Anti-mask and anti-vax: The healthcare costs beyond COVID

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Last week, just two weeks after joining the local elementary school, our 7-year old son tested positive for COVID-19 and just a few hours later, so did our 3-year old daughter. Our story and this surge are not unique; Tennessee recently crossed the 1 million cases mark and the fact that the state’s ICU beds and therapeutics are in short supply again means that many fellow Tennesseans have endured the same plight. What makes this virus surge different are some of the longer-term consequences that come from being anti-mask, anti-vax, and anti-science.

I campaigned for Congress through 19 counties, which are home to many people who are anti-mask, anti-vax, and skeptical of the reality and harm of COVID. My wife is a critical care physician, managing the ICUs at several hospitals since before the pandemic. She has seen the worst of COVID and the less frequent COVID successes from the ICU. We knew that contracting the virus and passing it on to our elderly and immunocompromised relatives was a risk. However, through my campaign and more importantly, through 18 months of my wife’s ICU work, not one of our staff, friends, or relatives contracted COVID from our work or events—even though the vaccine wasn’t widely available until 2021.

How did we do that? We got vaccinated the earliest we could, wore masks, maintained bubbles, and made sure we didn’t engage in unnecessarily risky behavior. It meant that the kids wore masks. It meant that we sat outside instead of inside a restaurant. It meant that we attended cookouts instead of house parties. It was ironic when we heard people talk about how masks violated their freedoms, even though those were the same people telling us that “freedom isn’t free” for years. In just two weeks, following a nationally covered school board meeting in which people opposed masks, all our work had been defeated by people not adhering to safe practices in the school system.

For the politically entrenched, healthcare workers and scientists have gone from heroes to villains, from those who pursued knowledge to those who lie to the public. Neighbors see those of us who advocated for masks and vaccinations as out to get them, while we apparently see their lack of masks as a way to get us.

My last statement contains the most troubling issue, the fact that neighborhoods have an intractable fight between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Read more