It would have been a short drive to get there, but I passed up the chance to attend a weekend rally in Florence, Ariz., featuring former president Donald Trump and several extremist Republicans who are running for statewide office this year — and whose idea of truth is very different than mine. But because my social life has been limited (again) by the coronavirus, I had time and, I admit, enough curiosity on my hands to tune in to C-SPAN for the live cast.
I must start by saying that I believe Trump and his followers present a serious threat to American democracy. Still, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I heard the same old lies about a stolen election. What kept me tuned in were the many smiles, many mouths wide-open, and many lips forming oohs and aahs within the rally’s tightly packed audience — a mesmerizing visual at a time when I show only the upper half of my face in most public spaces.
The rally almost made me forget that the current stage of the pandemic is the most infectious since it began.
A look at a map representing the rolling average of daily covid-19 cases over the past week in the United States snapped me back to reality. The map looks like a giant nasty bruise, a mass of dark purple showing that omicron is running wild everywhere, including in Arizona.
Since the start of the year, I’ve made three batches of chicken soup for fully vaccinated-and-boosted friends quarantining because of a positive coronavirus test. Each time, I left the soup in a sealed Tupperware outside their doors, not willing to tempt a virus that seems to be going around like a smart missile, chasing its targets.
The good news is that none of my infected friends have become very sick — because vaccines make a difference. Electronic highway signs in Arizona these days reinforce that message, proclaiming, “Covid-19 vaccines save lives. Ask your doctor.”
No word yet on what Kelly Townsend, a Republican state senator, thinks of that highway sign. Last year, she criticized one — “Want to return to normal? Get vaccinated.” — as something one might see in “Communist China.” Townsend, who has compared vaccine supporters to Nazis, is far from the only anti-vaxxer among Republican legislators in Arizona. If you’re a mother who believes in the protective and preventive powers of vaccines, you may be as worried as I am.
Here’s why: Last week, state Rep. Walt Blackman introduced legislation to prevent schools from requiring students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and, for female students, the human papillomavirus, or HPV, even though the vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce a woman’s risk to develop cervical cancer. On Tuesday, state Rep. Neal Carter proposed amending Arizona law to make it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on vaccination status.
The legislature reconvened this month without any mask or social distancing requirements. Mask use seemed largely split along party lines when Gov. Doug Ducey (R) delivered his State of the State address in person on Jan. 10 at the House of Representatives, where he said, “There has been too much attention put on masks and not nearly enough attention placed on math.”
Let’s talk about the math of the pandemic, then.
Covid has killed more than 25,000 people in Arizona, the state with the second-highest fatality rate in the country, and infected more than 1.6 million. Earlier this week, Arizona had the nation’s eighth-highest percentage increase in covid cases over the previous 14 days.
I got covid in June 2020, back when a covid diagnosis felt to me as though it carried a social stigma of sorts. By contrast, having covid these days seems almost like a rite of passage. This week, Anthony S. Fauci, the top White House medical adviser, said the virus is not going away, but should become more manageable and “integrated into the broad range of infectious diseases that we experience.”
Until then, I’ll ignore the weird looks I get at the grocery store, where most everyone around me doesn’t wear a mask, and I’ll avoid dining indoors at restaurants; Phoenix weather is glorious this time of year anyway.
I also got my three shots of Pfizer and, following the recent urging of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traded in my colorful Frida Kahlo-inspired cloth masks for the more effective KN95s.
I wear them everywhere I go, and so does my 12-year-old daughter, whose school has made mask use optional since vaccines became available to children 5 and older.
When it comes to her safety, I thought it best to tune out the nonsensical logic of certain state leaders and rely instead on science and common sense. She already has two shots. Next week, the booster.