Gif from video by US Health and Human Services

Let's start off with the probably somewhat reassuring news: The AP reports that, so far at least, the "Mu variant" of the coronavirus, first identified in Colombia earlier this year, doesn't appear to be as nasty as the Delta variant that's spreading wildly among unvaccinated Americans. It's being tracked by the World Health Organization as a "variant of interest" because of worries it might be resistant to vaccines, but it it accounts for fewer than one percent of infections worldwide, and it "doesn't seem to be spreading quickly" outside Colombia, where it might be the cause of roughly 39 percent of cases. And this looks encouraging, too:

A report from England's public health agency last month suggested the mu variant might be as resistant to vaccines as the worrisome beta variant first seen in South Africa, but said more real-world data was needed.

WHO officials said the mu variant appears to be rising in some countries in South America, but that the delta variant still spreads far more easily.

So it sounds like cautious optimism may be called for; the AP reports Dr. Anthony Fauci says that of course the USA is "'paying attention to it,' but it isn't considered an immediate threat," too. Now, we should all probably go outside, turn around three times, and spit (and curse!) because while magical thinking is a delusion, it can't hurt to be careful.

OK, now fill the comments with jokes about cow dewormer as the cure for the Moo variant, you were going to regardless of what we said. [AP]


Joe Biden And The 'Problem' Of Following The Science

Just going to quickly mention, as Rebecca did in this morning's Tabs, Peter Nicholas's Atlantic article about the frustrations and problems Joe Biden has faced in communicating about the pandemic. (Actually, this whole friggin' post is a more detailed look at stuff from Tabs. Talk about lazy, Dok!) As Yr Editrix said, it does rely on a lot of quotes from former Trump officials, but it also explains there's an inherent difficulty with saying you're going to follow the science.

That's because the science in this case is following a virus, and because of mutations, the virus fucking refuses to be predictable. That can blow any plans for consistent messaging right out of the petri dish. But then the messaging seems inconsistent and confusing, which isn't great for convincing the public that you know what's going on.

This all may play into Biden's plan to announce a new, "reset" of COVID policy this evening; Nicholas suggests maybe the soundest approach might involve "admitting the obvious fact that the virus still has the 'upper hand' and that we don't yet know when the pandemic will fade." That has its own communications risks, but at least it's what reality looks like:

"No one wants to be the person who says, 'I don't know what the future is going to bring,'" Nirav Shah, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told me. And yet, "humility and comfort around scientists not knowing all the answers on day one would go a long way toward reducing some of the whiplash you're seeing."

President Biden will be addressing the nation this evening, hopefully with details of a reset. [Atlantic]

Vermont: State Troopers Shitcanned For Fake Vaccination Cards

Three Vermont State Police officers have "resigned" after the FBI opened an investigation into whether they broke federal law by creating bogus vaccination record cards after they were reported by another trooper, the VT Digger news site reports. A statement from the Vermont Department of Public safety said Tuesday that the troopers

"are suspected of having varying roles in the creation of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards," a possible violation of federal law.

Authorities have not said why the troopers allegedly made the cards or who they may have been providing them to.

The statement was accompanied with the expected expressions of disappointment and this-is-not-who-we-are-ness you'd expect from higher-ups in the department, along with the similarly expected refusals to go into detail about an ongoing investigation.

One of the troopers, Raymond Witkowski, sure sounds like a charming fella. In 2019, VT Digger reports, he was involved in a case

in which he shot and wounded a man in Arlington who police said had fired multiple shots at troopers.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan cleared Witkowski of criminal wrongdoing in the case, ruling that the trooper's use of force was justified.

The Manchester Journal reported that the guy Witkowski shot had been having a mental health crisis at the time. When he was sentenced to two years in jail and 10 years' probation, Witkowski was not at all happy with the sentence, calling it a "slap in the face to me, not only as a victim but as a law enforcement professional who dedicated his life to fair and equal pursuit of justice."

Probably why he lost faith in government and had to turn to allegedly forging vaccination cards, we bet. [VT Digger]

Virginia: Can Saying The Pandemic Is Real Get Terry McAuliffe Elected?

In his Washington Post column, Greg Sargent raises the thorny question of whether being rooted in reality is enough to get someone elected governor of Virginia. (Virginia doesn't allow governors to serve consecutive terms, so Ralph Northam will be termed out.) Terry McAuliffe, who was governor of the state from 2014 to 2018, thinks he has a shot at getting elected by focusing on public health measures, a stance Sargent says is

all too rare among Democrats. He is excoriating Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin for opposing vaccine and mask mandates, and casting this as a holdover of Donald Trump's deranged approach to covid-19.
.
McAuliffe just launched a new TV ad campaign that hits Youngkin's opposition to requiring masks in schools and requiring vaccines for teachers and health-care workers. The spot ties this to Youngkin's declaration that "Trump represents so much of why I'm running."

It's just so not-crazy it just might work! Youngkin, despite trying to frame himself as a business guy, not one of those Trumpy Republicans, has nonetheless spouted the same dumb pieties about "freedom" and "individual responsibility" that you'd expect from a Ron DeSantis or a Greg Abbott. Considering that polling shows the public — like, everywhere — supports public health measures to control the virus, McAuliffe just might have the right idea here. [WaPo]

Florida: Hey, Why Is Ron DeSantis Hiding The COVID Data?

The Tampa Bay Times yesterday ran a red-hot editorial castigating Florida health officials for withholding COVID-19 data that it used to report as a matter of routine, saying the officials haven't just mismanaged the pandemic, they've "also concealed a true picture of the growing crisis." The editorial backs a lawsuit filed last week by a state Sen. Carlos Guillermo Smith and the Florida Center for Government Accountability, after the state health department refused to release detailed data on the pandemic, claiming it was "confidential."

Yup, looks like Florida state government under Gov. Ron DeSantis is pulling the bogus "Can't tell you. HIPAA" routine, except nobody believes that because the state had posted the very same data daily on its website. But then in June, the reports suddenly became far less detailed, and were posted weekly instead.

Says the editorial,

As the outbreak worsened, and schools began to open, the plaintiffs sought to gauge the impact of COVID on local communities, seeking daily case counts and information about hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

The department provided "inconsistent" responses to these requests, the lawsuit states, though ultimately officials claimed the records were confidential and exempt from public disclosure. Never mind the state had posted extensive, daily reports of county-specific data until suddenly halting the practice in June, or that the records sought involved aggregate data, not anything that identified individual people.

Presumably, DeSantis and crew will object to the very idea of reducing people to any kind of "aggregate," which smacks of socialism and collectivism, maybe.

With the Delta variant having killed 2,245 people in Florida in the week ending September 2 — the second-highest death toll since the start of the pandemic — the editorial says it's pretty telling that "state leadership doesn't want residents to know the details behind those numbers."

Information is power, and Floridians need this data to protect themselves, their families and their communities. This should be an easy call for the courts, and they need to act while it counts.

On the other hand, what good are public records laws if they just make people feel sad? [Tampa Bay Times]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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