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Death Panel Podcast: Covid Year Two Transcript
We review the year in the U.S. covid response, and the profound miscalculations on the part of the government and the media that have played a direct role in keeping this crisis ongoing.
The Death Panel is thrilled to share the transcript for our massive episode covering the first year of the Biden response — Covid Year Two.
We review the year in the U.S. covid response, and the profound miscalculations on the part of the government and the media that have played a direct role in keeping this crisis ongoing. While this episode is retrospective, we have covered the pandemic quite closely day in day out since March 2020. If you’d like to listen to some of shows we released reacting in real time to some of the events described in Covid Year Two; start with our episodes “Meaning Production at 500,000 Dead” from February, “A Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” from July, “Operation Enduring Virus” from September, or “Bracing for the Wave” from December. Suffice it to say it has been a terrible year.
This episode was originally a patron exclusive posted December 13th. If you enjoy this episode and want to help us work towards our goal of being able to offer transcripts for more of our episodes, consider supporting the show at patreon.com/deathpanelpod!
Thank you to Shy Fudger for their hard work on the transcript!
[Image Description: Blue round sunglasses with silver lenses and decorative numbers reading “2021” sit on a black background. The image is noisy, grainy, and textured. Superimposed on top are the words “Death Panel” in white lettering.]
Death Panel Podcast: Covid Year Two
(Original air date: December 13, 2021, “DP EP 305 - Covid Year Two” [Transcript])
Computer Generated Voice Over (UK Daniel) 00:00
Clipped Audio, Joe Biden Speaking 00:01
"I am not going to shut down the economy, period; I'm going to shut down the virus. That's what I'm going to shut down. I'll say it again, no national shutdown..."
Computer Generated Voice Over (UK Daniel) 00:11
Clipped Audio, Joe Biden Speaking 00:13
"There's just nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months..."
Computer Generated Voice Over (UK Daniel) 00:18
Clipped Audio, Joe Biden Speaking 00:19
"In light of the end that we've been talking about, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, it's growing brighter and brighter, and it's July 4. Let's celebrate our independence as a nation and our independence from this virus."
Clipped Audio, Biden Administration Official, Introducing CDC Director at a meeting 00:33
"We're winning the war against COVID-19. Our progress has been steady, but it's beginning to take hold."
Clipped Audio, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky 00:40
"Today, CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated people. Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."
Clipped Audio, Joe Biden Speaking 01:03
"We will rebuild our economy, reclaim our lives and get back to normal life again. We'll know joy again, and we'll smile again."
Computer Generated Voice Over (UK Daniel) 01:14
Clipped Audio, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky 01:15
"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated..."
Clipped Audio, Jill Biden 01:19
"...and doesn't the air just smell so much sweeter without our masks? Doesn't it feel brighter without the shadow of the virus darkening our every thought..."
Clipped Audio, Biden Administration Public Service Announcement Voice Over 01:30
[music swells, corny instrumental backing track from commercial] "...freedom to hug a grandchild. To see a baseball game in person. To come back together again. America; leading the world out of a global pandemic. With honesty and compassion..."
Death Panel 01:47
[theme music begins to cross-fade in layered against the clipped audio]
Clipped Audio, Biden Administration Public Service Announcement Voice Over 01:48
"...America's journey continues through fireworks and parades..." [fades out]
Death Panel 01:59
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 02:18
Welcome to the Death Panel. Patrons, as always, thank you so much for your support. We couldn't do any of this without you. Don't forget that you can use code [bleep noise] for a patron-only discount in the merch store. And if you're listening to this, and you're not a patron support the show at patreon.com/deathpanelpod for access to all of our bonus episodes like this one.
So here we are, rounding out the tail end of the second year of the SARS COV2 pandemic, which has been a year that has felt like it's lasted a decade, just personally. And for some quick perspective, on the day of this recording, which is December 13, ABC News announced that the United States has passed 800,000 official deaths coded for COVID-19. So, for over 50% of the Biden administration, we have had over 1000 COVID deaths a day in the United States. Today is the 183rd day of 347 days this year, where over 1000 people a day have died of COVID, which is like 53% of the year.
So, you know and- in November as op-eds were published saying that even experts were not willing to give up on the holidays to stop the spread of the disease. You know, encouraging people to gather together in person for Thanksgiving and travel, COVID was the third leading cause of death in the United States. And that's to say nothing of what it's going to look like in January and February. So, again, 1000s of people per day have died for over half of the calendar year.
Yet even as we find ourselves very clearly in a huge wave of death, illness and hospitalization caused by Delta and facing the probability that the Omicron variant will out compete Delta soon— with the majority of cases in the US being detected in vaccinated people so far, by the way— the Biden administration has still refused to do anything other than pursue a vaccine-only strategy, even as they have refused to do anything to pressure global pharmaceutical companies to share their technology in order to help more vaccines get into non-rich countries. So, it's been a long year of selfish behavior, gaslighting from the top, and abject failure both on the side of policymaking and on public communication.
Phil Rocco 03:37
And yet, somehow, I'm expecting that the year-in-review articles that we are now- it's- a year-in-review comes earlier and earlier every year. You know, it's December—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 04:22
Just like Christmas decorations.
Phil Rocco 04:22
Right, and I'm expecting that the year-in-review articles this year are going to have the tone of like, "New Line Cinema presents this holiday season..." you know, just sort of very blinkered view on exactly what's happened over the past year.
Artie Vierkant 04:56
"One man, two mRNA vaccines."
Phil Rocco 04:58
Yeah, exactly. And I've already sort of seen like a few. Like, the PolitiFact has the Biden administration promise tracker, and like, promise number one is like, "control the spread of COVID-19." And their rating is something like, "we're, we're calling this one a work in progress."And so, I feel like the— obviously, like when we think about the year-end-review, it's often like, this kind of high-level assessment, not of, like, what has happened, but of what the President has said, because the President is, is now sort of regarded by the media as like the "vibes guy," the "Vibes in Chief" guy. I would call this sort of like, it's like the John F. Kennedy disease. The idea that, like, you look like, primarily what the person says, and the vibe that they sort of cast, and you forget for a second, like, exactly what the presidency is and what it does.
And I think that leads people to be very confused about, like, where we are, what has Biden done, what does he contribute, what has he not contributed? And I think that when we look back through the history, like, the episodes that we did, and like, the moments, there is like a thread that comes together, and it's a thread that really reveals something, like pretty deep about the purpose of the presidency. And like, what the presidency is actually explicitly, apparently not for, which is public health.
