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Jacques: If mocking COVID deaths is OK, what kind of country are we?

If you don’t know someone at this point who has gotten COVID-19, I would be shocked. Especially with this latest wave of the virus, infections are sky high, even among those who have done everything in their power to avoid it. 

And omicron is an equal opportunity infector: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come down with it, as has Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s husband and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, all Democrats.  

This reality hasn’t slowed the narrative that it’s ignorant Republicans who are flooding hospitals. And it hasn’t done much to stop the prevalent “holier-than-thou” attitude that those who are infected, including the hospitalized and dying, must have done something to deserve it.

The response is a symptom of the division and contempt that plagued the country long before COVID-19 came on the scene. 

Yes, it’s frustrating to constantly hear how overwhelmed hospitals in Michigan (and elsewhere) are with those suffering from the virus, and the health workers on the frontlines must be beyond exhausted. 

It would be easy to pin all the blame on those who have refused vaccines or not worn their masks or social distanced religiously, but what’s going on is more complicated than that. 

While 44% of self-identified Trump Republicans said in a recent Detroit News-WDIV poll they refused to get the shots, only 38% of those in overwhelmingly Democratic Detroit have been fully vaccinated, far below the statewide average of 58%

President Job Biden continues to call this a pandemic of the unvaccinated, even though vaccinated individuals are getting and spreading the virus. Quite a few are even ending up in the hospital.

Yet recent news reports and anecdotes on social media perpetuate the belief that those succumbing to the virus are second-class citizens who don’t deserve our sympathy or compassion.

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik recently wrote a piece titled, “Mocking anti-vaxxers' deaths is ghoulish, yes — but necessary.”

Hiltzik’s column centered on Kelly Ernby, a rising California Republican, who opposed vaccine mandates and then died of COVID. 

He opines, “... mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled.” 

This is an extreme view, but far from uncommon. Similar attitudes are making their way into hospitals and among health care workers, which is a scary prospect.

An NPR headline last week posited, “Are hospital workers running out of sympathy for unvaccinated COVID patients?”

In that story, Daniela Lamas, a pulmonary and critical-care physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, discussed the “risk of compassion fatigue for the unvaccinated.” 

Recent Michigan reports point to how those hospitalized with COVID are likely to be unvaccinated. Overall trends show that 88% of patients haven’t had the shot. But if you look at Beaumont Health, the state’s largest hospital system, 35% of virus patients are vaccinated. At the University of Michigan, those hospitalized are roughly 40% vaccinated

Many who end up in the hospital and on ventilators also have comorbidities. Should our compassion take those factors into account? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out that underlying factors like obesity play a significant role in how severely someone is impacted by COVID. 

Michigan is among the top 16 states for obesity, which may shed some light on the state’s latest surge.

“Having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection,” the CDC states.

Surely we shouldn’t shun those struggling with their weight. 

Similarly, our reactions to those who have COVID shouldn't be based on whether an individual is a Republican or Democrat. It’s a sad day when mocking the end of a human life is deemed acceptable because of our ideological divides.

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques