I mention that because my own children make the rare exceptions to that pattern even more painful. As with the death of a 5-year-old boy of the disease in Georgia last week. That so few children have died of covid does nothing to reduce the incredible pain his family must be feeling, a pain his father expressed directly in a post on Facebook.
“My little buddy. My best friend. My helper,” he wrote, going on to detail the light his son brought to his life and to the lives of those around him, as only joyous little kids can. It’s a moving response to a deeply personal tragedy.
It is also a reminder of the threat the disease still poses. While the boy’s death is an exception among his age group, hundreds of people are still dying each day of covid, nearly all of them unvaccinated. A 5-year-old can’t be vaccinated, of course, but millions of other Americans remain at risk from the virus because they have opted not to avail themselves of the preventive measure. That then allows the virus to spread more easily.
In the area of northwest Georgia where that boy lived, near the city of Calhoun, vaccination rates are unusually low. Analysis from Harvard University finds that the congressional district in which he lived has the eighth-lowest vaccination rate of the 435 seats nationally.
Its representative is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R).
Greene has been an outspoken opponent of both the vaccine and efforts to contain the virus more broadly. She was elected to Congress having made a name for herself endorsing far-right positions — at times tipping over into the world of conspiracy theories — and since being sworn in has continued that pattern. She has falsely claimed that the virus is not dangerous and that losing weight is a better solution for preventing deaths from covid-19 than being vaccinated. (She used to run a gym.) She has consistently cast the wearing of face masks — a demonstrably effective means of curtailing new infections — as a violation of personal freedoms.
During a news conference held in her Capitol Hill office this week, she was challenged on her rhetoric about the vaccines.
“Do you feel any responsibility for keeping people in Georgia safe?” a reporter asked. “There are children, skinny people who have died of the coronavirus. Do you feel any responsibility to the people of Georgia?”
“You crack me up,” she said. “You know what? I think people’s responsibility is their own.”
She later said she was laughing not at those deaths but at “the extent of ridiculous questions she was asking, trying to trap me.”
Greene did, however, answer the question. It is one’s own responsibility to combat the coronavirus, she said — even as she has repeatedly spread false information about the utility of vaccines and masks. A few days ago, Twitter shut her out of her account for 12 hours for spreading false information about the vaccine. On Thursday morning, she mocked the Biden administration for reports that it was considering reintroducing mask mandates following the surge in new cases from the delta variant. This, she said, was a walking back of the “facial freedom” the administration had previously espoused.
Over the past two weeks, the number of new coronavirus cases in Georgia has gone from 500 a day to more than 1,300. Sixty-six Georgians have died of covid in the past seven days, including that 5-year-old boy. Again, his death was unusual. But the broad, unchecked spread of the virus in a heavily unvaccinated population, including among young children, makes the overall risk of death or serious illness much higher.
It is not directly Greene’s fault that the boy died. To write about her rejection of common-sense preventive measures in the context of his death necessarily feels awkward. But it’s useful to contrast her rhetoric with the reality of the pandemic, particularly at a moment when the massive progress the country has made in tamping down new infections appears to be at risk.
Though her brief Twitter ban has ended, Greene has not made any mention on social media of the boy’s death or of the risks posed to the unvaccinated. There has been no public statement of condolence from her office.
On Thursday morning, she did offer one thought about children and the coronavirus.