Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy announced Wednesday that he contracted COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated. According to members of the Flagstaff City Council in remarks to the Arizona Daily Sun, Deasy had been getting tested secretly all week and knew his family had several COVID-19 exposures — yet decided to attend Tuesday’s meeting anyway.
Councilman Austin Aslan criticized Deasy for deciding to put people at risk. Aslan added that Deasy shopped at the outdoor recreational store, REI, on Sunday.
“This all seems very ironic for a person that has been almost theatrical in his protestations about the needs for COVID safety protocols and aggressive funding,” observed Aslan.
Deasy claimed that he didn’t know he had COVID-19, and called accusations from the council “pretty ridiculous.” He explained that he normally takes COVID-19 tests several times a week to ensure he’s not infected.
“I tested positive for Covid this morning after waking up with a mild sore throat. Thankful to be vaccinated so symptoms are mild,” wrote Deasy. “Please get tested if you have any symptoms whatsoever. What is mild to you can be deadly to others.”
Later on the same day he tested positive, Deasy shared the claim from Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) that unvaccinated individuals were 31.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the vaccinated.
ADHS also noted that unvaccinated individuals were nearly five times as likely to test positive for COVID-19.
As AZ Free News reported, the latest death totals for COVID-19 reached over 24,300. Nearly zero percent of deaths occurred in those under 20 years old; the majority of deaths came from individuals over 65 years old.
Last September, Deasy offered some advice to Flagstaff’s visitors with the “WTF” acronym — a version void of explicit language, instead reading “Welcome To Flagstaff[;] Wear The Face mask.”
Following Deasy’s test results, Flagstaff City Council decided to convene in a special meeting on Thursday to discuss returning to completely virtual meetings.
Councilman Adam Shimoni said it was “embarrassing” that the council had to inform attendees, including a group of high school students, that they’d been exposed to COVID-19 at Tuesday’s meeting. He urged stricter safety protocols to mitigate the spread, especially with the outbreak of Omicron.
The controversy over COVID management is not a medical disagreement but a political fight. It’s also a free speech issue, the question of whether those who disagree with the political/medical status-quo should be silenced.
Although we have learned more over time about the origins and development of COVID, there is no question it is a contagious virus that spreads primarily through respiratory secretions.
Infections range from symptom-free to fatal, but serious disease and death occur almost exclusively in the infirm and the elderly. Like all viruses, the coronavirus mutates, apparently into variants that are more contagious but less deadly.
So far so good. The disagreement is over its containment. Americans have become a risk-averse people, where nonsensical catch phrases like “if it only saves one life” and “in an abundance of caution” have supplanted sober cost/benefit analysis.
So, our government’s go-to solution for the pandemic was lockdowns for everyone. Commercial, social, educational, and other personal interactions were halted to stop the spread of the disease.
The results of this massive experiment in public health were disappointing. 800,000 Americans have perished. There may have been some benefit to “flattening the curve”—spacing out illnesses to avoid overwhelming healthcare facilities—but the total number of fatalities was not much affected.
Meanwhile the cost of the lockdowns was enormous. The federal government spent $6 trillion in COVID relief, much of it wasted or misappropriated. Moreover, virtually all of the handouts were debt financed, pleasing current taxpayers/voters but assuring that Americans will be struggling financially far into the future.
The collateral damage included over 90,000 “excess deaths” due to forced shutdowns of routine preventive and diagnostic care. There were sharp spikes in levels of depression, substance abuse, and overdose deaths, especially among the young.
The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) in October 2020 was based on addressing these “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.” It recommended an alternative approach called Focused Protection.
The authors were respected physicians from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford with 91,000 additional professional endorsements, including from a Nobel prize winner. Their paper noted that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 was over 1,000 times higher in vulnerable populations than among young people. For children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.
Thus, it made sense to protect vulnerable populations if anything more vigorously, while reopening schools, businesses, and restaurants with reasonable precautions. Both overall mortality and social harm could be protected until we reached herd immunity.
In a society based on reason and open inquiry, this proposal would at least have received serious consideration. Instead, the Trump-hating media erupted in withering denunciations and cancellations.