Artie Vierkant 06:27
Well, I think before— lest we get ahead of ourselves, though, we should be really clear listeners, you know The Death Panel. We're not necessarily ones to do your sort of stock year-end year-in-review. We're simply doing this for kicks, you know. I think the reason that we decided to sit down and have this conversation, which I think we're calling COVID Year Two, as kind of an echo of a really early episode that we did in like mid-March of 2020, called COVID Year Zero, is to look at— So there's, you know, all these factors that both of you just mentioned— I think people are pretty understandably confused about the state of the pandemic, how bad things are, why things are so bad. Even though obviously, you know, if you've been listening to the show consistently for the last year or more, you know, that I think we've been pretty consistently saying at like every turn, "things are not over seems like things are going to get bad."
And then unfortunately, things do kind of continue to happen apace like that. But I think— here's the thing. Okay. I want to say especially because I think that we're going to unlock this in a week or so like, I want to say, especially if you're sending this to someone, or if you're someone who is not a listener of The Death Panel, what I'm about to say may come as a surprise to you, or may even make you angry, actually. It seems like this really pisses people off when you criticize the Biden administration's COVID response. Even the American Prospect just ran like something recently that said it's like, ineffectual to critique the Biden administration's COVID response, or whatever.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 08:01
Like, that it was pointless to criticize that, which is just— [sigh].
Artie Vierkant 08:03
Yeah, I forget what they— like, "pointless in the extreme," or something.
Phil Rocco 08:05
Because ultimately, they're like, the only alternative you have are these like, raving psychopaths and lunatics, so...
Artie Vierkant 08:11
Right. But so, here's the thing. Okay, so if this if it upsets you, I just want like, we're going to go through a timeline. We're going to walk through what happened this year. The point literally, the point of this episode is to talk through what the fuck just happened this year. And specifically, at every turn, how many of the things that the Biden administration did in relation to the pandemic took things from bad to worse or blew opportunities that they might have had during windows that they could have taken advantage of. And—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 08:44
And I think it's the blown opportunities that, for me, looking back at this year have really made me the most frustrated.
Artie Vierkant 08:50
Right. And I think that the thing is, and again, we're going too much of this episode, we are going to be laying out the receipts. So again, if you, you know, don't necessarily believe what I'm saying, continue to listen, and we're going to lay it all out for you. But because I think what took us to 800,000 deaths, as of the date of recording is not a story about Delta, or other variants— though that's a component— it's not a story about anti vaxxers. It's not a story about Republican governor holdouts, or whatever. It is specifically a story about decisions made by the Biden administration who do actually have a lot of responsibility for what happened.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 09:32
And I think, you know, it's kind of been hard to see unless you're paying really close attention. I think for all the discussion of COVID this year, and for all the dominance that the pandemic has over the general discourse right now, so many people are still really genuinely confused about how we've gotten to the point where so many people are still dying. It's bewildering and I get that, but, you know, I think it's a really good time to reflect on how the last year has played out. It's clear that COVID is not going anywhere, for all that people are talking about it magically transforming into a common cold that's mild, you know, a grown cat does not become a kitten again!
That's not really how these things work, right? So, you know, the discussion around endemicity is really replaced the quest for herd immunity, which was the dominating narrative of the first year. So, I think, you know, as we go into the second year, you know, it's remarkable that messaging like, "pandemic of the unvaccinated" only started over the summer. And I think it's kind of things like that, that like, regardless of your politics, and whether you agree with our, you know, takes on who's responsible here, like you have to stop and sort of wonder if anything at all could have been done differently, to get us to a different outcome than where we are now.
Artie Vierkant 10:50
Well, it's pretty clear that it could have been, but also, I'll say—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 10:53
Yeah. I'm being generous, you know?
Artie Vierkant 10:55
I'll say, too, we're not going to get to everything. If you want the long version of it, I invite you to listen back to every last episode that we released this year. We did actually walk— like, a lot of this stuff, we, you know, walked through in real time.
And I also just want to give a big thank you and shout out to every last person who replied to a kind of call that I put out on Twitter over the weekend. I, you know, basically said that we were thinking about doing this and you know, asked people for their sort of highlights of the things that you know, either made them the most frustrated or things that they remember happening over the course of 2021 that they just like could not fucking believe, coming out of like Rochelle Walensky's mouth, or Joe Biden's, or something like that. And so, I just want to thank every last person who commented on that. There were a lot of things that we had covered already, over the course of the year that we're going to be touching on, we're not going to touch on everything that everyone brought up. But there were totally some things that I just plain forgotten about. And so really, really appreciative of that.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 11:59
Yeah. And I mean, if you want to listen and have the full experience, there's over 100 hours of content from this year alone, so.
Phil Rocco 12:05
Death Panel does not constitute, nor does it contain a medical advice. [laughter] This is not medical advice.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 12:14
So yeah, we're going to do a more targeted and accessible overview of COVID here, too. Yeah. And I think you know, after walking through the chronology, then we can dive into some takeaways, too.
Artie Vierkant 12:25
Yeah. So, before we get to— I think I'm going to start us off on the timeline in a second. But before I do, I have one thing to read that I want to put out to you as a way of, let's say, setting the tone. Both of you, be Bea and Phil. Okay, name of the game is, “When is this headline from," okay?
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 12:49
Phil Rocco 12:49
I hate this one, good God.
Artie Vierkant 12:50
I'm going to read the headline, you— I know, you hate when I— I know you hate when I ask you guys to play games.
Phil Rocco 12:55
I hate games!
Artie Vierkant 12:55
[laughs] Yeah. So, I'm going to read the headline, you tell me when you think it was posted. This is a headline from Bloomberg: "Biden team fears virus surge imperils pledge to curb pandemic."
Phil Rocco 13:09
Oh, I'm going to say April.
Artie Vierkant 13:12
Okay. Try, try again.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 13:13
Artie Vierkant 13:14
February? All right. Who's— okay. Well, when else could this be?
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 13:18
But also, it could be October, or November, or yesterday.
Artie Vierkant 13:22
Yeah, yeah. Do you guys give up?
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 13:23
I'm going to go with this week.
Phil Rocco 13:24
Uh, I mean, I have my answer. But I was— was I wrong?
Artie Vierkant 13:28
Alright. Yep. That headline is from January 20th, 2021. Inauguration day!
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 13:35
Ah! Earlier than any of us guessed!
