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Opinion: Doctors and nurses have had it with us on COVID-19. Let’s stop pushing them

A doctor ties a protective gown around herself.
A doctor ties her blue isolation gown inside Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance earlier this month.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. California’s recall election is exactly one month away. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

We’re at a stage in the pandemic where hope and resolve have necessarily given way to anger and coercion. Upbeat calls for all eligible adults to get their COVID-19 shots have mutated into mandates from government and private businesses. Healthcare professionals who pleaded for public compliance with mask and distancing guidelines are now burned out and exhausted of all their empathy, and rightly so. At this stage of the pandemic, when we know from experience that vaccines and masking work, enough of us have rejected their advice to needlessly inflict this crisis on ourselves.

Think of teachers with students whose parents refuse to help with homework or take their kids to school on time, or firefighters forced to defend homes in areas long known to be at risk: Altruism and empathy can only sustain public servants so long when they get none of that in return from those they serve. Yes, structural, societal problems account for much of this behavior, but a critical portion of it is among people who could freely choose to do otherwise.

We see this “compassion fatigue” in doctors and nurses battling the worst surge of the pandemic some areas have seen yet, at precisely the time when sufficient vaccine uptake by the public could have crushed COVID-19 in this country. On the op-ed page, emergency medicine professor Dr. Mark Morocco writes of the despair and anger healthcare professionals feel treating the COVID patients like the one who lied about his vaccination status after attending a party and the “muscled firefighter who said he was afraid of needles.”

There’s hope, however, that hospital-bed pleas from coronavirus-ravaged patients are turning the vaccination tide, encouraging more people to abandon their concerns and get a safe, effective, free shot. “Now is a time to forgive, forget, encourage and coach our fellow citizens, an opportunity to open the minds of our friends and family and finally rid us of this virus,” Morocco writes.

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If only we could all be so magnanimous.

Our collective response to the pandemic doesn’t bode well for climate change. COVID-19 should have forced us to take action to ensure our own survival, to acknowledge that science actually works. But what actually happened may indicate where we’re heading on another, more threatening crisis, writes columnist Nicholas Goldberg: “Here in the United States, we did not rise to the occasion. We did not wake up. Instead, we bungled much of our response to COVID, making the situation worse than it had to be. It’s not clear we learned much of anything as a nation.” L.A. Times

Yes, we can still do something about global warming, but not for much longer. The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change signals a “code red for humanity,” so the path forward for world leaders is dauntingly clear, says The Times Editorial Board: “Phase out gas- and diesel-fueled cars and trucks and accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicles. Stop building homes and businesses powered with natural gas. Stop construction of coal-fired power plants across the globe. Ensure every corner of the world has access to renewable energy. Cut methane emissions from oil wells, landfills and farms. Invest in research to develop technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.” L.A. Times

This is how we stop Fox News’ white supremacist agenda: In 2006, then-CNN host Lou Dobbs parroted the racist “reconquista” conspiracy theory that immigration from Mexico and Central America was part of a plot to reclaim U.S. land in the Southwest for Mexico. At the time, Latino groups that had fought white supremacy in the 1990s and early 2000s were ready, and weeks after they engaged with CNN’s advertisers, Dobbs was off the channel. Columnist Jean Guerrero says a similar response may be useful now that Fox News host Tucker Carlson is cozying up to the autocratic Hungarian prime minister and dangerously hawking the reconquista-like “replacement” conspiracy theory. L.A. Times

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California’s recall is unconstitutional — as in unconstitutional at the federal level, not the state, since the process for recalling a governor is laid out in the California Constitution. Rather, say law professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Aaron S. Edlin, that Gov. Gavin Newsom could effectively receive more votes than any of the candidates who would replace him violates the constitutional principle that no voter should have any more influence on the outcome of an election than another. This is a principle that has been articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court. New York Times

Vaccine hesitancy runs deep among strongly religious people. In Florida, an evangelical pastor told his parishioners that getting vaccinated is akin to affixing the “sign of the beast” on your body. A Tennessee minister has threatened to expel church members who mask and discourages vaccination. Historian J.M. Opal says this hostility to expert advice from scientists is rooted in a centuries-long tradition of rejecting elite religious authority. L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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