Nothing had worked. “We must admit that no measures adopted controlled the course of the pandemic,” Mazyck P. Ravenel told an audience of health workers in October, 1919. “It spread with lightning like speed, went where it listed, and ceased its ravages only when available material was exhausted.”
For those living through today’s Covid-19 pandemic, it’s small comfort that the 1918-20 outbreaks were much worse — the worldwide death toll then was more than 10 times larger than the Covid mortality count to date (though the pandemic is far from over).
But it should be reassuring that we have tools proven to fight the new disease — including vaccines. On Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration gave formal approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which had been authorized last year on an emergency basis, and Americans are starting to get booster shots to prolong immunity to the virus.
Delta Air Lines told employees they would have to pay a health insurance surcharge of up to $200 a month if they refuse the shot. That’s exactly right, wrote John Banzhaf III, a pioneering crusader against smoking. “Covid-19 is now an ‘epidemic of the unvaccinated.’ But we the vaccinated are still being unnecessarily exposed to the risks — however small — of illness, hospitalization, ‘long covid’ and death. We the vaccinated have to wear masks in many places like offices and airplanes where masks would probably not be required if most Americans had their shots. And the vaccinated are unfortunately also being forced to bear most of the financial costs so that some can remain refusers.”
For school children under 12, there’s no approved vaccine option yet, and health experts believe masks are the next best thing — but governors in Florida and Texas are blocking mask mandates.
Lucia Baez-Geller spent 15 years teaching in Florida’s Miami-Dade County schools before joining the school board. She was one of the seven members of that board who voted to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order against mandating masks in public schools. “Due to the governor’s anti-mask rhetoric,” Baez-Geller wrote, she received “a large number of angry messages” accusing her of “breaking the law, ignoring parental rights, of being brainwashed by ‘Big Science,’ of being a communist, and worse,” along with some supportive responses.
Death in Kabul
Among the many questions facing the Biden administration: Should the US recognize the Taliban regime? Will the new leaders of Afghanistan, who promise peace and an amnesty, impose the same kind of draconian rule they enforced when they first took over the country in 1996?
“So far, evidence that the Taliban has changed is mixed, at best,” Ghitis wrote. “Already women have been told to stay home, for their safety. …Prominent female journalists have reportedly been taken off the air and there is evidence that much worse unfolded as the Taliban swept toward Kabul.”
Starting new lives
In the past two weeks, the US and its allies have evacuated more than 104,000 civilians from Afghanistan, according to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., who heads the US Central Command. Many are refugees who aided the US and its partners during the 20-year-long war — and they face the daunting task of starting over in a new country.
“In this critical moment, we must draw upon the best of our history and open our arms to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” she argued. “Of course, every new group of immigrants is met with resistance. After an initial wave of Chinese immigration in the mid-19th century, Congress shamefully passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that wasn’t repealed until 1943. After welcoming millions of European migrants at the dawn of the 20th century, nativism took hold and the Immigration Act of 1924 severely restricted immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. This law would disgracefully remain fully on the books until 1952, barring millions of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, and forever staining our history.”
Will America “recognize the suffering and needs of the Afghan people” or fall victim to “nativism and hate”? she asked. “That is the choice our country faces right now. We owe it to the Afghan who risked his life to fight alongside the United States. We owe it to the little girl huddled in a refugee camp, wondering if she will have a shot to ultimately become not just a guest, but an American. I know, because that little girl was me.”
The march for voting rights
Martin Luther King III was only 10 when his father was assassinated in Memphis, but he was old enough to see that Martin Luther King Jr. “gave his heart, soul and very life for social justice for people of color and for people who felt the sting of economic disadvantage.”
The month before he died, former President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to students at the LBJ Library’s civil rights symposium, recalled his daughter, Luci B. Johnson. “I watched him place a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue and rushed to his side afterwards to ask him why he had come to speak when he was so very ill? He told me, ‘If I had died speaking for civil rights then I would have gone dying for what I lived for. What more could any man want?'”
The children of King and Johnson wrote for CNN Opinion on the 58th anniversary this weekend of the landmark March on Washington. They lamented that much of what their fathers accomplished on voting rights is “unraveling,” due to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision gutting a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as legislation in many states that restricts the opportunity to vote.
California voters will confront two questions on September 14: Should they recall their governor, Gavin Newsom. And if so, who should replace him?
The half-life of fandom
It was bad enough that Louis C.K. “recently kicked off a new standup tour with a sold-out pair of shows in New York” featuring offensive jokes of all forms, wrote Sara Stewart.
Or that fans of “Ted Lasso” and “In the Heights” had to endure controversies about those otherwise broadly appealing pieces of entertainment. “All along the pop culture spectrum, the time elapsed between a star or show’s moment in the sun and a subsequent reckoning (and, sometimes, comeback) seems to be decreasing exponentially,” Stewart noted.
As for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Stewart wrote that controversy over the director’s alleged “shoddy treatment of women” concerned her. So she gave it a re-watch and found it “a groundbreaking show that a lot of people besides that guy — many of them women, like later-seasons showrunner Marti Noxon and writer/producer Jane Espenson — worked hard to make great.”
I “still love Buffy, flaws and all. And I’ve decided I’m keeping it.”
Note: An earlier version incorrectly said Delta Air Lines had imposed a vaccine mandate.