Phil Rocco 13:36
"I fear that upon taking office, our first promise, that I will not be able to accomplish it. And thus, thank you for all of your hard work and good night."
Artie Vierkant 13:47
This— The thing that really frustrates me about this, and I think I wanted to read that because I feel like, I mean, really— the point is, I wanted to read that, because I feel like this headline could have been posted any day this year, frankly. But particularly during like, while Biden was— after he assumed office on inauguration day, but the fact that it was posted on inauguration day, "Biden team fears surge imperils pledged to curb pandemic." I mean, that really says it all. Literally. How many points have we not been there?
Phil Rocco 14:19
But that also sets up the nice, like, first moment in the whole presidency, right? Which— or sets up a nice, shall we say, just like juxtaposition with the first moment, which is simultaneously the Biden ministration saying, "Gee, we may be an extremely powerful branch of government with a lot of like unilateral authority to do things— especially in crisis situations— and we're going to release this huge 200 page plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also we're initially saying that there are things that are like, far beyond our control. That to me, that sets up— that's like the narrative of the entire— at least that's like the public narrative of the entire presidency, is trying to find ways of claiming that there are things like outside your scope of variables that you have control over; no solution, no problem. And, and I feel like in the initial plan, there's, you know, that that like, 200-page plan or whatever, like, when did that come out? January, February?
Artie Vierkant 15:25
I was like, a couple days later, actually.
Phil Rocco 15:27
Yeah, like that was in that plan. There were also things that were like, you know, "we're going to make sure that we have tests for people whose insurance like, doesn't cover it, right?" There are all of these— if you like, read deeper into the plan, as we did, like— they're all of these things, where it's like, it's designed to look like this huge shift of focus from the Trump administration. And again, you know, to be the "Vibes President," that, you know, makes sense. But then when you actually look at what's in it, it's like, "well, you know, actually, we're not going to change that much."
Artie Vierkant 16:03
Right. So, I cheated a little bit, because I said that I wasn't beginning the timeline yet, but that's basically where my timeline begins. You know, this is, I think, a really indicative headline from Inauguration Day. Obviously, the day before, January 19th, 2021. They do this, you know, little candle ceremony. Biden and Kamala Harris, like stand outside on the mall, and like look at I think it's like 400 candles, which are supposed to symbolize the 400,000 deaths at that point. Which as of— the other thing I'm going to do for this, just for listeners, so that you have a sense of the scale, too, is on certain dates, or as frequently as possible, I think I'm going to call out the amount of dead on that date. So, January 20th, we were at 414,090 deaths. That's yeah, so that's, that's the beginning. They're setting the tone.
They do, as Phil, you're mentioning, Biden administration comes in and they say that, you know, they're going to make all these kind of sweeping changes to the pandemic policy. There's all these rumblings about, you know, the CDC, and other things like the NIH have been— there was the jettisoning during the Trump era of a lot of sort of general government officials from a lot of different agencies. And so, there's, you know, rumblings about that, and how difficult it is to get these agencies like, functioning for what they want to have them do, etc.
But they do, you know, they act relatively quickly to put out at least statements on what they're going to do. They, you know, Phil, as you were mentioning, they put out this 200 page summary document of stuff that they're going to do in response to the pandemic; a lot of that at this point is related to increasing vaccine orders and spreading those around, and actually, kind of the first couple months of the year, even like going back to our old episodes, for example, a lot of it is spent— we're talking a lot about like vaccine equity and how difficult it is for so many people to get the vaccine at all, in the beginning of the year. But also, just to call out on January 21st, Biden signs a bunch of executive orders, including— and I'm just going to highlight this one, because it's kind of the most important just for the through line that we'll look at— but including one executive order called, "Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety." He directs OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to construct workplace safety guidance across sectors to be issued by March 15th, which does not happen. I mean, the executive order happens, the OSHA guidelines are not released on March 15th.
Phil Rocco 16:57
Right, and it's around that time I recall, the many publications actually started printing that picture of Biden that you can see with him with the little cigarette holder, and the little cigarettes, and he's like—
Artie Vierkant 19:03
Oh, the FDR photo.
Phil Rocco 19:04
Yeah, exactly the little like, FDR photo. So um, you know, big, big executive order vibes.
Artie Vierkant 19:12
So basically, you know, they release this big pandemic plan, we actually have an episode— we do an episode on it, not to put our— I'm mostly not going to privilege our position in this, but I will say, you know, immediately we do an episode on it, basically. I think February 4th, that episode comes out. And it is our sort of, like, review of the steps being taken, at which it's one of the first of many times where we basically kind of say, like, this ain't it. This is like, not going to do it.
Phil Rocco 19:40
Well, it's also like, it's interesting, because, you know, this whole big 200-page plan comes out. You know, what, most people— by the time that that plan came out— failed to note is that Biden had already taken a public line that, you know, differentiated himself from like, Michael Osterholm, it was ostensibly like one of the people on his transition team for Coronavirus and saying like, "oh, yeah, we might, depending on surges in the virus have to like shut down the economy." Biden was explicitly like, "we will not be doing that. I don't know what this plan is going to say. But you know, we're not going to be doing that.
Artie Vierkant 20:19
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 20:20
He says, "we're going to shut down the virus," instead.
Artie Vierkant 20:22
Yeah. Biden's quote in November of 2020 is, quote, "I'm not going to shut down the economy, period, I'm going to shut down the virus."
Phil Rocco 20:31
Which— can I do a little bit of foreshadowing here? Like, there is a reason why if you look at outcomes, compared to other G-7 countries, like, US like gross domestic product is at closest to parity with what it was before the pandemic compared to every other G-7 country, and why our like outcomes are, you know, as bad or worse than the worst of the G-7? Like, this is why. Right?
The essential function of the presidency, that Biden articulates in saying that before the plan is released— and people get in a way just mystified by the myth and ceremony of like, the CDC, and the task force briefings and, and Jen Psaki and Fauci and, you know, Zients, or whomever, this like, roving cast of characters— before people become mystified by that, like Biden is saying it very clearly, like the function of the President is the stabilizer of the economic order in chief. And it's like, "whatever else I might do on the pandemic, we're not going to do that." Taking that line, you know, very specifically, very clearly, very early, is like, "we are committed to jacking up consumer spending and, you know, getting America back to work by the spring."
