ZEN THERE WERE NONE: Sometime in the last two weeks, we as a nation hit the 700,000 mark. This past week, Santa Barbara County surpassed 500. As of this morning, it was up to 506. These are, of course, random and arbitrary mileposts. And for the most part, they went totally unobserved.
That’s a lot of dead people.
I get it.
There are so many flags flying at half- staff these days, it’s hard to stay focused. And after 18 months, “out of sight, out of mind” is no longer a lifestyle choice but a necessity.
If I’d have been drinking, it would have sobered me up.
This Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors engaged in their usual rope-a-dope sessions with the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and other increasingly agitated members of the Flat Earth Society who show up with religious regularity to accuse the supervisors and the county’s public health officers of Gestapo-like tactics in response to COVID. Big Pharma. Big Brother. Nazis. Hitler. Nuremberg.
We’re reached a Darwinian crossroads. The planet’s population — seven billion and change — has exceeded its tipping point. These people have graciously volunteered to lighten the load. Except of course, their inalienable rights end where my nostrils begin. With a disease that’s spread by the fine aerosolized mist of human saliva, that’s a hard line in the sand to draw.
Here’s what I know. In the month of August, 95 of the 112 COVID patients hospitalized in Santa Barbara had not been vaccinated. Do the math. And the median age of those who were hospitalized and been vaccinated was 80. So no, the vaccine is not 100 percent. It is not a bulletproof vest. But it’s way better than going into battle protected by only a raincoat.
This Tuesday would be the last time the supervisors automatically scheduled an update on COVID. Our numbers have improved that dramatically. For the same reason, I suppose, firefighters don’t lighten up and enjoy a refreshing smoke while mopping up the remains of an incident, the supervisors voted to extend the indoor mask mandate ’til November 5.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s Public Health officer, was especially eloquent. Ansorg was born in Germany and speaks with a mild German accent. I always wondered what he was thinking when all the anti-vaxxers/maskers were making their Nazi allusions. What he did say was, “If someone repeats a false claim again and again and again, that false claim does not become reality.”
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Ansorg and his boss, Van Do-Reynoso, have spent the better part of 18 months trying to get the word out. That word — by necessity of new information and human fallibility — has mutated over time. Sometimes by as much as 180 degrees. (Initially, Ansorg was skeptical about the value of masks. Now he swears by them.) But with almost 70 percent of the county’s eligible population now vaccinated, they’ve clearly made progress. That number was not quite 50 percent in August. Of the holdouts, about half are described in the literature as “apathetics.” These are people who if they won the lottery could not rouse themselves to cash in their ticket.
I’d like to point out the screamingly obvious. The COVID vaccine was not sold like any other pharmaceutical products are sold: with TV commercials. And why not? Instead, public health officials over the planet have had to avail themselves of public service announcements and scrounge whatever free media they could get from reporters attending their press briefings and supervisors’ meeting.
Do politicians get themselves elected that way? No, they do not. In the last national election cycle, they spent $8.5 billion on TV, radio, and social media showing pictures of themselves with their partners, their dogs, and their children.
Does Pfizer — one of the three licensed manufacturers of the COVID vaccine — sell Viagra that way? No it does not. In 2017, Pfizer spent $232 million on TV commercials pitching the virtues of four-hour erections for men swinging in the back nines of their lives. For the wonderful named Lyrica — Pfizer’s number-one selling drug — the company spent $246 million that year. The industry as a whole spends about $47 billion a year on marketing and advertising. They wouldn’t spend that much if it didn’t get results, notwithstanding the mandatory disclaimers warning viewers of their drugs’ possible side effects, which often include such harrowing things as suicidal ideation and rectal bleeding.
Yet the Flat Earthers worry about side effects from the vaccine?
Supervisor Joan Hartmann volunteered an interesting fact in response to Tuesday’s crowd of unconscionable objectors. During the Revolutionary War of 1776, 90 percent of all American casualties were caused not by the Redcoats but by disease, particularly the smallpox virus. Those not killed outright were rendered too sick to fight. George Washington — remember, the guy who could not tell a lie — ordered his troops to be inoculated against the virus. And obviously it worked. If it didn’t, we’d all be speaking with British accents.
Maybe that story would get the “apathetics” — yes, it’s a designated category — off their couches. As for the others, to mangle a line from The X-Files, they need not to believe.
Ansorg said one more thing that stuck with me. “The fact of the matter,” he said, “is we’re all humans.”
I still don’t know what he meant by that.