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Ready to quit his day job

SoVaNow.com / August 04, 2021
Not content with being a replacement-level state legislator after almost three decades in the General Assembly, State Senator Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) is now branching out into the public health field. It’s not going well.

This week, Ruff sent out his latest constituent column offering his deepest thoughts on COVID-19, the Delta variant, vaccination and other musings that you can read in full if you so inclined. As regular visitors to this space may recall, we stopped carrying Ruff’s “column” in our newspapers a long time ago due to our state senator’s insistence on loading up his weekly missives with half-truths, non-truths and start-to-finish partisan hackery that amounts to little more than incessant whining about what those awful Democrats are up to in Richmond these days. By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, Virginia is chugging along pretty nicely under Democratic rule at the Capital, compared to the fantasy hellscape that Ruff paints in his column each week.

But even if his weekly work product were not so bad, this week’s contribution would have gone straight to the waste basket because of the heedless and frankly idiotic advice that our senator imparts. It begins with his second sentence: “I believe everyone over the age of 50 should [get vaccinated], as well as those who have underlying health issues that make them more susceptible to any virus.” (In his first sentence, Ruff announces he has been vaccinated. Well, then, I guess he must be older than 50!)

Viewed casually, Ruff’s advice that everyone traveling the down slope of Century Mountain should get their shots might seem like an effort to be helpful. But what about folks who are younger than 50? Well, writes Ruff, it’s all rather complicated. And sad, really. I’ll quote the third paragraph of his column, in full.

Many have lost family members and friends. We should all be saddened by this. It is, however, important that we should consider all things in context. Nationally, every day another 320 are dying. When compared to the flu that we see every year, this is three times greater. Comparing this to daily averages of other issues, about 1,700 Americans die from heart disease and another 1,600 from cancer each day. As well, 473 on an average day die from accidents. Even at its peak last year, it [COVID-19] was the third ranked cause of death.

There is a well-known, bad-faith argumentative style of political discourse known as whataboutism. It usually goes something like this, “Yeah, well, people waving Confederate flags and wearing MAGA hats may have stormed the Capitol and killed a police officer, but what about all those Antifa protestors who knocked over a public statue?” As you no doubt can tell, your humble scribe finds these excursions into whataboutism highly annoying, not to mention indicative of a person’s willingness to debate controversial topics in a spirit of moderation and reason. But it’s really something to see an elected public official, a Virginia state senator no less, engage in whataboutism in a discussion of deadly diseases. You think COVID is bad? I give you cancer instead!

Sheesh. For the record, through Sunday, Aug. 1 there were a reported 6,685 cases of COVID-19 in the Southside Health District (Mecklenburg, Brunswick and Halifax counties), according to the Virginia Department of Health. While it’s certainly true that older individuals have been most susceptible to the disease — a condition that could change, by the way — it’s also a fact that 3,775 people under the age of 50 have contracted COVID-19 in the three counties, again, going by official VDH statistics. That’s a lot of sickness that Frank Ruff seems perfectly cool with because at least those folks didn’t have cancer. Also, 35 Southside residents under the age of 50 have been hospitalized with the virus and seven have died. Ruff writes further down in his column about vaccination, “individuals [should] talk to their medical provider and make the decision that is best for themselves and those around them.” It’s a little late for that sort of thing once you wind up in the hospital.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: every major medical association, every credible doctor and health expert is advising the public to get the shots unless there’s a medically valid reason that tells you that you shouldn’t do so. (People don’t need Frank Ruff’s help to know if they have a condition that requires a call to the doctor’s office before they go out and get vaccinated.) It’s also more than a little rich for Ruff to even suggest that people go to see a doctor, insofar as he spent years in the General Assembly denying access to health care for thousands of his constituents as part of a Republican majority in Richmond that blocked Medicaid expansion in Virginia. To repeat: The covid vaccines are safe, highly effective and absolutely free. Even as the virus mutates into more virulent and dangerous forms — an outcome that has long been predicted by virologists and people who actually know what they’re talking about, contra Frank Ruff — the vaccines offer excellent protection for you and for the people around you.

While it’s true that we’re starting to see breakthrough cases, where vaccinated individuals are being infected with the coronavirus, the number of serious illnesses involving hospitalization and deaths of vaccinated people is vanishingly small. We’re now down to dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, of whom there are far too many. Ruff chooses to use his platform (however meager) to discuss none of these facts, instead mucking up the storehouse of public opinion and knowledge with worse-than-worthless offerings derived, no doubt, from the pickled recesses of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Which brings up a different subject: Why do newspapers in Ruff’s Senate district continue to carry his column?