Artie Vierkant 21:53
Reopening schools and businesses.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 21:55
Yeah, reopening schools was such a focus. And one of the things that we talked about early on is that, you know, not putting more pressure on OSHA, not prioritizing the OSHA guidelines to come out sooner. Right? Even as it was clear throughout the fall and winter, that workplaces were a major driver of outbreaks. You know, think about the Tyson Foods situation—
Artie Vierkant 22:18
Well, it had been clear the previous year.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 22:19
The whole time. Right, right. And I think the hope was sort of like, okay, you have a change in administration, right? Democrats have the Executive Branch, the House and the Senate, the hope is that, you know, we'll see some action on workplace safety. And March really felt like it was waiting too long.
Because at this point, you know, when Biden comes into office, you know, we're averaging around 3000 deaths a day, that week, globally, it's at 14,600 deaths a day; this is the first largest peak of the pandemic at this point. And we go on to repeat it only a few months later, globally, hitting like, 14,000. Like, even after all these measures are in place, right? So, you know, at this point, we're looking at a prospect of the pandemic where you need to act quickly, right? The implication is that the Biden administration was going to come in and act quickly. But they come into office, and they start off with this foot of like, "okay, in three months, we're going to hear from OSHA."
Artie Vierkant 22:20
Well, and then we don't.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 22:26
And then we don't. And then we don't.
Artie Vierkant 22:32
We don't hear from them until June, and then it's only for health care workers. We'll get into that. Yeah. So, I just, while we're still in early February, I want to give a quick shout out to friends of the show, Abby Cartus, Justin Feldman, and Seth Prins, who were among the only people like kind of with us in terms of being really adamantly, from the very start, critiquing the limited scope of the Biden pandemic response plans that had just been issued.
So, February 3rd, they publish— they co-author, an op-ed in the Nation, called "Biden's Coronavirus plan will not prevent death and devastation," holds up. Unfortunately, they basically say that like, in order to do the vaccine roll-out properly, we have to talk about doing a shutdown. Like we have to fucking do it, like pay people to stay home, basically. And this is something that we talked about over and over during the first few months of 2021.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 24:10
Really, most importantly, give a chance for the vaccine to get rolled out without such a high level of community spread. Because the fear and the concern, right, is that if you are rolling out the vaccine at the same point, when there is unchecked community spread, you're going to encourage selective pressure on the virus, you're going to encourage mutations, you're going to encourage new variants, and that it's not the ideal conditions that you want to be doing a vaccination campaign under. You know, it's really much more effective to do a vaccination campaign, not in the middle of an outbreak. Right? And so, there was a lot of discussion about this at that point, but that point completely was gone by March.
Artie Vierkant 24:52
Yeah. So, February 12th, 485,000 deaths at this point, the CDC issues a school reopening document sticking with one of the pillars of Biden's priorities, which is to, in the first 100 days, reopen schools. I'm citing this not because anything particularly super important happened on this date— although we did review that document in an episode that was posted, I think February 15th— but specifically because show favorite Emily Oster is not pleased.
Writing in The New York Times— this is also going to be part of it, where I think I'm going to go through at least a couple of things that were kind of like, the relevant sounding boards of some really bad— because, you know, a lot of the problems of the Biden administration response has also been sort of the feedback loop that happened between the Biden administration and liberal pundits like Oster, right? So, as we've talked about over the course of the year. So anyway, she writes a piece for The New York Times headlined, "Fully opening schools is urgent, here's how to do it." She specifies that the regulations on masking and distancing suggested by the CDC for schools is too extreme, that, quote, "unvaccinated children in the presence of some COVID-19 should not prevent schools from reopening somewhat normally." Alright, a lot of others kind of get in on this bandwagon as well.
February 20th, Vinay Prasad writes in Stat News, "the two core pillars of the CDC's new guidelines that schools should decide whether to open based on community transmission, and that students should strive to be spaced six feet apart are not supported by science." Just to remember a time before I knew the name Vinay Prasad is like, just amazing to me, too. Yeah. Here's a nice little detail. That op ed that Vinay Prasad releases, where he says that the CDC recommendations on school reopening are too stringent and not based in science, is published February 20th.
What else happens on February 20th? We hit 500,000 dead. Of course, the New York Times, just to shout out really quickly, lest we forget, despite the fact that on May 24th, 2020, when we hit 100,000 dead, the New York Times ran that big, you know, their front page was all the names, right?
February 21st, 2021’s, New York Times front page is basically just like, it literally like has a bar in the middle with all the names shrunken down so tiny that you like can't even read it. And there are like other stories on the side. So that shows you kind of how, you know, the, I don't know the priorities in trying to make an impact here, I guess. Anyway, so stuff kind of goes on. Late February, we start getting things like this Boston Globe, "Dozens of physicians urged Massachusetts school leaders three feet of distance between students is enough." This stuff is all important to highlight because specifically like there was such social pressure on the administration, like from without the administration on reopening schools. And a lot of like business pressure basically to do so, specifically because, how are you going to reopen and like, how are you going to make people go back to work if their children are not in school? Right? So, we've talked about this stuff at length.
March 10th, 532,000 dead.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 28:27
Still no OSHA recommendations?
Artie Vierkant 28:28
Still no OSHA recommendations, even though they are supposed to have been released five days from this date. March 10th, The Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases publishes a paper titled, "Effectiveness of three versus six feet of physical distancing—"
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 28:42
Oh, fuck! This one.
Artie Vierkant 28:43
—for controlling spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019, among primary and secondary students and staff." This would go on to be cited as highly influential and something that was about to happen, that we'll get to in a second. And one of the authors on the paper—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 28:57
Emily Oster, herself!
Artie Vierkant 28:59
Is Emily Oster.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 29:00
Economist queen of sending children to, you know, debility and death.
Artie Vierkant 29:05
Yeah. Oster makes a little tweet thread about this study, saying on March 11th, the day after, 533,661 dead, quote, "this data suggests schools can be open as safely with three feet distancing as with six feet. It is important because in many districts bringing all students back will not be possible if six feet is required." So, this is an important thing, too. Because if you remember the reason, one of the big reasons, motivating the six feet versus three feet thing was not even the idea of like, some kind of scientific efficacy, but it was more like, "if we say we have to do six feet of distancing schools are so crowded that like, how are you going to do that? You can't get them in."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 29:48
Yeah, it was more an argument about you know, feasibility, than it was about what was actually necessary or scientifically supported. And I think the thing was amazing is that is that almost immediately, the idea that the dropping of, you know, major social distancing practices, was actually a science driven thing. And I feel like part of what comes out of the three-to-six-foot change is a lot of discussion that begins of people who are, you know, like, "addicted to lock down," and the resistance to changing this arbitrary guideline, right— which they, they say initially is because of economic feasibility, really, right? Like, that we really don't have the resources to open schools with that kind of distancing in public schools in the United States, because we don't have filtration in classrooms. There is not the kind of space. Classrooms are overcrowded, right? The staff ratios are really low. And that immediately is gone, and pathologize as this kind of like, you know, over-anxious fear of something that's not supported by science, right? When really, it's like, they said all along, they said up front, "this is an economic priority argument," right?
