We don’t want to look frightened, you know

Yesterday I discovered that I am scheduled to teach a course in person in the Fall, as I was putting together my syllabus and organizing my materials for an, I thought, online class. Ooops. I asked the administration if I could instead teach it online; no, they said, the students signed up for a real live genuine classroom experience, so you’re stuck with it. Oh well. At least I’ve got their written denial, which I’ve passed on to my wife, so if I die or am crippled by COVID-19 this year, my heirs will have some legal recourse for restitution.

I am puzzled by how smart people all across the country can make such stupid decisions. As soon as infection rates start declining, they rush to dismantle every decision that made that reduction possible, and woosh, COVID comes roaring back with a new variant, and only after the numbers rocket up again do they start implementing what they should have done all along.

Even the far-right is conceding that vaccinations, at least, are necessary.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible” and asked that people “ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.” House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, got the vaccine after months of delay and then publicly said, “there shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective.” And Fox News host Sean Hannity, in a widely shared video, declared, it “absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.” This was treated in the press as an unequivocal endorsement, even though the use of the word “many” was clearly meant to let the Fox News viewers feel like he’s talking about other people getting vaccinated.

That’s from Amanda Marcotte, who points out how superficial this “endorsement” is — they are setting up plausible denial, nothing more, and continuing to promote vaccine denial for their hardcore supporters. They have to have a soundbite on record so that when journalists point out that their bad ideas are killing people, they can pluck that one sentence out to show that, see, it’s not our fault.

All this shows is that GOP politicians and pundits still know how to manipulate the mainstream press’s endless desire to believe the Republicans aren’t really as bad as the #resistance tweeters are saying. But while clips of prominent Republicans saying pro-vaccine stuff might be enough to get the press off their backs — or keep Biden from accusing them of “killing people,” as he did (correctly) to Facebook — it won’t be enough to actually get vaccine-hostile Republican voters to change their minds. Indeed, this should be understood more as a P.R. move to quell press criticism than a sincere effort to get reluctant people to get vaccinated.

Unlike most journalists — who merely watch clips from Fox News, often ones pre-selected for them by the Fox News P.R. team — Matt Gertz at Media Matters and Aaron Rupar at Vox actually put in the miserable work of watching entire shows on the network. And both reported on Tuesday that, despite the hype around Hannity’s viral clip, the overall tenor of Fox News this week has still been that getting the vaccine is a very bad thing that no red-blooded Republican worth his MAGA hat should ever do. Indeed, the out-of-context Hannity clip comes from an episode that was overall anti-vaccine. The Hannity clip “came in the middle of a segment in which he railed against colleges and universities that are requiring their students to get their shots,” Gertz writes. He also points out that Hannity’s show “is bracketed between those of Carlson and Laura Ingraham,” and both of those hosts went hard on the vaccines-are-terrible-and-doctors-are-lying-to-you messaging.

The universities are at least acknowledging that the boat is sinking, which is something, but they’re also telling the crew to get out there and arrange the deck chairs for the evening’s shuffleboard tournament.

I’m also sitting here wondering why I, a supposedly smart person, am just going along with a decision that puts me at greater risk, especially when a safer alternative exists.


  1. cartomancer says

    Presumably, since you’re already fully vaccinated, the risk is mostly to other people, not to yourself? Which doesn’t make it any less pressing, of course.

  2. arno says

    Being vaccinated drastically reduces the risk of very bad stuff, but doesn’t eliminate it. It is not unusual for UK hospitals to have more vaccinated Covid patients than unvaccinated by now — the overall vaccination rates are very high, and vaccinated people ended up in the ER due to Covid tend to stay longer than unvaccinated of the same age (because recovering takes longer than dying).

  3. raven says

    A lot of the universities, colleges, and even the community colleges are requiring vaccinations for onsite students for the Fall term, 2021.
    The University of Minnesota system might end up being in a minority here.

    The faculty organizations should speak up here.
    I suspect they have more influence than they know since they are also on the right side of this issue.

  4. raven says

    Most or all of those right wingnut GOP politicians and leaders are already vaccinated. This isn’t just a guess. Where people have looked, that is what they have found.

    Which makes sense. They are educated, wealthy, and powerful. And at least bright enough to do the cost-benefit calculation of vaccine or Covid-19 virus infection. It doesn’t do them any good to have all that money, power, and privilege and be sick or dead.

    The hypocrisy here is obvious.

    AFAWCT, everyone will eventually get vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. The antivaxxers will just do it the hard way, by catching the virus and risking death or permanent disability. The Covid-19 virus is like the old childhood disease such as measles and Chickenpox or the common cold viruses. Highly contagious and everyone got them sooner or later.

  5. robro says

    Perhaps you’ll get “lucky”, PZ, with the continued surge in Delta variant cases the university might decide to cancel onsite classes again.

    As for the recantations by Republican politicians and Murdoch’s shills, I suspect many of their ardent followers will see just another dogwhistle…”he says that, but we know what he really means…and ignore the suggestions for themselves.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    Our college is “requiring” all unvaccinated students to wear masks at all times. “Requiring” is in quotes because there is no enforcement mechanism whatsoever — it’s all the honor system. We aren’t even allowed to ask students whether they have been vaccinated or not, let alone ask to see their vaccination cards. Very stupid.

  7. jrkrideau says

    I just had a quick glance at a local university’s re-opening plan and they do not have a mandatory vaccination plan but I suspect they are relying on the general vaccination rate. Provincially here in Ontario as of yesterday, we are at One-Shot 80.59% and Fully Vaccinated at 66.34% for +18’s. It looks like they are assuming a high rate for arriving staff and students.

    They say

    Physical distancing will not be required by September 2021. Class sizes will not be limited, although capacity restrictions may remain in place in some settings.


    Non-medical masks will be required in indoor common areas and classrooms.

    and they are planning on an on-site vaccination clinic during the start of classes.

    Probably not all that bad.

  8. Bruce says

    While YOU likely can’t say it, the rest of us can put 2+2 together and note that UMM seems now to be more science-denying than Hannity is.
    As Tucker would say: I’m just asking questions. Like, is the UMM policy in order to refill the emptied graves of killed Native American students from the past? I wouldn’t have expected them to be doing that.

  9. garnetstar says

    PZ, do you have good enough masks? I found a respirator (same as an N95, except the South Korean version) that’s cheap ($2.50), comfortable, and convenient, that blocks 96% of all particles on exhaling and on inhaling. It was tested by an aerosol engineer, and that’s what he found by experiment.

    I wore that all last semester, and had my TAs and students wear them too, which was fortunate, because I stood two feet away from one of them talking to her for about twenty minutes the day before she tested positive, and I didn’t get infected.

    Also, you can wear a second mask over it, a two-layer cloth one with a filter layer in between (a vacuum cleaner bag tested as the best filter!). Even better. I have a good model of that kind to recommend as well, with a nose wire and a pocket already sewn in to put in the filter layer, and good snug fit under the chin, and comfortable shoelace-material ear straps instead of elastic one.

    A lot of N95’s and the like that this engineer tested, he found to be not as good as they claimed, or else just knock-offs.

    Anyway, if you’d like, just email me or something and I’ll send all the info and you can look at the engineer’s data for the model you may have or else pick out a really good one. Also get one of those two-layer with a pocket ones, if you like.

  10. whheydt says

    The entire University of California system is requiring all faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated. I would assume–given the state of California law on school vaccinations–that there is a medical exemption, but neither a religious nor “personal philosophy” exemption.

  11. brucej says

    Thanks to the Arizona legislature, I got this in my work inbox today:

    Dear Colleagues,

    The University is updating its COVID-19 protocols to comply with Section 15-1650.05 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, which prohibits public universities from requiring COVID-19 vaccination or from imposing mandatory COVID-19 testing and use of face coverings based on vaccination status.

    Nor can we mandate masks for everyone.

    They are willing to kill other people’s children to own the libs. Monsters. We’re ruled by Monsters.

  12. indianajones says

    Brilliant cartoon. I might have added another ship sailing by saying ‘All Ships Matter’ but what would I know? I still struggle with stick figures.

  13. Kevin Karplus says

    @whheydt The University of California vaccine requirement does (unfortunately) have a religious exemption, but California is currently at 77.2% of adults having at least one dose and 63.3% fully vaccinated. Most of the resistance to vaccination is not among college students here, but in the rural areas and the poorest parts of the cities. Los Angeles has gone back to requiring masks indoors (even for vaccinated people) as the Delta variant spreads, and the Bay Area and surrounding counties are recommending it.

    Minnesota, as a whole, is doing pretty well on vaccination and current cases, and Stevens County seems to be reporting no new cases for a week. Of course, the spread of Delta up from Missouri through Iowa will get to Minnesota in a few weeks, and the tune may change then.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    I just learned about a breast cancer patient that was attacked by anti-vaxxers outside a clinic.
    She was wearing a face mask and was sprayed by bear mace by people protesting the mask mandate.
    This was in USA, I learned about it via The Young Turks at Youtube.

  15. decih14494 says

    Who needs a “vaccine” when you get buy a 10lb sack of cattle de-wormer on Amazon for under $100 dollars?!

    Use the code word “DARKHORSE” for 15% off at purchase.