Let her cry, if the tears fall down like rain
Let her sing, if it eases all her pain
Let her go, let her walk right out on me
And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be, let her be
Hootie and the Blowfish, Let Her Cry from the album “Cracked Rear View” 1994
In a stunning decision, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the face of the worst phase of the Covid 19 pandemic, stripped the public health arm of the United State government of an important tool in controlling the now exponential spread of the coronavirus. The Biden administration had implemented a vaccine mandate for businesses with over 100 employees. Workers could opt out of the mandate by getting tested on a weekly basis, or on religious grounds. It was a reasonable compromise to protect workers and slow down the transmission of the virus, which has spread over the earth like Hellmann’s on a BLT. Worker vaccine mandates, according to a recent WebMD article have increased the vaccination rate from about 50%, to over 90% in some businesses. Most business owners also support the mandate because it increases the likelihood that their workers will be well enough to work.
When the high court decision was announced yesterday, I became aware of a Hootie and the Blowfish song playing in my head. The supreme court had decided to just “Let her go,” as in let the coronavirus infect everyone in their workplace, instead of taking some simple precautions, which were sensitive to the rights of workers. Should you be allowed to come to work with tuberculosis, measles, Ebola or bubonic plague? There is a long history of public health policies here and around the world which place the rights of the majority of citizens over a single whining individual. How do we entrust major decisions to this clown car of justices who failed to recognize this? We would be better off having Larry, Moe and Curly on the bench. (Or maybe Manny, Moe, and Jack, at least they knew how to run an auto parts store.)
The supreme court also declared, on the same day, that vaccine mandates for healthcare workers were acceptable. This was a 5 to 4 decision. That is four justices thought it was ok for their doctors and nurses not to be vaccinated. Judge Kavanaugh, to his credit, in a moment of clarity, paused from his keg party and realized that catching Covid from your doctor was not an optimal situation and voted for the mandate.
When the history of this pandemic is written, it will go down as one of the worst public health responses to an epic crisis in the history of this country. The previous administration disregarded the seriousness of the pandemic and made decisions based on political expedience. The current administration started off on the right foot but failed to anticipate the possibility of more heinous variants and was unprepared when they emerged. Messaging about the importance of vaccines was a failure: The idea that vaccines were not just for your benefit, but for the benefit your grandma, your neighbor getting chemotherapy, and your children, was not emphasized. This should have been characterized as a war effort, where everyone’s participation was necessary to overcome the enemy.
And now when decisions about public health were turned over to the “wise men” of the supreme court, they abdicated their duty to recognize that rules and laws exist to protect people and society. They decided to “let her go and let her be.” They came to a split decision about whether it was ok for your surgeon to be coughing Covid particles into the operative field while taking out your gallbladder. How could this decision to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers not have been unanimous?
Disease caused by the Omicron variant is now peaking around the country. Despite its milder manifestations, its infectivity is off the charts. I bet all of you can count ten people you know who had some form of the illness in the last month. With so many infections, even if a small fraction of patients need to be hospitalized, hospital beds around the country have reached their highest capacity since the pandemic began. An alarming percentage of healthcare workers are infected leading to staffing shortages. These two factors combined have made this quite a challenging time, and many hospitals around the country, including Maryland, have begun Crisis Care Protocols. This makes a hospital more like a MASH unit, triaging the sickest patients to beds; everyone else must go home. If you need your hip replaced, a bone marrow transplant, or a tummy tuck, you may have to wait until Spring.
This all will be over soon enough. The severity of this pandemic exposed multiple faults in our healthcare system as well as in our government and judicial system. We were unable or unwilling to take basic steps to protect the population and to clearly communicate the nature of the threat and how to mitigate it. Misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and irresponsible social media platforms contributed to the demise of far too many people. We are exposed as a weak society, making decisions based on nonsense, with a weak government and judicial system as incapable of enforcing order as a hapless parent who cannot control an unruly child.
Let her cry…
Stephen Katz, MD, Adult Internal Medicine
Severna Park Medical Associates
Concierge Medicine for Annapolis
31 Robinson Road Severna Park, MD 21146