Phil Rocco 31:09
Yeah, no, and it's actually very— there's a mirror. And I think the thing with the school closing thing is like a bit amorphous, because it's like, guidelines. And so, you know, like the Biden administration evades some responsibility there. Or at the very least like, they get away with waffling a little bit. But it's actually mirrored in the way that they treat the OSHA thing. Yeah. So basically, we're in March still, right?
Artie Vierkant 31:35
Phil Rocco 31:36
So, around March 15th is when, you know, there's some news about OSHA, like drafting some potential guidelines for the standard. And what happens is the Chamber, US Chamber of Commerce comes out and says, "oh, yeah, absolutely not. There's no way that they're going to get this like standard through. We're requesting meetings with Office of Management and Budget to stall this thing." And Jen Psaki asked about it a few days before, I think, sort of like mid-March, she's asked like, you know, "do you think that this OSHA rule could potentially hurt businesses?" She's like, "well, we want to delay the process so that we can make sure that we have time to get it right." This is her quote. She said the agency should quote, "have time to get it right." So, you can see very clearly, the administration is working like, hand in glove with organized business.
Artie Vierkant 32:44
Well, and just that decision, it's like, it shows you who's prioritized. Because like, to get it right could also be to save a bunch of lives of people who are in high-risk jobs.
Phil Rocco 32:55
And it's important to know like, like, does OMB, Office of Management and Budget, have to take the meeting with like the chamber? Yeah. They take meetings. Do they have to delay the decision to the extent that they do? Absolutely not. OSHA is drafting texts by that point in time in March. They could promulgate it at any time, but OMB is holding it up, because it's decided that the concerns of like, the Chamber, are more important than, like, workplace safety and health and like, getting a standard in place. And again, to go back to Biden's statement, even before he took office as President elect, it's not just that he meant like, we're not going to shut down the economy or we're not going to like to have a lockdown of the sort that like maybe you might have seen like, Austria reimpose a few weeks ago, it's like, we're also not going to do anything that might invoke the wrath of the US Chamber.
Artie Vierkant 33:51
Right, so— and a lot of that stuff is not publicly acknowledged until June too, which like, there's frankly, so much that happens immediately before that, too. So, I think that's— all that stuff is important to note as happening, you know, simultaneously to these things. Like the internal discussions about this are absolutely happening at the same time as all of this. But yeah, we'll get to sort of what happens with that and then what comes to light about it too. Back to like, mid-March.
March 18th, 540,909 dead.
Once again, Emily Oster. Emily Oster publishes her piece in the Atlantic— I just wanted to call this out as a significant signpost because I think it actually was kind of a huge turning point— published a piece in the Atlantic, "Think about your unvaccinated child like a vaccinated grandparent," where she says quote, "the best available research indicates that families with young children don't in fact have to live like it's 2020 until 2022. Parents can go ahead and plan on barbecues and even vacations, etc., etc. Children are not at high risk for COVID-19, the central goal of vaccination is preventing serious illness and death. From this standpoint, being a child is a really great vaccine."
But I think this shows some of the, you know, stuff that has been sort of mentioned off hand a little bit, which is that like, because vaccines are starting to roll out, specifically, you know, it's been some time since some of like, the first people who were able to, like, get vaccinated, have been told, you know, "go ahead, and like kind of live your life. The masking recommendations are still in place," but there's all this sort of like pent up liberal frustration, basically, about people continuing to tell them like, "you have to live with, like, pandemic restrictions," or something.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 35:47
I mean, this was the this was sort of the beginning of the new peak of the indignant, "do I really have to wear masks outside, now?" response when you barely have the vaccine rolled out to anyone. And also, the commentary— it's worth saying— you know, the commentary on the risk of COVID to children, right, like all of these assumptions, and all of these points that are being made at this point, are based on data from the first year when schools are largely closed. And through late February, there were only 271 children in the United States who had like, died of COVID. Yep. And about 700 Plus more have died since Biden took office. And that really shows the way that this rhetoric changed outcomes for children.
Artie Vierkant 36:35
The people said we were being too mean to Emily Oster, right. Well, specifically, by like September, something like 500 children had died, and now we are sitting at almost 1000 total. So, it's not it doesn't take a lot to figure out what happened here. Schools reopened. Anyway, so— but— okay, so that's March 18th. And I say this because some parts of this timeline are staggering to me. So that op ed that we criticized to no end over the course of this year, the unvaccinated grandparent, etc. So that was March 18th. March 19th, guess who gets their fucking wish about CDC schooling recommendations, the day after that—
Phil Rocco 37:18
Artie Vierkant 37:19
Yes, Washington Post March 19th, 2021, "CDC says three feet between students is usually enough to change that paves the way for more in person instruction." New York Times headlining, "In a boost to reopening schools CDC says students can be three feet apart," and then it says like literally, I think one of the first sentences in the deck of the New York Times story is, “parents and school leaders celebrate new CDC guidance lowering distance between students to three feet. Teachers aren't on board yet." So, there you go. Labor, everybody.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 37:57
Yeah, right. "Because of those darn teachers’ unions, they just don't want to do anything. You know, all those teachers, they want to sit home on their butts teaching over Zoom instead of being childcare for a bunch of disease vectors in the classroom, but no ventilation and no support from the administration," you know.
Artie Vierkant 38:18
Yeah. March 30th, 551,000 dead. Rochelle Walensky tells Rachel Maddow, on her show, that vaccinated people cannot get or spread COVID.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 38:28
[laughs] I mean, remember when we used to have like long arguments into the night with people about that shit? You know, the idea that people thought that we were being— like, we were inspiring vaccine hesitancy by saying there is no data on transmissibility, because it wasn't studied at that point.
