In his column published in the Christmas edition of the Juneau Empire, Opinion page columnist Win Gruening compared President Joe Biden and his chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to the Grinch that Stole Christmas. Why? Because, Gruening says, President Biden is, “…lecturing us that the omicron variant is spreading fast and that unvaccinated Americans are facing a winter of ‘severe illness and death.’” And, Fauci told the American people, “more restrictions may be needed to curb the transmission of COVID-19 if cases continue to surge.”
Gruening would like to see “a change of heart” and “a kinder, more positive note” but says that won’t happen “if our leaders continue to believe politics is more important than the power of religious faith and hope.”
Biden is a devout Catholic who attends church regularly and makes no secret of his deep religious faith. But he is also a realist who believes in science. It is as clear as scientifically proven statistics that fully vaccinated people are far less likely to die of COVID-19 than unvaccinated people. For the most vulnerable age groups in the U.S., as of Oct. 31, 2021, unvaccinated 80-plus-year-old Americans died at the rate of 28.70 per 100,000 people; fully vaccinated 80-plus-year-old Americans died at the rate of 5.33 per 100,000 people. For the 65-79-year-old age group, unvaccinated people died at the rate of 5.25 per 100,000 people; fully vaccinated 65-79 year olds died at the rate of 1 per 100,000 people (see Our World in Data, a nonprofit research group based at the University of Oxford in England).
While early data shows that omicron is not as deadly as delta, it is spreading like wildfire. The 14-day average increase in COVID-19 cases has risen 202%. A daily average of 90,029 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, a 30% increase in the 14-day average. There are 1,240 deaths daily on average (see the New York Times, “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count”).
I also take issue with Gruening’s statements that government COVID-19 mandates kept churchgoers “from consistently attending in-person religious services” thus preventing them from seeking the comforts of religion. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey conducted pre-COVID-19 pandemic, between 2018 and 2019, found:
The data shows that just like rates of religious affiliation, rates of religious attendance are declining. Over the last decade, the share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percentage points, while the share who say they attend religious services less often (if at all) has risen by the same degree. In 2009, regular worship attenders (those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month) outnumbered those who attend services only occasionally or not at all by a 52%-to-47% margin. Today those figures are reversed; more Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%).
I find it incredibly refreshing after the dystopian Trump administration that nearly destroyed our democracy, to have a president who believes in the rule of law and in science, while at the same time has no qualms about seeking the comfort of religion. Asking unvaccinated Americans to do their patriotic duty and get vaccinated is the message every one of our elected leaders should be espousing. Hope and prayer are powerful, and when combined with a full series of an mRNA vaccine, might keep us healthy and out of the hospital.
• Kimberly Metcalfe is a retired union representative and former Alaska Democratic National committeewoman.