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My Point of View: Republican elected officials show nonchalance to virus

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson


Ignoring data elevates risks.

When the National Weather Service issues a blizzard warning, you can hunker down until the storm blows over, or you can drive into a prairie whiteout. One of those choices carries a much greater chance of personal calamity and endangering others if you need to be rescued.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

My German-immigrant ancestors who broke sod in Stearns County survived grasshopper plagues and a string of freakishly harsh winters in the 1880s. They buried children lost to smallpox and tuberculosis in their parish cemetery. They made personal sacrifices for the communal good and built strong communities despite enduring terrible hardships.

They did not have the nascent NWS, USDA or National Institute of Health powering their everyday lives with data, life-saving vaccines and other resources like we have now.

Yet now, with far more resources at our disposal, it seems like we have difficulty making wise choices and small sacrifices — based on scientific data — for the common good. Republican leaders have repeatedly said it’s too much to ask everyone to give up a little personal freedom to join forces to fight a deadly virus. They favor “personal responsibility” even when public health experts advise stronger measures.

A congressman from Ohio, Rep. Casey Weinstein, observed on Twitter, “Can you imagine if those claiming that wearing masks infringe on their rights were asked to make actual sacrifices like the Greatest Generation did?”

Have we been groomed now to expect that previous generations sacrificed so that we would never have to make trifling-to-modest sacrifices ourselves?

I think we are plenty capable of making sacrifices, but only one major party is willing to lead in making them. It’s ridiculous to be in this position, because we still agree we need fire departments for protecting life and homes. Communally-funded fire departments is something we do for the common benefit. Yet our state is on fire with COVID infections now, and the Republican Party is watching it burn.

A perfect illustration of this nonchalance is our local Republican elected officials, state Rep. Peggy Bennett and state senator-elect Gene Dornink, featured on the cover of the Albert Lea Tribune at their election night party not wearing masks in close proximity to other people in an indoor setting.

In contrast, I am thankful for outgoing state Sen. Dan Sparks and neighboring state Rep. Jeanne Poppe, who have led with moderation and common sense and will leave with solid records of effective leadership.

Their exit is like dismissing part of the fire crew.

The state’s Senate Republican leadership has made serious missteps regarding the virus, downplaying it for months and now experiencing an outbreak related to its victory party in Lake Elmo. Members notified their own caucus of the cases but failed to warn their DFL colleagues and bipartisan staff at the state Capitol.

Their lack of regard for infection risk is a danger to workplace safety, and they further erred by not notifying the venue where their super-spreader party occurred. This is a mortifying breach of common sense and courtesy.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka discovered he was experiencing symptoms of COVID himself shortly after he flew to Florida last week. He made a foolish statement that “our future can’t be prolonged isolation, face coverings and limited activities.”

Our future is going to be exactly that for as long as the virus is spreading out of control, and our hospitals are already scrambling to handle the new surge of COVID patients. This is their present status, which Gazelka refused to prevent, and it’s going to get much worse before it gets better, especially if leaders like Gazelka keep obstructing measures to reduce further spread.

It is little wonder, given this level of obtuseness, that Gazelka is facing calls to step down as senate majority leader.

Bennett and Dornink also demonstrated embarrassing disdain for medical advice and an astonishing lack of judgement in regard to a deadly virus that is going to lay us low this winter. They failed to set a minimum example of personal responsibility.

We deserve better, but we get who we voted for.

I’m not optimistic that Republican leaders will understand the situation we’re in until it’s far too late. Epidemiologists and other experts may never be able to permeate their information and ideological silos. I can only hope they get out of the way of capable “firefighters” like Gov. Tim Walz, who rely on data to protect lives.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.