Artie Vierkant 38:45
This still happens. Just today, I saw a viral tweet that is like, people are quote tweeting and dunking on some, I don't know, some, like official in Canada or something who posted like, "vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread COVID," and people are posting like, they're posting like, "yeah, Serena Williams and I can both play tennis," you know what I mean? Like there? Yeah, it's like— like, "Michael Phelps and I can both swim," etc., or whatever.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 39:19
This is what I mean. Gaslighting from the top down. Trickle down gaslighting.
Phil Rocco 39:24
but it's essential. I mean, it’s absolutely essential, if you think about it in the context of the President being the manager of capitalism in the United States.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 39:33
Right, vibes in chief, yeah.
Phil Rocco 39:35
So, the question is like—
Artie Vierkant 39:37
Assistant manager, please. [laughter]
Phil Rocco 39:40
We opposed this throughout, right, which is like, how are they going to get away with ending the pandemic, sociologically? A lot of the initial like liberal hysteria was like, "oh, Trump's just not going to like, they're just not going to like collect the data. They're just like, not going to report the numbers," and like, you know, you would see the same thing about like Republican Governors. But in reality, it doesn't matter if you report the numbers and you can explain them away, right? You don't have to, you don't have to do a like, epidemiological coup d’état to make this happen. All you have to do is do what, you know, American institutions do so well, which is like hegemonically reproduce the idea that everything is okay. And Americans are more than happy to accept that because what do we need? Vibes. When do we need them? Immediately. [laughter]
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 40:42
I mean, there's still people that are debating whether or not we're actually under-counting COVID deaths in the United States, even when the CDC has come out and said, "We're under-counting COVID deaths," there's still people that will come into the comments and debate you saying like—
Artie Vierkant 40:56
—they were over counting it. Yeah.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 40:57
—"did they die with COVID? Or did they die due to COVID?" You know, and this is the argument that Germany is also like, really embroiled in right now. So, it's not like these, like, discourses disappear after they, like dissipate in one country. Just like the virus, this shit moves around and recirculates.
Artie Vierkant 41:17
Speaking of stuff that has certainly gotten around and re-circulated, I don't know if this is the sort of first iteration of this, but I think this is a very indicative moment right here.
April 12th, 561,000 dead.
And I think the sort of liberal angst about trying to get everyone a vaccine and then just get it over with, regardless of trying to do any other mitigation measures on top of vaccines, has crested to the point where Edward Isaac Dovere writes in the Atlantic, a piece headlined, "vaccine refusal will come at a cost for all of us."
Quote, "Imagine it's 2026. A man shows up in the emergency room, wheezing, he's gotten pneumonia, and it's hitting him hard. He tells one of the doctors that he had COVID-19 a few years earlier, in late 2021. He had refused to get vaccinated and ended up contracting the Coronavirus months after people got their shots. Why did he refuse? Something about politics, or pushing back on government control, or a post he saw on Facebook. He doesn't really remember. His lungs do though. By the end of the day, he's on a ventilator. You'll pay for that man's decisions. So, will I. We all will, in insurance premiums. That he has a plan with your provider or in tax dollars if the emergency room he goes to is in a public hospital, the vaccine refusers could cost us billions."
Which is the beginning. Again, well, not necessarily the beginning. But I think really one of these pieces that kicks off a huge wave of this, like, "now that the vaccine is a thing that we're assuming is the silver bullet for the pandemic, and that more people have gotten, why not make people pay more in insurance premiums if they don't get it? Or why not just say fuck them? Fuck the unvaccinated." You know what I mean?
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 43:03
It's so interesting how early this does show up, too, you know what I mean? It's like, it's so strange because I feel like whenever I look back through like, my notes that I was using to prepare for this episode, and like, I'm just noticing new things that I'm like, "Oh, that is right before this thing, or this like actually was months prior!" You know.
Artie Vierkant 43:26
I mean, in some ways, I feel like actually going through the timeline, I feel like we're still very much living in the twilight zone created by April/May. Because when not only is that something that you know, again, that's an April— here's another thing, also from the Atlantic. So, you know, when I've said many times on this show, like, the misinformation and bullshit perpetuated by the Atlantic is at least as bad as all of the horse medicine bullshit, like, this is what I mean.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 43:54
Yeah, like, I'm sorry. The Atlantic is worse than the ivermectin shit. Like hands down. I'll say that. I'm going to state that.
Artie Vierkant 44:03
May 4th, 577,454 dead, the Atlantic—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 44:08
I mean, we've had so many deaths since then! Jesus Christ.
Artie Vierkant 44:11
— "The liberals who can't quit locked down."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 44:14
Here we go.
Artie Vierkant 44:15
This is what he was talking about earlier. Quote, "for this subset—" of what is referred to by the writer as pandemic addicts on Twitter, "—for this subset, diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity, even when that means overestimating the disease's risks, or setting limits far more strict than what public health guidelines permit." Which is, I remember making fun of this on the show, and this is hilarious considering what is about to happen some 10 days later in terms of what those public health guidelines are and how they changed. Sorry to just run through that. But may I, actually? Because this is a really good one. I'm obviously skipping over May 5th, Katherine Tai says that the US will support a narrow TRIPS waive, etc. That happened. That's definitely happened, anyway...
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 45:03
Artie Vierkant 45:05
So, this is kind of a two-parter.
May 12th, 582,636 dead.
Biden gives a speech, during which he says, quote, "Let me conclude with this. In light of the end of— that we've been talking about, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, it's growing brighter and brighter," I'm just quoting directly, I don't know, "and we all need you to bring it home. On July 4th—"
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 45:30
We all need you to step into the light for the economy. [laughs]
Artie Vierkant 45:33
"On July 4th, let's celebrate our independence as a nation, and our independence of this virus. We can do this."
May 13th, one day later. 583,418 people dead.
Rochelle Walensky is press briefing. Quote, "considering all these factors; data on vaccine effectiveness, the science on our ability to protect against circulating variants, and growing understanding of the low risk of transmission to others, today, CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated people. Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 46:23
Now, this is amazing. This is May, right? So, in April, we hit that second global peak of having 14,000 plus deaths a day that I said that was going to happen, right? That was— we were seeing explosions in case numbers in India. We were still seeing 700 deaths a day on average in the United States that week, and it is one of the smallest points in this year, right? It is one of the points this year where the virus is most under control. And I think that's like important to note, that this is one of the major missed opportunities that we're talking about, right?