Worse, recently obtained emails reveal that our “follow the science” authorities intentionally thwarted the dissenting viewpoint. Then-director of the NIH Francis Collins wrote Anthony (“I am the Science”) Fauci that GBD seemed to be getting some attention. “There needs to be a quick and devastating takedown of its premises. Is it underway?”
Fauci answered in the affirmative. Soon after, he informed The Washington Post that GBD was a fringe operation. “This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous.”
Several media outlets ran with criticisms by Fauci, who completed the cycle by citing their articles in his talking points. Facebook pitched in by censoring any references to GBD. It was the dreaded “misinformation.”
Focused Protection never got traction. But shutting down open dissent in favor of political agendas has produced tragic consequences. In spite of Fauci’s claim in October 2020 that the draconian remedies were temporary, when caseloads rose the next month, shutdowns were resumed.
Hard data is never available on the path not taken, but it’s undeniable that the costs of following the Fauci/Collins strategy were staggering: unbelievably enormous federal outlays, shattered businesses, untreated illnesses, suicides, and devastating educational achievement losses.
Let’s be smarter with omicron. Let’s vaccinate and medicate, protect the vulnerable but avoid panic and unnecessary disruptions in our lives.
The Great Barrington Declaration, the responses, and consequences are a reminder of the practical importance of free speech rights. Better decisions are made when all sides are heard out.
In an apparent response to the push from teachers’ unions to revert to remote learning for at least two weeks if not more, Governor Doug Ducey announced Monday that all of Arizona would continue with in-person learning.
In a thread, Ducey reminded Arizonans of President Joe Biden’s stance on keeping schools open, as well as the past actions of unions striking for higher pay after being promised higher pay. For the latter reference, Ducey was citing his promise of a 20 percent raise.
“IN-PERSON LEARNING WILL CONTINUE IN ARIZONA[.] ‘The science is clear, and overwhelming. We know how to keep our kids safe from COVID-19 in school. K through 12 schools should be open.’ That’s from President Joe Biden. And public health experts agree. Yet union leaders are telling parents to prepare for remote learning. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is the same union that encouraged a teacher strike well after a teacher raise was proposed. Once again, teacher unions are playing political games with no regard for the social and emotional impact on our kids. Parents shouldn’t stand for it — and will remember these antics at the ballot box. And at the state level, we’ll be working to ensure in-person learning continues. From recruiting more substitute teachers, to ensuring that if a student is turned away for even one day of in-person learning, parents have a choice and the resources to take their child to a school that better meets their needs.”
Twitter tagged the following warning to the governor’s thread: “Some conversations get heavy[;] Don’t forget the human behind the screen.”
Ducey issued a similar Twitter thread announcement last March several weeks before the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being announced as a national emergency. That thread announced Ducey’s executive order for all schools to continue March 15 — several days after the one-year anniversary of former President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration.
“ANNOUNCEMENT: Getting kids back in the classroom is one of the most important things we can do as we see #COVID19 cases drop and vaccinations underway. A majority of Arizona public schools are already open, and school leaders have demonstrated in-person instruction is possible to do safely. The @CDCgov has laid out a path for every school to open safely. Public health experts nationally have spoken about the importance of getting kids back in school. In Arizona, teachers have been prioritized for the vaccine, and many school districts are reporting that nearly all of their educators have received both doses. Today, I’m issuing a new Executive Order. It requires public schools to get back to teacher-led, in-person instruction by March 15, or after Spring Break. I know not every parent feels comfortable sending their kids back to school. So virtual learning will continue to be an option for those families. But many do want to go back, and this will require schools to provide that opportunity. The science is clear, and so are the social and behavioral impacts. It’s time to get kids back in the classroom. I’m confident that Arizona has made better progress on this to date than many other states, and today’s action will speed up that process even more.”
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the time of this report, there have been 1861 reported workplace fatalities from COVID-19. OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers to report employees that were hospitalized or died from COVID-19, “regardless of the amount of time between the exposure to COVID-19 in the work environment and the death or in-patient hospitalization.
These OSHA reports are given within eight hours of a fatality, or 24 hours of a hospitalization.
According to the latest counts, there have been over 24,300 deaths related to COVID-19 in Arizona. In the last six months, a total of over 6,300 deaths have occurred. Nearly 72 percent of deaths occurred in individuals over 65 years old. Nearly 16 percent of deaths occurred in individuals aged 55 to 64 years old.