On good days, there’s little of value there. On bad days, woof. (In my experience, the tradition of the distinguished lawmaker writing a newspaper column for the folks back home dates to late Fifth District Congressman Dan Daniel, who really did try to explain the workings of Washington, D.C. for a local audience when his columns ran in newspapers way back in the 1970s.) Ruff, of course, is blessed with the same free speech rights that we all enjoy, so he can sound off to anyone who cares to listen, but newspapers have no obligation to provide a forum for such nonsense. In fact, inasmuch as Ruff is offering patently bad advice to would-be readers, there’s a strong case for de-platforming him as a public health service.

Let’s keep in mind here that there’s no constitutionally protected right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. If someone submitted a letter to the editor denying the Holocaust ever happened or using the n-word every third sentence, that would get tossed into the trash can, too. The whole point of public debate is to air points of view that contribute to a broader understanding of a given issue. To provide oxygen to anti-vaxx disinformation — and yes, Frank Ruff’s latest work comes perilously close to crossing that line, after leading readers right up to the edge — is a disservice by any newspaper that assists in the endeavor. This is no different.

(If you do look up Ruff’s column in another newspaper or online, if only to see whether this description does it justice, scan down near the bottom and you’ll see where our senator writes, “If I am a younger, healthy person, what value is inoculation to me?” — just one of many “legitimate questions” that need to be answered, he adds, unhelpfully in the extreme.)

Of course, when a newspaper has a blank editorial page to fill, the easiest way to overcome that problem is to outsource the work to others, sparing writers and editors the trouble of articulating their own opinions. Lazy and callow? Yes. Commonplace? Um ....

****

Relatedly, it’s pretty common nowadays to hear the complaint that vaccine advocates are seeking to deny the freedom of others to make up their own minds. Which, of course, is a bad-faith argument of another order. If it were possible to have two camps of people — the vaccinated and the unvaccinated — and the twain shall never meet, then fine, whatever, everybody do what you want. But that’s not how it works.

Instead, because all too many people aren’t getting vaccinated, the virus is again on the march and America’s daily caseload is back over 100,000 people per day. The vaccines have been incredibly effective, all things considered, but we cannot know if they will continue to offer protection against future strains of COVID-19. The whole point of vaccination is to stamp out viruses before they mutate and such a tipping point occurs. By refraining from getting the shots, unvaccinated individuals may well undo the progress that’s been achieved thus far.

There’s no legal right to act in reckless fashion if the result leads to other people getting hurt, which is why DUI is illegal, just to cite one obvious example. If people choose to remain unvaccinated, that’s their right, but we should be clear that society as a whole has an absolute right to bar such people from participation in public activities — flying on planes, going to concerts and shows, showing up in person at their workplaces. Schools, of course, require students to get all kinds of vaccinations before they are allowed in classrooms.

As a practical matter, however, few institutions have the oomph to simply ban unvaccinated persons from the premises. (An out-of-town hospital executive told me this week that up to 40 percent of the workforce at his institution is unvaccinated, and a mandate to get the shots could drive away more employees than the place can afford to lose.) Some businesses, however, do have the latitude to lay down the law. To wit, from CNN on Tuesday:

Microsoft is joining the growing list of companies that are requiring workers to get vaccinated.

The tech firm said Tuesday that employees, vendors and guests entering Microsoft’s (MSFT) buildings in the US will be required to show proof of vaccination beginning in September.

“As we have done since the beginning of the pandemic, we continue to closely track new developments and adapt our plans as this situation evolves, keeping employee health and safety top of mind,” the company said in a statement ...

The recent increase in Covid-19 cases due to the spread of the Delta variant is causing many companies to rethink their reopening plans.

Last week, Silicon Valley giants Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) said they will require employees returning to their campuses to be vaccinated.

Microsoft said employees with a medical condition or other protected reason not to be vaccinated can get an accommodation.


Who knows, with its vast cloud complex in Boydton, maybe Microsoft’s policy will drive up Southside Virginia's vaccination levels by a percentage point or two. Good job by Microsoft here, it’s enough to make a person forget all about Clippy.



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