Artie Vierkant 47:03
This is like, the missed opportunity.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 47:05
This is the one here, because if you know, even if the OSHA regulations had still been as fucked as they ended up being, right, even if we had all of the same issues with pushing for school reopenings, right, if we had not really opened everything up and told people you don't need NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) now that you had the vaccine in May, what would fucking August and September and October would have looked like?
Artie Vierkant 47:37
So many people would not have died. Yeah. Imagine too, if we had done a fucking paid shut down right then.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 47:41
also, you know, notwithstanding this reopens travel and tourism and encourages people from the United States to go abroad, and this is at a point where—
Artie Vierkant 47:52
Well, it solidifies the message, "if you have been vaccinated, things are no longer your problem."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 47:58
"—your problem." Exactly.
Phil Rocco 47:59
It’s no longer a pandemic for you. You're no longer in the pandemic. I think the pandemic of the unvaccinated line is often described as an attempt to reduce the causation to the unvaccinated. It sort of functions a little bit differently than that in the world. It ends up being like a "this is a pandemic, and you should treat it as such, if you are unvaccinated. If not, however, you're no longer in it."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 48:28
Right. And, you know, and this is what, like Greg Gonzalez has been calling for like the past month, like the "American fortress approach" to pandemic response, you know? Which is the idea that all along, we've treated the US borders as some sort of, like, viral barrier, right? So that we can make decisions independent to like, not only the context of intrastate spread, but globally, where cases are at, right. You know, instead, we choose to do things like shut down travel to South Africa when they identify a variant through their, like, superior surveillance systems, right? You know, we've taken this punitive approach that not only pretends that, you know, the border is some kind of physical virus barrier, but also that we have taken action, right? But all of the actions that that have been aggressive, like those have been the sort of carceral useless interventions that are way more about just, you know, optics than they are anything else.
Artie Vierkant 49:29
Yeah. So also shout out to Justin Feldman, again, who tweeted May 13th, that same day that Walensky made that announcement, "pretty interesting that the CDC anti-mask guidance comes the very week the White House is supposed to be concluding its review of the OSHA COVID standard." Which gets us I think, to the next thing that I do want to like, finally get into, because I think we're finally getting to that, is that indeed, as Justin was mentioning, though, it would continue to be kind of held back, you know, one of the dates as it was continually kind of pushed back and pushed back. One of the dates that was supposed to come out was like around mid-May, basically, that the OSHA standard would be put out. Which would be, you know, putting in place some like actual you know, OSHA regulations for trying to like, limit spread in workplace settings.
May 12th, we have some information going public about something that Phil was mentioning earlier. Roll Call prints a story. "Delayed COVID-19 worker protections attract crush of lobbyists," where they talk about the extremely high amount of meetings that OIRA is taking with different business lobbyists. June 10th, 596,619 deaths. OSHA regs are finally issued, only for healthcare workers. Only in the healthcare sector.
June 22nd, we passed 600,000 deaths.
June 28th, at 601,851 deaths, Bloomberg posts the original draft of the OSHA regulations, or at least if not the original, an earlier draft, showing that in fact, I'll just quote from the Bloomberg piece from June, quote, "the 780 page draft standard and justification formally submitted to the White House on April 26th, made it clear Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff had concluded grave danger threatened the health of all US workers, not just workers in healthcare who had been deemed essential during the darkest days of the pandemic."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 51:34
This was such a telling moment because I, you know, I think it was just so gratifying and depressing to see how right we had been about the delays, and about how sketchy the whole discussion around workplace safety had been. And this was also largely coupled with refusal to acknowledge that the virus was, like, transmissible via aerosols. Which I think is really important to remember that, you know, still this time in the pandemic, like through June and July, this is an active debate that we're having about fomite transmission, still, and whether or not we need ventilation in workplaces. And, you know, the OSHA should have played a large part in supporting the use of ventilation practices and overhauling H-Vac and this was like an enormous missed opportunity, right, as many things you know, leveraged via OSHA have been but, you know, it's just, [sighs].
Artie Vierkant 52:27
Interestingly, the day after these OSHA regs, the original draft is, you know, revealed by Bloomberg, June 29th, Biden posts a fourth of July ad saying, "America is open for business! “July 4th, 603,319, deaths. Nothing super significant happens from a policy side here, but I'm calling it out because partying happens in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which will end up in a lot of breakthrough infections in cases of Delta.
The CDC will study this and MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report), and be slow to act, and we will be hearing about this event shortly. So that's July 4th. July 9th the three-vs-six feet stuff, and more of the you know, Emily Oster school of reopen schools right fucking now comes home to roost or gets even pushed further push.
The CDC, July 9th, releases new school guidance with emphasis on full reopening. What was it about? Here's the New York Times, quote, "one major shift is a recommendation for physical distancing. The agency continues to advise the students be spaced at least three feet apart, but with a new caveat: if maintaining such spacing would prevent schools from bringing all students back, they could rely on a combination of other strategies." As in have three feet but, I don't know.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 53:48
Even less space. Amazing how quick that goes from six to three to you know, whatever you can, you know, afford.
Artie Vierkant 53:55
"In another shift, the CDC made clear that masks could be optional for vaccinated people in line with its recommendations for the general public." So that's great. That's just great. July 16th, very important day, 606,583 dead. Rochelle Walensky, at a press briefing, "Today Dr. Fauci and I want to provide some perspective about these numbers, and how we should be thinking about where we are at this critical moment in the pandemic. There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 54:32
There we go.
Artie Vierkant 54:33
So, there we have it. Meanwhile, keep in mind, the Provincetown MMWR is being prepared at the CDC while she says this. We talked about this on the show, but I think that this timeline is really important to specify. Literally the CDC, the agency that Rochelle Walensky is in charge of is preparing the MMWR talking about breakthrough infections and cases of Delta.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 55:01
It's just amazing hypocrisy.
Artie Vierkant 55:04
July 27 609,425 dead.
Notably 11 days after she makes this comment, CDC is trying to, as we put it on the show, put the lid back on Pandora's box. This is when the CDC reverses its masking recommendations indoors, even for those vaccinated, which I think just generally is— it's pretty clear that this was too little too late. You know?
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 55:29
Right. Well, I mean, they shouldn't have done it in the first place is like the obvious answer—
Artie Vierkant 55:33
They shouldn't have removed the masking suggestion, yeah.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 55:34
—but I think it shows, also, and it's important to show just how quickly things get out of hand when you roll back NPIs. Because even though it actually didn't take that long for them to realize how badly they fucked up and try to roll it back, it still was too late. Right? Because viral spread is exponential. And that seems to be a fact that no one in the administration is willing to admit publicly at this point, still.
