Politics Monday: Of Course We Need a Vaccine Passport

Travel is ticking back up, and with it talk of a vaccine passport, writes New York Times reporter Claire Moses. It’s not a new idea — inoculations against yellow fever and other diseases are already required for travel to certain countries. Growing up in the Foreign Service, my diplomatic passport was twinned with a passport-sized yellow vaccination booklet.

Opposing on grounds of personal freedom

Like everything else pandemic, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has politicized the notion of a vaccine passport, using the cover of “personal freedoms” to prevent their use.

…vaccination passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Suing the feds to release cruise industry

And there’s a weird twist to this position, because the return of Florida’s cruise industry, in dry dock since March of last year, is dependent on the concept of a vaccination passport. DeSantis cares so much about this key business that he has sued the Biden administration to release the CDC’s hold. Does his left hand not know what his right hand is doing?

It’s just such a bizarre, mixed signal.

Peter Ricci, director of hospitality and tourism management programs at Florida Atlantic University, quoted in Wendy Rhodes, The Palm Beach Post, April 12

Prolonging the pandemic

He’s fighting for the liberation of unvaccinated people to spread germs as they please in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — one that appears to be surging again. By preventing Floridians to distinguish between who is vaccinated and who is not, DeSantis is telling us to be content with prolonging the pandemic.

The Editors of The Palm Beach Post

Florida leads the country in the number of COVID variant cases, which are 50% more contagious and 64% more deadly. On March 21st, Florida’s deaths surpassed two million. Two million souls are nothing more than data points. You won’t hear this from the state’s confident governor.

I think things are going well.

Governor Ron DeSantis
Pulitzer Prize winner Clay Bennett, Washington Post News Service, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Wellness Wednesday: Feel the Liberation of Getting the Vaccine

Not only was there no longer like a light at the end of the tunnel, there was no longer any tunnel.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin, in Jordan Mendoza’s USA Today article.

We were in the dark

Yes, we were all in that dark nowhere for months, feeling terrified and lost and hopeless and unseeing.

I thought I’d never get sprung.

My friend Deb

The vaccine lights the way

And, then, the unimaginable happened. A light beamed from not too far away, revealing a short tunnel through which we only had to step to be delivered from the Coronavirus killing machine. Yes, it seemed like an eternal wait, complicated by lottery scrambling for access, but then I entered a grocery store for the first time in eleven months. Inhaling the heady scent of fresh bread, I got a needle in my arm and the world changed.

Gratitude washes over us

United States is the first country to administer 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, on track to meet the president’s goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days in office. USA Today reporter Jordan Mendoza writes about Americans getting emotional when being vaccinated.

As soon as I got into the line, I saw an elderly person in a wheelchair getting their vaccine, and I think it was just like a really full-circle moment for me.

Michael Limus, 29, Sacramento, California

The magnitude of the moment just kept washing over me.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin

I had tears in my eyes, literally. But I also had just a tremendous amount of gratitude and hope in my heart that better days were ahead for all of us.

Tom Miner, 25, Charlotte, North Carolina 

I feel like it’s one step closer to a little bit more normalcy for my family.

Travel blogger Hather Montgome

It’s still miraculous that we’ve been able to come so far.

Mike DiBenedetto, 46, Phoenix

Zimbabwean-American Dr. Tererai Trent and her husband, Mark Trent, celebrated being vaccinated in the best possible way.

Compassion carries us forward

Everyone benefits if you’re a little bit more compassionate and open to being more flexible and more understanding of different challenges and needs. The pandemic is not the only time we should be thinking about these things.

Travis Chi Wing Lau, Assistant Professor, Kenyon College, Columbus, Ohio

Politics Monday: How I Make The Pandemic Numbers Count

We’ve become used to the COVID numbers

As the pandemic war on and people became more accustomed to the new reality, the statistics on new cases and deaths largely receded from the public consciousness, the numbers less of a blaring siren than quiet background music.

Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Deadly illness has become the elevator music of our daily life.

I type the numbers out each morning

One of the rituals that I have adopted during the pandemic is typing the daily numbers into a spreadsheet. It comes out of my career as a New York State budget examiner in Albany. Identify the data to understand the world.

As I add the digits, I repeat the figures out loud and connect them to real people. Yesterday, 325 people, the equivalent of my entire Florida neighborhood, were diagnosed with COVID in my county. At the state level, nearly 5000, twice the number of students at my Maryland high school, found out they have COVID, too. The 100 Floridians who died on April 2 feels like losing two-thirds of all my Facebook friends.

Florida deaths exceed those of Canada and Australia combined

Florida had more COVID-19 deaths in a year than Canada and Australia combined, even though the combined population of the two countries is triple that of Florida.

Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida leads the country in the number of COVID variant cases, which are 50% more contagious and 64% more deadly. On March 21st, Florida’s deaths surpassed two million. Two million souls are nothing more than data points. You won’t hear this from the state’s confident governor.

I think things are going well.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Family Friday: What If All Our Elders Were Family?

Readers of this blog will recognize some of my aunts and uncles by name: Snooky, Elaine, Terry, Carl, Marie. And cousins, loads of cousins. They were all once the province of summer, the midwestern landscape that my Foreign Service family visited on what the State Department calls “home leave.”

These days, we keep in touch with each other by text, email, letters, telephone, Facebook, Zoom. No one is left out. Many of us have had at least one vaccine, several of us lucky enough to be fully vaccinated.

The same cannot be said for millions of older Americans who are isolated, an increasingly perilous condition during this awful pandemic. Technical challenges, narrow access points, and a widening eligibility pool all threaten to leave our most vulnerable unvaccinated.

Older Americans are isolated

Jean Andrade, an 88-year-old who lives alone, has been waiting for her COVID-19 vaccine since she became eligible under state guidelines nearly a month ago … an untold number of older adults like Andrade are getting left behind, unseen, because they are too overwhelmed, too frail or too poor to fend for themselves.

Gillian Flaccus, Heather Hollingsworth and Russ Bynum, Associated Press

access to vaccines is limited

It was hard enough to score a vaccine in Florida when only those aged 65 and above were eligible. Now, the floodgates have opened to anyone with underlying medical condition as well as teachers and other workers.

Floridians who are 75 and older make up 62% of the residents killed by the coronavirus since the pandemic began, but only 32% of the people who have received their second of the two-shot vaccine, according to state numbers. I suspect computer literacy is the culprit. Navigating online signups successfully has required an alacrity with running multiple screens at a time and entering data at lightning speed as available sign-up slots disappear.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

So let’s behave like family

It’s time to begin emergency airlifts of ungrateful grandchildren to Florida until all grandparents are registered.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

Or, as a local politician who steered vaccines to a client community of affluent seniors recently said:

I hate the thought that anybody would think that I would only be going out and helping one community because I’m their lawyer; that bothers me….They’re not just a client of mine, but they’re like family,” Bogen said, according to a Sun Sentinel article.

Mark Bogen, Broward County Commissioner and lawyer for Wynmoore, quoted in article by Herald Tribune reporter Zac Anderson

Maybe it’s time to behave as if the elderly were family to us all.

How Palm Beach County Helps Us Help Each Other

Voters now realize more than ever what government means to them. And in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, lives and livelihoods are now at risk.

Nick Moschella, Executive Editor, The Palm Beach Post writing about Political Editor Antonio Fins.

With Florida’s coronavirus cases surpassing the 1 million mark, Governor Ron DeSantis surfaced from weeks of laying low to give voice to an imaginary universe. “I’m opposed to mandates period. I don’t think they work,” DeSantis appears to be still playing up to Trump, who disdained masks from the start and made mask-wearing so voluntary that he turned the White House and his rally locations into infection hot spots … At this point, DeSantis is just sucking up to a guy who’s a month away from hiding out in Florida in an illegal long-term living arrangement at the Mar-a-Lago Club to avoid the New York tax-fraud prosecutors.

Thank god for local government. As Isaac Morton reported in the Florida Phoenix, many of Florida’s 67 counties have mandated masks, including Palm Beach County where we live. When the governor threw open the state at the end of September — ushering in the explosion in cases — he also appeared to take the teeth out of the mask mandates by denying counties the ability to impose fines for rule-breakers.

What he didn’t say was that counties are empowered to establish the rules for businesses operating within their jurisdictions. Palm Beach County’s June 24, 2020 mandatory masks order continues in place unaffected.

Mandating the wearing of facial coverings in all businesses and establishments and in outdoor public spaces where social distancing is not possible.

Palm Beach County Executive Order

Palm Beach County backed up their words with a good deed — mailing out County masks to all its residents. We have used them in place of my early, hand-made efforts.

From what we can see, and unlike the push-back videos that went viral over the summer, people are following these orders in their daily errands. The county hasn’t had to fine anyone, though — as a former budget examiner — I’ll bet their fiscal office would love to count on the revenue stream from people like this Costco customer.

What you can’t change, you should at least make money on. Maybe it’s time for a sin tax, like those on cigarettes and alcohol. A pandemic pay-up, to be earmarked for PPE.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are rolling up our sleeves and masking up. We just received a new batch of masks from Palm Beach County and will wear them with pride.