Nearly 8 percent of deaths came from individuals aged 45 to 54 years old. 5 percent of deaths came from individuals 20 to 44 years old. Nearly 0 percent of deaths occurred in individuals under the age of 20: .2 percent, to be exact.
Arizona law affords students forced to quarantine by their schools for COVID-19 the right to court-appointed counsel at the expense of the state, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich. In an opinion issued last Friday, Brnovich responded to an inquiry from State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) on the issue.
The attorney general explained that schools relying on county health department quarantine or isolation protocol must also adhere to the requirement of counsel outlined in the same law:
“The court shall appoint counsel at state expense to represent a person or group of persons who is subject to isolation or quarantine pursuant to this article and who is not otherwise represented by counsel,” reads the law. “Representation by appointed counsel continues throughout the duration of the isolation or quarantine of the person or group of persons. The department or local health authority must provide adequate means of communication between the isolated or quarantined persons and their counsel.”
The law also stipulates that legal counsel must be acquired at state expense and last the duration of the isolation or quarantine.
In reference to mandatory quarantines for students exposed to COVID-19, Brnovich referenced the authority cited by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) in their letter to communities in August. The letter cited MCDPH authority for student quarantines came from a statute which, in turn, cited the two statutes outlined by Brnovich granting legal counsel.
“When a county health department or public health services district is apprised that infectious or contagious disease exists within its jurisdiction, it shall immediately make an investigation. If the investigation discloses that the disease does exist, the county health department or public health services district may adopt quarantine and sanitary measures consistent with department rules and sections 36-788 and 36-789 to prevent the spread of the disease. The county health department or public health services district shall immediately notify the department of health services of the existence and nature of the disease and measures taken concerning it.”
Brnovich concluded that parents may seek a court order to lift the quarantine immediately, which would initiate the appointment of state-provided legal counsel to the student. A court would have 24 hours to hear the case, and 48 hours to submit its ruling. Counsel would also be available for parents petitioning to change quarantine conditions. In that case, a court would have 10 days to hold a hearing.
“[U]nder MCDPH’s quarantine requirements, which appear to be issued pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-788, MCDPH, through public schools, is mandating student quarantines without a court order. Once a parent or guardian receives the MCDPH letter requiring quarantine, the parent or guardian is entitled […] to immediately seek a court order lifting the quarantine,” wrote Brnovich. “And once a parent or guardian requests court review, A.R.S. § 36-789(M) requires the court to appoint counsel for the student at state expense. Similarly, if a parent or guardian files an action on behalf of the student challenging the conditions of a quarantine, the court is required to appoint counsel for the student at state expense.”
The attorney general noted that Arizona law doesn’t necessarily define “state expense.” He opined that the cost of counsel could fall on county health departments.
That wasn’t Kelly’s only request for Brnovich’s legal opinion as of late. The state senator requested Brnovich’s opinion on religious tests and denial of religious exemptions by employers.
An answer on Kelly’s latest question has yet to be published.
COVID-19 exhaustion is not a medical term, although what it represents can be as emotionally fatiguing as the virus can be physically draining. It describes the sense of frustration and weariness that comes from reacting 24/7 to a pandemic for the last 20 months.
AZ Free News looks at some of the events which occurred last week in federal courthouses, corporate offices, and the Arizona statehouse which illustrate the confusing regulations, legal rulings, and political posturing commonly found with COVID-19 exhaustion.
Private vs. Public Employees
On Dec. 15, Gov. Doug Ducey issued yet another executive order concerning COVID-19. Among the nine-page order are 19 words which seemingly ensure municipal, county, and state officials cannot impose any COVID-19 vaccination on citizens, businesses, or public employees:
“No person shall be required by this state, or any city, town or county to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine…”
Yet just two days later, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero issued a dismissive response to Ducey’s order as she doubled down on enforcing a city ordinance passed in November that allows for termination of any city employee who did not provide prove of vaccination or had not gone through an exemption process.
Meanwhile, the illnesses and deaths of several public safety workers across Arizona who contracted COVID-19 are being classified as work-related, which allows for various financial benefits for the employee or family. At the same time, a growing number of private companies have discontinued assistance for unvaccinated frontline employees who contact COVID-19.
