-Cola. In the meantime, Congress dawdles over voter rights that most Americans thought were a routine part of their lives, so taken for granted that many people don’t bother to vote.

Some of the same states that don’t want easy access to ballots are also among those lagging on confronting the coronavirus.

Georgia and Arkansas are in the bottom nine states for vaccination rates, each having fewer than 40 percent vaccinated. In contrast, all six New England states have more than 60 percent vaccinated, with Vermont topping the list and Massachusetts No. 2. Is it mere coincidence that the states with the fewest vaccinated people are red states? They are Alabama, Mississippi, Wyoming, Louisiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, West Virginia and Tennessee with Alabama at No. 50. All red.

No one seems to have a clear answer for getting vaccine into the arms of the 90 million or so Americans who have not gotten a shot. Science is a nonseller, along with many priests, ministers, company presidents, mayors, governors and legislators. And the resisters not only refuse to protect us by getting a vaccine, but many of them also resist mask mandates and persist in attending giant events.

It is not logical to prefer remote learning for our kids instead of their wearing masks in school. It is not logical for teachers and health care people to have an option when it comes to vaccination and masks. It is not logical to dismiss a virus that’s killed over a half-million Americans.

It is alarming that it has taken many months — and a number of viral events — for Berkshire Health Systems to mandate vaccinations for employees. It is not logical for relatives and neighbors to take offense if you say, before inviting them in, “Are you vaccinated?”

We wore masks at Barrington Stage’s production of “Eleanor” (superb) last week to protect ourselves from thoughtless people who might be clapping behind us. It was a relief to hear artistic director Julianne Boyd announce that masks would be required in the future. Perhaps, better yet, for theaters, movies, workplaces, schools, baseball games, etc., to require proof of vaccination. We need to slam the door on this virus — now. Like voting and vaccination, it’s also a V word.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.