Get the picture?

How to prevent relapse: Keeping risk in focus

Eight months in, following COVID-19 prevention guidelines can feel like more and more of a challenge. Writing for The Conversation, Jay Maddock, a professor of public health at Texas A&M University, says that the fear that propelled us into life-saving behavior in the spring has eased, putting us at risk of relapse into unhealthy behavior that exposes us — and others — to illness, and worse.

Creating our own risk-assessment model will help us sustain healthy behavior as the pandemic drags on.

Relapse-prevention: Initial PERCEIVED risk

Much as the dieter starts out strong — restricting food intake, maximizing activity — Americans’ pandemic compliance was high when the pandemic forced us into lockdown in March. We stayed home, wore masks if we ventured out, and washed our hands until they chapped. We were terrified as we watched televised images of hospitals and morgues overflow with the frightening reality.

Relapse-prevention: Reduced risk over time

It’s very difficult to sustain extreme behavior. The dieter’s determination falters as the payoff becomes harder to achieve, and old habits push back. As we have settled into the new normal of pandemic life, fear has ebbed. Lockdowns have evaporated even as COVID-19 cases rise. The 10 million cases and 235,000 deaths have become numbers. President Trump’s disinterest in combatting the virus — not wearing a mask, not social distancing, even after contracting COVID-19 — translates into the public’s disinterest. As a beach-goer in Florida said on the news, “I mean, the President got it and he’s fine. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried.”

Relapse-prevention: making your own risk model

It falls to each of us to assess the risk of contracting the virus and the consequences on our lives if we do. I have finally recovered after nearly dying last year during a three-month hospitalization for an illness that left my immune system permanently weak. My husband is also at high risk. Neither one of us wants to spent one more minute in a hospital. So, we’ve incorporated the new protocols into daily life, limiting our exposure and protecting ourselves if we do venture forth. Our county government has imposed a mask mandate, and most people comply even though the governor cancelled local governments’ authority to fine.

Palm Beach County daily COVID-19 cases

The virus is visible to us, in large part because I’ve been tracking the numbers in my Florida area since the end of May, using the daily Department of Health updates published in The Palm Beach Post.

The double digit daily increases grew through the spring, began coming down in the summer — the lockdown worked — and have now begun rising again as Governor Ron DeSantis opened the state wide. He is looking to reduce the frequency of these reports in order to reduce the evidence of risk. Out of sight, out of mind.

We will continue living our lives by the model we’ve developed over the past eight months. We are not isolated. We are not lonely. We are in a community of good people, families with children who came around in greater numbers than ever this Halloween. We were ready for them with a social-distancing delivery system my husband created: a 10 foot candy cannon! It was one of the best Halloweens ever. In a pandemic, which we are learning to live with.

How to Beat Trump: Laugh Him Out

Every joke is a tiny revolution.

George Orwell

Critics of President Trump can learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries. Just as pointing and laughing deflates flashers, wit deflates dictators. Making the leader a laughing stock wins people over. In his recent column for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof labels the power of mockery as “laughtism.”

We know it works against Trump. Who can forget the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner when Seth Meyers rolled out his Trump jokes as a grim-faced Donald glared back.

Donald Trump says he would run for president as a Republican, which is odd because I just assumed he was running as a joke.

Seth Meyers, 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

The Kristof notes that the Committee for the Protection of Journalists — which I looked at in a recent post about the Voice of America — has intervened this year to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution, or threatened with death.

It was a cartoon of a the prophet Muhammad in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that led to the 2015 attack that killed 11 of its staff. The New York Times’ Norimitsu Onishi reported that the magazine reprinted the cartoon last month as the trial began.

The editorial cartoons that run in my newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, have hit the nail on the head, lampooning the White House’s coronavirus containment claims and strident electioneering. Cartoonists David Horsey and Clay Bennett are among the cartoonists that I’ve featured in my recent posts.

The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators.

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo

Kristof closes with a final quote of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo that seems particularly well-timed. In the international embarrassment that was the first presidential debate, Vice President Biden called Trump a liar, but we have come to understand this as a fact, along with his cheating and other corruptions. Trump has been discredited so frequently, most recently in the NYT tax expose, that cartoonist Andy Marlette was ready with this within hours of the debate.

What did make the headlines was Biden calling Trump a clown.

Kristof quotes Liu Xiaobo in assuring us that a clown is much easier to dispose of.

A clown needs less revenge than a monster does.

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo

… satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

Nikolas Kristof, The New York Times

Practice laughtism. With apologies to Stephen Sondheim, send out the clown.