Harrop, Froma

Set aside the specter of overflowing intensive care units in Idaho — or that the state’s emergency rooms are now choosing which COVID-19 patients to save and which ones to give up on. The situation is so bad that desperate patients are crossing the border into Washington state to find hospital beds, putting Spokane hospitals under siege.

Idaho’s coroners and funeral homes are turning away cadavers for lack of room. Meanwhile, victims of car accidents and other medical emergencies are not getting the usual attention. And people can forget about elective surgery.

Were there no vaccinations to stop this often-deadly virus, the situation in Idaho would be pure tragedy. But the calamity in Idaho is tragedy piled on top of a civic breakdown.

One can only shudder at the immorality underlying a recent statement by Idaho Gov. Brad Little and his state’s legislative leaders. They condemned President Joe Biden’s order that workers at large companies get vaccinated or undergo weekly tests.

“We are committed to taking legal action to stop President Biden’s unprecedented government overreach into the private sector with his new COVID-19 plan,” they said, evidently without shame.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee bashed Idaho officials for “clogging up” his state’s hospitals with their unvaccinated residents. As a result, Inslee said, “Washington citizens in many cases cannot get heart surgery, cannot get cancer surgery ... and that’s just maddening frankly.”

We moderns have the gift of a vaccine to protect us against the coronavirus and, in the rare cases of a breakthrough infection, prevent serious disease and hospitalization. That’s what makes this 21st-century plague so different from the medieval version. Europeans were helpless against the Black Death. Carts would wind through the streets, their drivers yelling, “Bring down your dead!”

Idaho’s Ada County, population about 482,000, recently recorded an astounding 18 coronavirus deaths in one day. In New York City, population over 8 million, such deaths are averaging 11 a day.

The reason for this discrepancy is that New York City has lowered the boom on the unvaccinated. Months ago, the message was to get the shot to protect yourself and the people you love. The new memo is to get a vaccination or weekly testing — or lose your job.

The city has mandated that every school employee quickly obtain at least one shot or no more paycheck. When the teachers union warned of a staffing shortage, the response was basically, “No worry, the city has lined up thousands of vaccinated ‘substitute’ teachers.”

The unvaccinated can’t have fun in New York anymore if fun means going into a bar or to a concert. In sum, they are losing the right to breathe on strangers.

If you think mandates don’t work, look at the private sector. United Airlines recently announced that employees would have to get shots or work elsewhere. Now 97% of its workers are fully vaccinated.

Last March, when New York was the epicenter of the pandemic, many rural Americans understandably felt they didn’t need the shots. The vaccine was new and often hard to get. COVID-19 also seemed to spread less in sparsely populated areas. Rural areas are now the epicenter.

In “Inferno,” the 14th-century Italian poet Dante described the doomed souls just inside the gates of hell as people who didn’t sin so badly but refused to choose between good and evil. “Let’s not reflect about them” he wrote, “but watch and move on.”

You know you’ve descended into COVID-19 hell when your morgues are running out of coolers and body bags are in short supply. And it’s all because your leaders have sacrificed civic virtue on the altar of “freedom,” or their twisted version of it.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

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