Take out a couple of counties-- Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, Hayward-- and Tennessee would be sitting at the bottom of the American political toilet. It practically is already. In 2020, Tennessee went for Trump 60.7% to 37.4%. But that doesn't really tell the story about the backwardness and ignorance that permeates the state. Of Tennessee's 95 counties, only 3 voted for Biden, but there were 22 that gave Trump over 81% of its vote. If that isn't enough to prove what morons these counties are filled with, look at their vaccination rates. The state level is low enough-- 45%-- but all the 81%+ Trump counties were less than that:
Scott Co.- 88.4% Trump (30% fully vaccinated)
Wayne Co.- 86.9% Trump (35% fully vaccinated)
Hancock Co.- 86.4% Trump (27% fully vaccinated)
Macon Co.- 85.3% Trump (26% fully vaccinated)
Fentress Co.- 85.2% Trump (28% fully vaccinated)
Grainger Co.- 84.5% Trump (42% fully vaccinated)
Morgan Co.- 84.2% Trump (43% fully vaccinated)
Union Co.- 83.7% Trump (29% fully vaccinated)
Johnson Co.- 82.9% Trump (32% fully vaccinated)
Hardin Co.- 82.8% Trump (34% fully vaccinated)
Campbell Co.- 82.6% Trump (36% fully vaccinated)
Hawkins Co.- 82.2% Trump (37% fully vaccinated)
Bledsoe Co.- 82.1% Trump (29% fully vaccinated)
Grundy Co.- 82.0% Trump (23% fully vaccinated)
Lawrence Co.- 81.9% Trump (30% fully vaccinated)
Claiborne Co.- 81.9% Trump (38% fully vaccinated)
Cocke Co.- 81.8% Trump (43% fully vaccinated)
Moore Co.- 81.6% Trump (19% fully vaccinated)
Henderson Co.- 81.5% Trump (35% fully vaccinated)
Polk Co.- 81.2% Trump (35% fully vaccinated)
Pickett Co.- 81.2% Trump (38% fully vaccinated)
Rhea Co.- 81.0% Trump (36% fully vaccinated)
Writing for the NY Times this morning from Nashville, Margaret Renki reported that "Much ink and many pixels have been expended in an effort to parse the possible reasons for people to refuse their best shot at surviving a virus that has already killed 680,000 Americans and left an uncountable number of others with lingering debilities. We know that there’s a difference, for example, between someone who is vaccine hesitant but open to persuasion, and someone who is dead set against any jab in the arm." But Tennessee seems to be doing whatever it can to discourage people from getting vaccinated. If you are vaccinated and geta breakthrough case, Tennessee has decided you are not qualified to be treated with monoclonal antibodies, which are reserved only for the unvaccinated-- in effect, Trump voters!
"As a lifelong Southerner," she wrote, "I am not surprised by how many people here hate the federal government enough to forgo a vaccine that would almost certainly prevent them from dying of an illness spreading like wildfire in unvaccinated communities. But instead of blaming the unvaccinated, I fault red-state politicians for soft-pedaling the truth about the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine. I fault the pastors and other community leaders for failing to teach their membership about the need to protect the vulnerable-- the elderly and the sick and the babies, for God’s sake-- through widespread vaccination of the healthy. Most of all, I fault the right-wing pundits and media companies for promulgating harebrained notions of freedom and a baseless suspicion of science. Even as they refuse to provide information that would make the entire country safer, they are raking in piles of money from advertisers targeting the very listeners whom they are leaving vulnerable."
The Tennessee state House consists of 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats and the state Senate has 27 Republicans and 6 Dems. Needless to say, Governor Bill Lee is a Trumpist Republican.
I have always felt more worry than anger for the unvaccinated themselves. People make mistakes. Sometimes they put their trust in “leaders” who turn out to be charlatans and scoundrels. How can we blame them when they themselves often pay the highest cost for that mistake?
But the longer this pandemic goes on, the more l feel fury rising in my throat like bile. I am growing angrier and angrier about the ignorance and the arrogance that keep making things unnecessarily harder, and so much more dangerous, for the rest of us.
Even as Delta ravages the South, too many people stubbornly repeat the lies they’ve been told for months. As a result-- not just here but all over the country-- others are dying of treatable non-Covid illnesses and suffering unendurable non-Covid pain, all for lack of room at hospitals to treat them.
This stopped being something I only read about in the news when it hit home for my friend Betsy Phillips, a writer and local historian who has been contending all year with a life-threatening condition that remained undiagnosed until very recently. For her, a breakthrough Covid infection could be devastating.
She felt a little better when she finally got a diagnosis for the mysterious condition that had been making it difficult for her to breathe: granulomatous disease, the result of a histoplasmosis infection. Surgery to remove the growth that is pressing on her windpipe wouldn’t make Tennessee less of a Covid hot spot, but at least it would let Betsy breathe freely again.
But earlier this month, the hospital called and canceled her operation. It didn’t have room for her because it was treating too many unvaccinated Covid patients. As Betsy put it in an essay for the Washington Post, “They wouldn’t do their civic duty, but they get access to hospitals in front of those of us who did.”
In one sense, this is nothing new. With communicable diseases, it has always been the case that one person’s choices can affect other people’s health. What’s new with this particular communicable disease is how quickly our scientists and medical professionals have found ways to help keep us safe. And every one of those ways has been undermined by the very people who are now making it difficult or impossible for others to get the care they need.
But also not new is the field of medical ethics, which requires health care workers to provide skilled and compassionate treatment even to patients who arguably bring their problems on themselves. Lung cancer patients aren’t turned away from the hospital door, even if they’re three-packs-a-day smokers, and Covid patients should not be turned away because they have refused a vaccine.
“We can say that the virus has re-emerged in the southern United States, primarily among unvaccinated people, but it doesn’t mean we have to blame the unvaccinated,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Associated Press. “The people we have to target are the purveyors of disinformation, and we have to recognize that the unvaccinated themselves are victims of disinformation.”
Betsy knows this, and I know this. It’s enraging anyway. It’s enraging to think of the dreadful job Tennessee governor Bill Lee is doing, even now, to encourage his voters to wear their masks and take their vaccines. It’s enraging to think of how the Tennessee General Assembly will not, even now, expand Medicaid to help keep rural hospitals open and prevent the overcrowding of city hospitals.
And it’s enraging to think of the people who won’t take an “experimental” vaccine but have no problem accepting experimental antibodies to treat an infection they might have avoided altogether. And it’s beyond enraging to know that when they get to the hospital, they will immediately jump to the front of the line.
I know it’s the right thing for hospitals to do. But no matter how ethical it might be, it will never feel fair.