Undaunted, COVID Continues to Inconvenience - TribPapers

Undaunted, COVID Continues to Inconvenience

Chair Brownie Newman weighs pros and cons of extending the mask mandate.

Asheville – Perhaps the most outstanding bit of information during Buncombe County Health Director Stacie Saunders’ biweekly COVID update was talk of the federal mandates. On September 9, President Joe Biden announced that in order to work for or contract with the federal government, persons would have to be vaccinated. He also said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would soon announce a rule requiring anybody wishing to work for a private-sector businesses with at least 100 employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing. 

Large businesses will be required to give employees paid time off “for vaccination,” which also includes sick time for adverse reactions. Failure to comply could result in fines of up to $14,000 per violation. Then, there’s the question of what “100 employees” means. A company employing 10 lumberjacks in each of 10 forests in different countries is hardly on a par with one employing 100 in a single, airtight office. 

Impact on local government

The plan should, at least, settle the conflict between Buncombe County Commissioner Parker Sloan and HCA Mission Hospital, as it will require vaccination of all healthcare workers in “settings” that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.

During the commissioners’ regular meeting, however, the focus was on extending the county’s mask mandate. The extension will last until October 29, which, if statistics warrant no further extension, will allow persons to go maskless in time for Halloween. Chair Brownie Newman himself said he hated masks, but was going to support the course of lowest risk, which was aligned with the recommendations of experts.

The existing mandate requires persons five years and older, vaccinated or not, to wear masks indoors when in the presence of persons not of their household. Social distancing is also strongly encouraged when feasible. Exemptions are given for documented health issues, religious gatherings, and “other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Public comment

During general public comment, commissioners were once again bombarded with complaints about how unnatural, unhealthy, and ineffective it is to wear masks. Don Yelton asked what happened to the slogans about, “It’s my body, and I can do what I want with it?” Not mentioning any commissioners’ names, as that is against the rules, he said one of them had so chanted in a pro-abortion event. He asked how the commissioners could abide the dissonance of requiring vaccinations and masks to save lives while fighting to make killing fetuses a right.

Others argued about the science, a word wielded these days like a scepter, to force the cowering masses into submission. Yelton had also, correctly, argued that science is not a fait accompli, but a quest. Still, the trend was to present a handful of cherry-picked studies to refute what was believed to be a political ruse.

The commissioners were told to, as followers of X22 say, do their own research, albeit a logistical impossibility for the average person. Sadly, science these days is sufficiently advanced that the epidemiological discourse necessary to explain what the vaccines are doing cannot be shared in the five words one can get out before being shouted down by somebody who gets his propaganda from a different cable news network.


The CDC argues the vaccines are effective, and they could be developed so quickly because biologists now use high-powered computers to discover molecular configurations that can neutralize or otherwise interfere with unwanted microorganisms. Furthermore, the technology exists to design molecules with the desired features and replicate them quickly. As most people know, the vaccines used by Pfizer and Moderna inject messenger RNA into the body that collects amino acids in a sequence that simulates a portion of the COVID-19 virus but is harmless. The body recognizes the protein that has just been generated as foreign and responds by making antibodies to get rid of it. After the body has learned to fight the harmless “spike protein,” it will be able to attack the COVID-19 virus should it ever visit.

In a brief article, “When and How We Should Trust Science,” Peter Van Doren gave a quick overview of the flip-flops made as scientists did their best to uncover more and more layers of understanding. A big example was when mask-wearing was discouraged until COVID-19’s high asymptomatic transmission rates were discovered. Complicating the landscape were a lot of false negatives in early tests, not to mention the computer modeling that tremendously overestimated both the number of ventilators that would be needed and the number of fatalities. Additionally, scientists continue to find evidence to push the first instances of the virus earlier and earlier. So many flip-flops have caused some people who were taught that science deals with absolutes to distrust the practice, rather than accepting it for what it is, as Yelton said, a process.

The notion that science has all the answers is conveniently commandeered by politicians who don’t have the time and resources to do their own research and thus defer to experts. Politicians, however, do not act strictly on science, but make decisions based on economics, values like freedom and the Constitution, tradition, superstition, and even re-election prospects. Even scientists are not always motivated to find truth, as some relish the power-rush of the authority vested in them by pundits and policymakers.

This is compounded by members of the media who need sound bites they can mash into a two-minute news piece or a 900-word article. They also feel pressure to make shades of gray look black or white.

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