From all over the world reports of COVID infection rates, deaths and overwhelmed health care systems flow our way. The graphs shoot up, drift down, shoot up again. Here in Stillwater Mayor, Will Joyce, has more than once proclaimed an emergency while OSU President Kayse Shrum and public school superintendent Marc Moore attempt to cope by “expecting” masks indoors and encouraging vaccination. The Oklahoma legislature and Governor Kevin Stitt have done their best to leave masks, testing and vaccination to individual or parental choice forbidding mandates by municipalities or school systems.
Worldwide, governments, informed by their scientists and medical professionals have dealt with the pandemic with closing borders, instituting quarantines, and lockdowns, banning large gatherings, requiring vaccination and masks, requiring widespread COVID testing and beefing up health care resources with ventilators and additional hospital beds. One head of state, Tanzania’s John Magufuli, said COVID could and should be blocked by Christian faith. After he died, some sources said from COVID, his successor Samia Suluhu Hassan, brought her nation into line with international practices.
Government response to the pandemic has led to criticism motivated by societal and economic consequences from shutting down restaurants, entertainment venues and broken supply chains, general distrust of government, and opposition politicians nitpicking the issue. There are real questions. Do masks, social distancing, quarantines, border closings, lockdowns stop or slow COVID? Are there dangerous side-effects from the vaccine or the testing? How long does the vaccine protect one? Are there better protections from COVID than what governments are offering – Ivermectin, a horse de-wormer or Hydroxychloroquine, an autoimmune and malaria treatment? If one fought off a mild illness, it might have been COVID, has one acquired immunity? Are fit healthy people basically safe? Mainstream media’s stress on vaccination, masks and social distancing has been countered to some extent by some social media debunkers with alternative solutions.
Some of the problem is due to the suddenness and novelty of the pandemic. Scientific consensus takes time and data. Evaluating effectiveness of strategies requires comparison of similar groups. Can an Israel mask or vaccine requirement’s efficacy be tested against its absence in Florida? Scientists say ‘of course not.’ The public and social media say ‘Yes.’ When asked, medical professionals absent long term studies, fall back on transmission theory useful in the past: masks, social distancing, quarantine, travel shutdown and quick vaccine development.
The bottom line seems to be folks in Stillwater shopping or patronizing the Library, OSU students on campus, crowding into the football stadium and in class, are not wearing masks while statistics document generally low vaccination rates. Why? I hypothesize local folks and OSU students do not feel threatened the way administrators think they are. They go to the football game or go shopping and do not drop dead – as illustrated in pandemic movies and tv shows. Mainstream media pandemic coverage nor local News Press and O’Colly coverage has not managed to get through.
Suggestion. Erect signs on campus and downtown, use the time/speed/temperature light displays to regularly update COVID cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths for campus and Stillwater or Payne County. These could be like the United Way thermometers posted on campus and downtown during that campaign. Or perhaps the signs at construction sites noting “58 Days With No Injuries.” Next to the east and west “Welcome to Stillwater” HWY 51 signs post these thermometers documenting the danger. Perhaps “Welcome to Stillwater - Experience COVID Your Way” with a big photo of a maskless OSU crowd might get some opposition from Cristy Morrison at Visit Stillwater and the local hospitality industry. Or perhaps not.
Bob Darcy is Oklahoma State University Regents Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Statistics.