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Opinion: Healthcare workers are still begging us to take COVID seriously. This is really bad

A nursing assistant cleans equipment in a hallway in a hospital COVID unit
A nursing assistant cleans equipment in the COVID unit at Adventist Health White Memorial hospital in Boyle Heights.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

If you were to have known one year ago that in 12 months, doctors would still be pleading with the public to take every precaution against COVID-19, you’d think that the effort to find a vaccine had failed and masks and distancing were still our only protection against infection. But here we are in August 2021, fully 17 months after Gov. Gavin Newsom first told residents to stay home, with three effective vaccines, enough collective data to prove COVID-19 is indeed worse than the flu, unvaccinated children herding back into the classroom — and healthcare workers treating gravely ill patients still sharing tales of needless suffering and death.

Take this op-ed article by respiratory therapist Karen Gallardo explaining what the seven stages of severe COVID-19 look like. Her piece is a helpful reminder not only of the vaccines’ remarkable effectiveness at preventing severe disease — she says inoculated patients rarely progress past Stage 1 — but also that dying from COVID-19 is an excruciating descent into breathlessness, pain, induced paralysis and, at last, a tearful goodbye with family members via Zoom or FaceTime.

A year ago, a piece like Gallardo’s could have read as a bracing reminder to a naive public of the reality behind emergency room doors — a sort of “you really don’t want COVID-19" first-person account. Now, with vaccines widely available, it’s a sad testament to the near-suicidal tribalism prolonging the pandemic.

Taken with a similar op-ed article by emergency room physician Anita Sircar about the frustration that exhausted healthcare workers feel treating unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, such accounts are yet more evidence that simple persuasion and mild coercion won’t get enough people to take their shots. We’ve been hearing COVID-19 horror stories for more than a year; I doubt that yet more of them will convert the holdouts.

But there is hope. The Times Editorial Board heralds the recent full approval by the Food and Drug Administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (full disclosure: I am a trial participant for that vaccine and booster) as signaling the arrival of additional government and private employer mandates. If powerful appeals to our humanity haven’t done the trick, perhaps appeals to our pocketbooks by the powerful will.

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Readers are directing their COVID rage at a Los Angeles Fire Department captain. One thing that sets this particular surge apart from past ones is the abject anger expressed over it, as opposed to the grief and fear from previous surges. Now, some readers have focused that anger on a Los Angeles fire captain who recorded himself blasting city and firefighter union leadership over the requirement that all employees either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. L.A. Times

Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he’s being punished for it. The governor has prioritized Latino areas for COVID-19 vaccines, backed stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants in California, and expanded access to health insurance for undocumented seniors, among other things. Still, columnist Jean Guerrero has a warning about Newsom’s future and that of California’s Latinos: “If Latinos don’t mobilize to vote ‘no’ in the California recall election, we can say goodbye to decades of progress for our communities.” L.A. Times

Don’t look to the recall candidates for real solutions on homelessness or the drought. It makes sense that the Republicans running to replace Newsom question his record on homelessness; the problem is, says the editorial board, “none have anything to offer beyond sweeping but ill-conceived plans that would swoop up homeless people into shelters and force them to confront their mental illness or substance abuse issues.” On the state’s water problems, says the board, there isn’t much there either: “If the leading candidates actually believe the nonsense they are spouting about California water and if one of them is elected and follows through on his simplistic nostrums, it would spell disaster for the state.”

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Ashli Babbitt was not a peaceful protester. It’s clear why the cop who shot her was exonerated. The woman who died Jan. 6 while trying to break into the Capitol Speaker’s Lobby is being turned into a political martyr of the right. Columnist Nicholas Goldberg reminds us of the cold facts of her shooting: “These weren’t peaceful demonstrators. These weren’t protesters exercising their constitutionally protected right to calmly express differences of opinion with their elected representatives. They were bashing down the doors. This was a riot, Ashli Babbitt was at its vanguard, and, based on what I’ve seen, the police officer who shot her was doing his job.” L.A. Times

The attack at Kabul’s airport is yet further proof that now is the time for U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan. The killing of at least 13 U.S. service members and dozens of others in Kabul was an outrageous act of terrorism, but not one that was committed by the Taliban. Nor is the attack a sign of failure by the Biden administration, writes Editorial Page Editor Sewell Chan, and “critics of the evacuations have made entirely disingenuous, self-serving or simply misleading arguments over the last two weeks.” 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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