The latest employer to do so is Kroger Co., which owns 2,700 supermarkets and multi-department stores across the country under several names. In Arizona, Kroger operates the Fry’s Food Stores.
According to Kroger’s announcement, any of the company’s 465,000 employees who are not vaccinated will no longer be eligible for two weeks of paid emergency leave if they fall ill. In addition, a $50 monthly health insurance surcharge will soon be imposed onunvaccinated nonunion employees.
A similar COVID-19 health plan surcharge was implemented by Pima County against several hundred of its employees who have not been vaccinated. The county’s action, which is expected to cost employees $100 a month, is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed last week by the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs (AZCOPS).
Another problem that has developed as a result of various vaccination mandates is the uneven -and potentially discriminatory- decisions by companies and government entities in response to applications for religious and medical exemptions. There are also concerns over employee privacy.
The City of Phoenix issued its own COVID-19 vaccination mandate back in November, citing the city’s status as a federal contractor. The city’s 14,000 or so employees were given a Jan. 18 deadline, along with the option of applying for a medical or religious exemption.
Many employees balked at the exemption process after learning they would have to reveal deeply personal medical and religious information to fellow city employees with the Human Resources, Equal Opportunity, and Law departments.
The Phoenix mandate is on hold while the federal court address challenges to the Biden Administration’s federal contractor vaccination mandate. If reactivated, the city’s mandate allows for termination.
Federal Court Decisions
While a legal challenge or two have been threatened against Ducey’s latest executive order, Arizonans who work for the federal government have not had success challenging President Joe Biden’s executive order that requires federal employees to get the shot.
But for workers of private companies with 100 or more employees, for those who work for a federal contractor, or whose employer receives Medicare & Medicaid funds, things get a whole lot murkier.
A federal appeals court recently put on hold the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rules which require staff at any facility which participates in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to get the COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of whether that staff member has patient contact.
But even if that rule never goes into effect, healthcare workers in Arizona may not have recourse to challenge any employer mandated vaccination policy, thanks to Ducey’s Dec. 15 executive order. The governor specifically allows “a health care institution licensed pursuant to A.R.S. Title 36, Chapter 4” to require its employees to be vaccinated, although a medical and religious exemption must be offered.
There is also a Biden executive order which requires federal contractors and subcontractors to implement a mandatory employee vaccination policy. A federal court order put that mandate on hold earlier this month, but the U.S. Department of Justice continues to argue the President has authority to impose such a requirement on America’s private businesses.
The Biden Administration mandate with the biggest reach is one issued by OSHA that affects more than 80 million workers. An emergency OSHA rule requires companies with 100 or more employees to implement COVID-19 vaccination protocols or face financial penalties. The OSHA rule also requires unvaccinated workers to undergo frequent testing, and only provides for a medical exemption.
A federal court had put the OSHA rule on hold due to legal challenges from multiple states and employers. However, last Friday a federal appellate court allowed the mandate to go into effect pending any possible action by the U.S. Supreme Court which was asked on Saturday by several parties to get involved sooner than later.
It did not take long for OSHA to react to last week’s lifting of the hold. The agency issued a statement Saturday warning those companies with more than 100 employees to comply by Jan. 10 or face citations and penalties.
The Trauma Surgeon
Mental COVID-19 exhaustion can also be caused by the frustration brought on by inane vaccination mandate protocols. A glaring head-scratcher of such a mandate comes from Phoenix-based Banner Health, Arizona’s largest private employer.
Until recently, Dr. Devin L. Gray held medical privileges at several Banner hospitals, just as he does at many other Maricopa County hospitals. But Gray, a surgeon with 30 years of experience, is no longer allowed to use his specialty skills as a life-saving trauma surgeon at Banner’s facilities.
The reason? A Banner Health administrator did not find Gray’s request for a religious exemption to the company’s vaccination mandate to be sincere. The other hospitals -Arizona General Hospitals, Chandler Regional Medical Center, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, and Mountain View Medical Center- did.
Gray has asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to look into the exemption inconsistencies, as well as the amount of deeply personal information some companies are demanding from employees who apply for a medical or religious exemption.
In the meantime, Gray has been told by a Banner Health executive that he can be treated as a patient at their facilities. He is also free to visit patients at a Banner facility. But he can’t treat those patients’ medical emergencies.