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George Boardman: Get ready for the surge

The masks are off and life is returning to normal. COVID-19 infections are limited almost exclusively to people who haven’t been vaccinated, and most of the unprotected are expected to get in line for their shots.

Or maybe they won’t, especially if they live in rural areas like northern California and other parts of the country represented by Republican members of the House of Representatives.

In that case, they can look forward to the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is expected to become the dominant strain in the United States by mid-July. It already accounts for nearly half of COVID-19 cases in some Midwest and mountain states.



The Delta variant — that’s the one that has leveled India — is spreading quickly because it is 50% more transmissible than the current version we’ve been so successful in containing.

Full vaccination against COVID-19 appears to offer significant protection against the Delta variant, according to data from England, which was the first country outside of India to feel its impact.




But the unvaccinated are particularly at risk, according to public health officials, suggesting that those of us in the north state may be candidates for one of those “very dense outbreaks” former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb is warning about.

Counties like Del Norte, Modoc, Lassen, Shasta, Trinity, Tehama, and Yuba are all at 33% or lower when it comes to their vaccination rates. Nevada County, with one of the highest vaccination rates in the north state, already has at least six cases of the Delta variant. As drug kingpin Tony Montana said in the movie “Scarface”: “Say hello to my little friend.”

These counties also have something else in common. They are represented in the House by Republicans Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock, part of a trend we’re seeing playing out around the country.

Why am I picking on Republicans? Well, a recent analysis of data by Harvard University researchers found that Republicans represent all but two of the 30 congressional districts where less than one-third of residents have received at least one vaccination shot.

On the other hand, 38 of 39 congressional districts where at least 60% of residents have received one shot are represented by Democrats. Of those who haven’t received a shot, Republicans are six times more likely than Democrats to say they have no interest in being vaccinated.

It is not clear if conservatives prefer to be represented by science skeptics who follow the politics, but we do know that Republicans in the House are doing little to encourage their constituents to follow the science. Our local representatives are good illustrations.

LaMalfa and McClintock, who represents the Truckee area, have shown their disdain for masks, social distancing and other measures taken to beat back the pandemic.

McClintock wore a mask in the House chambers printed with the words, “This mask is as useless as our governor,” and LaMalfa was pictured in a secured location on Capitol insurrection day rejecting the offer of a mask while in close quarters with his fellow representatives.

McClintock has likened the economic shutdown to “mass hysteria,” and LaMalfa is against mandatory vaccinations and vaccine passports. Interestingly, neither one of them has been forthright about whether they’ve been vaccinated, a common stance among the Republicans.

A survey by CNN found that 97 of 211 Republicans in the House have been vaccinated. Of the other 114, 111 refused to respond to CNN’s inquiries. LaMalfa and McClintock are not on the CNN list of those vaccinated.

Constituents of either congressman seeking guidance on avoiding the coronavirus will find slim pickings on their official government web sites. LaMalfa offers advice from the Centers for Disease Control that includes wearing a mask, but the information was posted before a vaccine was developed, and hasn’t been updated since then. Good luck finding any guidance at all from McClintock.

Our Republican representatives in Sacramento appear to be in lock-step with their congressional brethren. State Sen. Brian Dahle informs his constituents that “the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus,” but says nothing about vaccinations.

His wife, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, has much to say on her website about the closing of a state prison in Susanville and the Lava Fire, but little about the pandemic.

I emailed each of them three simple questions: Have you been vaccinated for COVID-19? Do you encourage your constituents to get vaccinated? If you have not been vaccinated, why not?

Neither responded. They look like prime candidates for higher office in the north state.

UPDATES

Here are updates on two topics I wrote about recently:

— A bill before the state Senate that would prevent people who get their medical coverage through the University of California from using hospitals affiliated with Dignity Health has been put over until next year to resolve concerns of various stakeholders.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-SF, would bar the University of California’s seven medical schools from contracting with religious hospitals that ban abortions, sterilizations, transgender surgery and other generally accepted medical procedures.

If enacted into law, the measure would prevent local residents who get their medical coverage through U.C. Davis from accessing services available at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, which is affiliated with Dignity Health.

Wiener’s bill motivated the U.C. regents to vote to keep existing contracts with religious hospitals, but requiring them to let U.C. physicians perform prohibited procedures when patients can’t be transferred safety to other hospitals. The University of California will terminate existing contracts with hospitals that don’t comply with the policy by 2023.

It remains to be seen what hospitals like Sierra Nevada will do, particularly since it is bound by ethical and religious directives that state non-Catholic affiliates will not “manage, carry out, or assist in carrying out … immoral procedures.”

— Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s request for Community Project Funding, aka earmarks, that would have benefitted Nevada County were rejected by the House Appropriations Committee.

The three requests would have provided $4.8 million to improve radio infrastructure for first responders in the event of emergencies and natural disasters, $1.75 million for the Ponderosa West fuel suppression project near Grass Valley, and $1 million for a water tank in North San Juan to fight fires.

As I wrote in May, the committee is controlled by Democrats and they remember LaMalfa’s support of the effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden. LaMalfa’s requests can still make the final budget, but the odds of that happening look slim and none.

George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.

Observations from the center stripe: Chutzpah edition

PG&E GETS a chutzpah award for requesting an 18% rate increase to pay fire mitigation costs, work that was supposed to have been done years ago…WE’VE REACHED the point where getting COVID-19 is shameful rather than tragic…MASKS DON’T work? California’s infection rate has spiked 20% since the masks went off June 15… WHY YOU get all of those phone call scams: Researchers estimate they cost Americans almost $30 billion a year…MAYBE THOSE people conducting the vote audit in Arizona can help New York City straighten out the vote for mayor…


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