In the initial days of Covid-19 vaccine distribution, as television delivered a constant flow of images of Americans with their sleeves rolled up, ready to be vaccinated, the sense of optimism -- the sense that we could go back to our normal lives -- was real. Falling infection and death rates, coupled with the promise of our return to activities denied us for a year (Nationals games!) only heightened that optimism.
Now, Covid-19 numbers are on the rise because of the highly contagious Delta variant, and that optimism is in retreat. More than anything, this should highlight not only the need for more Americans to get vaccinated, but for our leaders on Capitol Hill to step up and do the right thing for us and themselves.
Congress needs to make vaccinations mandatory for anyone working in the Capitol complex.
Over the past week, we have learned that the Delta variant is now in the United States Capitol, with both a member of Congress and a staffer for Speaker Nancy Pelosi having tested positive. Vice-President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer came far too close to being potentially exposed recently, as well.
And this is to say nothing of the risk to every other member of Congress and the Senate, who travel home and meet with countless constituents, potentially exposing themselves and others. Indeed, as the two of us learned when we were congressional staffers, Capitol Hill is all but designed to be a Covid-19 spreader, with elected officials, congressional and support staff coming from diverse communities into the Capitol complex, working in close proximity and potentially either bringing the contagion in with them or taking it home.
In October last year, we two called for immediate and mandatory Covid-19 testing for anyone entering the Capitol buildings. Congress didn't listen.
We all saw what happened next. Member after member tested positive. The Capitol became a ghost town, with staffers -- like so many thought the country -- working from home. Congressional work essentially ground to a halt; you just can't adequately do the day-to-day work of a congressional office, including manning the complicated systems for responding to constituent needs, over Zoom.
With the scary Delta variant now the dominant Covid-19 strain in the country, Congress must finally mandate vaccination for anyone coming into Capitol buildings.
Some members will squawk. The two of us come from different political parties and ideologies, but we know most of that complaining will come from rogue Republicans who criticized or played coy on vaccines. This has only helped further Covid-19 infections and deaths among constituents in their districts. It is, one might grimly argue, suppressing their own votes.
But more Republicans are now talking up the vaccine. Most prominently, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, having been out front on the need to vaccinate, is now also putting his (campaign) money where his mouth is with pro-vaccination public service announcements on more than 100 radio stations throughout Kentucky, where the vaccination rate is about 45%.
McConnell's outreach is in stark contrast to former President Donald Trump, who typically brags about his own every move but has been largely silent on vaccines that his administration helped create. Trump's failure to roll up his own sleeve publicly has surely cost lives in red areas where vaccine rates are low. His staff said he was vaccinated. But for someone who "gets" the power of an image as well as Trump does, withholding that image can't be accidental.
And we've seen so many others share the image of their vaccine -- most recently, Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, whose very pro-Trump district in Louisiana is a Delta variant hotspot.
That the Delta variant has come frighteningly close to the presidential line of succession -- with both Harris and Pelosi being in potential proximity to people who were vaccinated but who tested positive for Covid-19 -- demonstrates how deadly serious the threat of Covid remains. As we're now learning, between 2019 and 2020 US life expectancy dropped by 1.5 years -- more than any time since World War II. In other words, Covid-19 kills.
And the American public -- not to mention the economy -- can ill afford to essentially shut down again while the country battles the resurgence.
For one thing, no one wants to have to mask up again everywhere we go, especially those who've played by the rules, who wore the mask and got the shot at their earliest opportunity.
Vaccinations do not mean immunity from Covid-19, and the number of "breakthrough" cases due to the Delta variant, while still small, is climbing. But vaccination the surest way to avoid hospitalization -- and death.
Congress, do the right thing. For yourselves and all of us -- make vaccinations mandatory for anyone entering the Capitol complex.
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