Other voices: COVID messages are dangerously misleading

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Even as a deadly pandemic refuses to let go, some are still willfully spreading misinformation about it to make money and win votes.

For Exhibit A, see Fox News, which, despite some recent slight backpedaling, is still pushing distorted assertions that endanger its own viewers, a majority of whom are in the high-risk, over-65 age group.

Closer to home, the most powerful politician in North Carolina, who earlier this year extolled the virtue of vaccinations in a bipartisan PSA, now has sent out a fundraising email that not only questions the latest directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask use, but ridicules it.

In the emailed appeal, state Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, says:

“Yesterday the CDC announced everyone, including vaccinated individuals, should wear masks in indoor settings. Of course, the CDC also says you shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough, but we ignore that advice.”

A state GOP official attempted to explain that the email’s subject line was a mistake.

It shouldn’t have said, “CDC issues new guidelines to ignore,” N.C. GOP Senate Republican Caucus Political Leader Dylan Watts told The News & Observer of Raleigh. “… I think the headline probably should have said CDC issued new guidelines; people will ignore it.”

But that line is hardly the only problem with the email; its actual message is worse.

The email says: “This decision isn’t about science. It’s about Left-Wing bureaucrats playing political games and trying to control Americans (sic) lives. Dr. Fauci, our public health officials and the media just can’t stand people making decisions they don’t approve of.”

Berger goes on to congratulate himself for leading the fight against “executive overreach” (in a General Assembly that’s notorious for legislative overreach). But he needs “your help” (translation: your money) to continue the struggle. Etc., etc.

As COVID infections continue their troubling resurgence, this is not helpful. In fact, it’s irresponsible. And dangerous. There are lives in the balance.

And remember, it comes from someone who knows better. As recently as April, Berger took part in a bipartisan video encouraging North Carolinians to get vaccinated. He was as right then as he’s dead wrong today.

The taste we’ve gotten of life as we once knew it is in serious jeopardy if Americans don’t heed the advice of medical experts.

With vaccinations lagging, the new delta variant is gaining ground. North Carolina health officials reported on Thursday that there had been 3,268 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, the most since February. On Friday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported 81 new cases and an additional COVID death in Forsyth County.

Berger’s not alone. One of our U.S. senators, Republican Thom Tillis, has sent an email of his own pooh-poohing the CDC’s directives.

“I am deeply concerned that the Biden administration’s contradictory decision will cause even more vaccine hesitancy, giving many Americans the false impression that the vaccines are not as effective as they were originally told,” Tillis said in the Tuesday statement.

The CDC’s advice has changed because circumstances have changed. The delta variant is taking hold because not enough Americans have gotten vaccinated.

And the best ways to cut the variant at its roots — and keep the economy open — are to get vaccinated and wear masks, even if you’ve already been vaccinated.

Tillis, incidentally, is not the most credible messenger on masks. In September 2020, he preached the gospel of wearing masks and then went without one during a function at the Trump White House. Tillis said was sorry — just as he’d said he was sorry the month before, for not wearing a mask during a Trump speech at the White House. In October, Tillis became infected with the virus.

Not to be outdone, GOP Senate candidate Mark Walker of Greensboro chimed in with a tweet protesting the CDC guidelines (“Liberty has a threshold”).

Bottom line: Whom are you going to trust: the CDC and state and local health officials, or a fundraising email from a politician that’s larded with partisan rhetoric?

— Winston-Salem Journal