One of the more disappointing reads of the season was the Oct. 27 opinion essay in The Washington Post penned by Alaska’s own Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink.
Most of it is an acceptable accounting of Alaska’s experience with Covid-19. We did pretty well in the beginning, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, including Zink, did a phenomenal job getting test kits manufactured in-state, when it was nearly impossible to get supplies. They got protective gear shipped over from China in record time.
Alaskans followed Dr. Zink’s advice in February of 2020 to wash their hands frequently for 20 seconds and sneeze into their sleeves. She is on the record early in the pandemic for saying that surgical masks are essentially petrie dishes.
“A mask is a wet, moist environment that’s collecting viruses and bacteria … It’s not useful to protect you from other people,” she told a legislative hearing.
By June, 2020, Zink had changed her tune about why she wears a mask: “Humility: I don’t know if I have COVID as it is clear that people can spread the disease before they have symptoms. 2. Kindness: I don’t know if the person I am near has a kid battling cancer, or cares for their elderly mom. While I might be fine, they might not. 3. Community: I want my community to thrive, businesses to stay open, employees to stay healthy. Keeping a lid on COVID helps us all.”
That’s very laudable and noble, but 180-degrees from what she had said in February, 2020, and not particularly backed by science.
In The Washington Post last month, Zink took credit for Alaska’s great look on the national stage early in the pandemic, and then blamed Alaskans for the outbreak in the fall of 2021, when case loads spiked.
Alaskans fell prey to misinformation, she said.
This is a curious argument: Alaskans, evidently, have some unique quality that makes them fall for misinformation when people in Florida, with some of the lowest Covid case counts in the world, do not.
Today, the case loads are spiking in Iowa and Kansas. It must be that people are suddenly falling for misinformation in Iowa, but not in Alaska, because within weeks of spiking and causing concern in hospitals in late September, Alaska’s numbers have returned to what the World Health Organization considers the “green zone” of viral transmission — below 5% for the past two weeks. Alaskans should pat themselves on the back for not falling for misinformation.
The blame for misinformation rests on the medical community, policy makers, and on social media, but perhaps unequally. Let’s take the medical community first.
The struggle to understand what is probably a bioweapon, while filtering data through the sieve of medical experience and teachings, has led the medical profession to make imperfect recommendations to the public, and to exclude important avenues of inquiry, such as early treatment.
The medical community, led by people in charge such as Dr. Zink and Dr. Anthony Fauci, have pushed masks, distancing, and finally a leaky vaccine as the primary methods for controlling the disease. And yet, with this sneaky virus, it’s apparent that the vaccine is not going to succeed, as in less than two years the virus has evolved from its initial stage, to the more virulent Delta, and now to the even worse variant being called “omicron.” This virus, unlike viruses that come from nature, reminds us of the Greek mythological creature Hydra; every time one head is chopped off, two more grow back.
The jury is still out on whether the mass vaccination program is a good idea, but Zink’s assertion that low vaccination rates and vaccine hesitancy in Alaska is a big reason for the September surge is unsupported. 81 percent of the Juneau population is vaccinated, and yet there were 19 new cases diagnosed Wednesday. This, in what is one of the most vaccinated communities in the country — a town of 30,000 that also has instituted forced masking, six-foot distancing, and mandatory limits on gatherings. Not quite Australia, but they can see it from there.
What’s more, the breakthroughs and reinfections are on the rise in Alaska already. Through the end of September 2021, a total of 13,265 Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough cases were documented among Alaska residents, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. We must keep in mind that most Alaskans did not even have access to the vaccine until March of 2021, and yet by September, the breakthroughs were growing by leaps and bounds.
If the medical community has suffered reputation damage because of its changing and flawed advice, and if the political class has outdone itself in the scare tactics its perpetuated, the mosh pit of social media hasn’t been all that helpful either. This virus is serious, and those who diminish or dismiss its dangers do so at their own peril, and the greater community’s as well.
But the people of social media are not to blame for the misinformation. Much of what they are trading in is no more misinformed than what is being fed to them by Big Pharma and its handmaidens at the FDA, CDC, and in the mainstream media. Alaskans are reading widely; are they to dismiss the repression they see occurring around the world? Should Alaskans not make a stand so their communities don’t resemble the quarantine camps of Australia? Should they not fight for the Constitution?
Are the experiences of Israelis to be discounted? Is Ivermectin, which is a drug commonly used to treat Covid around the globe, such a danger that Alaskans can’t have access to it? What would be the harm of telling Alaskans to load up on Vitamin D, lose weight, build their immune systems with zinc and quercetin, and get plenty of exercise?
What of the stories Alaskans have told Must Read Alaska about doctors, nurses, and health practitioners discriminating against the unvaccinated or refusing to treat them altogether? Are those stories not relevant? What of the mandates on workers to get vaccinated or lose their jobs? Are these Alaskans’ experiences “misinformation”?
And importantly, what exactly is misinformation in an era in which some doctors, from Dr. Fauci to our local medical mafia at Providence, have become politicized and are telling leaders in Anchorage to enact behavioral mandates? From this perch, it appears that only because of the strong libertarian streak in Alaskans have we been able to avoid the vaccine passports now enacted in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Dr. Zink’s writing in the Wa-Po belittled Alaskans. It shifted the blame to them for a virus that is a global roller-coaster of increasing intensity and challenge. She didn’t help the case of doctors, and she insulted Alaskans by characterizing them as too stupid or hardheaded to know good information from bad in a world where the information is rapidly changing, and where much has been worthy of doubt.
Suzanne Downing is the publisher of Must Read Alaska.