Artie Vierkant 55:59
yeah, here are two headlines from the same day. New York Times, "As virus cases rise, another contagion spreads among the vaccinated: anger."
Phil Rocco 56:07
Fuck me. [Beatrice laughs]
Artie Vierkant 56:09
And this is here's a quote from that article, "as Coronavirus cases research across the country, many inoculated Americans are losing patience with vaccine holdouts, who they say are neglecting a civic duty or clinging to conspiracy theories." So, you know, once again, just saying like, saying things like a pandemic of the unvaccinated has fucking consequences.
Same day, more or less, AP, Associated Press, "states scale back virus reporting justice cases surge." Which is about some of that we talked about at length on the show, where Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and other states were slowing down reporting, or in the case of Nebraska, actually, for a period stopped reporting cases, which was something.
Anyway, July 29th, 610,132 dead.
A CDC document leaks showing high transmissibility of the Delta variant with the interesting phraseology in this PowerPoint slide, was we did a whole episode about more or less— saying that, quote, "The war has changed."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 57:15
That deck was so fascinating.
Artie Vierkant 57:17
Yeah. New York Times covers this as quote, "CDC internal report, calls Delta variant as contagious as chickenpox." The whole report cites the Provincetown, Massachusetts MMWR which would be released a couple of days later. By this point, breakthrough deaths are also happening. I'll probably get to this later, because this information doesn't come out until September 17th, but nevertheless, I just want to call out while we're here at like the end of July and the beginning of August.
August 5th. Walensky says in an interview that the data that they were referring to about breakthrough cases, or about like the idea that like, the vaccinated can't get or spread the virus was data collected January through June, so much less prevalence of vaccination at that point. Also, considering that the masking recommendation wasn't dropped until May, a very different world in terms of non-pharmaceutical interventions, the use of masks and other stuff like that.
Sorry, I know this is like, a lot.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 58:22
No, not at all.
Artie Vierkant 58:24
August 14th, boosters become the silver bullet— the new silver bullet.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 58:28
Amazing how quick that is.
Artie Vierkant 58:29
The Biden administration on the 14th of August announces plans for vaccine boosters for all, perhaps as soon as fall. Obviously, you know, as we got into on the show, and I won't repeat a lot of the stuff here because a lot of the back and forth is not important over what exactly happened there. But you know, they had plans to do boosters earlier in the fall, and clearly it didn't work out because their own advisory board said like, no. Here's just— this isn't a really important one, but I thought this was interesting.
August 19th, I mean, this is important, but it's not a— you know. August 19th, Kaiser Family Foundation, "most private insurers are no longer waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment."
Phil Rocco 59:07
I want to highlight that, okay. This is very, very significant. And this fact is, like very much glossed over. Like, you know, in the broader assessments of like, the Biden administration's performance on, you know, the pandemic, one of the big, like, lines that Biden sort of trotted out is like, no one is going to, you know, go into bankruptcy for receiving treatment for COVID. Like, everyone's going to be— you know, like, the whole pandemic has highlighted the importance of like, building on the work of the Affordable Care Act and so on.
And it's just like, this moment where insurers are like, "yeah, you know, what? The fact that you're going to be paying like, 10-20,000, perhaps more, for any sort of like, COVID related stay— like, this is just glossed over without any, any sort of like passing consequence at all. And instead, what's happening around this time, is the focus of the attention on the pandemic is shifting more and more to the economic recovery and like, where, you know, the return to employment is most sluggish. Right? That's like, that's the line is that, like, some sectors are really lagging behind in terms of people's desire or willingness to return to work. And this is also the moment where, you know, we're like, whatever, mid-August, we're two weeks away from a bunch of pandemic protections just expiring.
This is around the time that like, it was incredibly obvious that like unless Congress acts, eviction moratoriums are going to, you know, completely expire. They've already been, like, challenged to court. It's also the moment where the, like, extended Unemployment Insurance is like, very clearly going to go out by September. And the, like, main line that you hear out of, like Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Chair, is like, well, vaccinations have improved the pace of economic recovery. But it's not just vaccinations and like, that's, that's the thing that Powell like sort of neglects to note. It's not just vaccinations, it's the fact that the message from the administration, which is then being, like, reproduced over and over again, is safe to return to work. And like, if you don't, that's in a sense, your problem. It reinforces—
Artie Vierkant 1:01:44
Well and if you don't, there's no program at all. There's no, like— fucking unemployment benefits are expired.
Phil Rocco 1:01:54
Right, so this is, in general, the economy is beginning to recover. Consumer spending completely like, surges beyond where it was before the pandemic, like in 2019. It's way past that point, then, which is very different than, like, countries in the EU and Japan. Um, and it's like, at that moment, the shift becomes, we're going to focus on like, boosters. But also, what the problems now are not what we failed to do, but emerging variants that, you know, we can't seem to control or can't seem to get a handle on. Which is actually a nice echo back to what was said— what the line was from the Biden ministration on the first day, after being sworn in, which is like, "oh yeah, there are these variants that we might not be able to do anything about."
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:01:54
Right. And also, it's crucial to note that in a lot of southern states by this point, schools are open already, because school starts earlier. And throughout the summer, we had MMWR after MMWR that were really you know, looking at small populations of outbreaks among children in summer camps. Lots of summer camps had to be canceled, kids were sent home despite testing regimes that were in place in the rollout of vaccinations among camp adults, right? We're still having these little outbreaks in camp, right. Yet, that is not stood up as a reason to do any sort of additional interventions in terms of ventilation, masking, social distancing in schools.
It has not given anyone pause in the administration, nor have they indicated publicly that they plan to walk back, you know, pushing states to reopen schools. And what begins to happen in the first week of September is we start to see a major uptick in infections in children. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recently, basically had to sort of stop reporting the weekly case counts that they were reporting because data has gotten so patchy, right. And states have been reporting this less and less. So. You know, the picture that we had in August, right, before we really reopened schools, showed us what we were going to experience throughout the fall. And this is another major missed opportunity where there were clear signs that the CDC itself had been reporting in its own MMWRs, that really told us that we were moving too fast.
Artie Vierkant 1:04:21
Yeah. I mean, back to school and back to work was like the worst possible thing you could do.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:04:24
Worst possible thing that we could have done.
Artie Vierkant 1:04:26
And I think this is really important because we're getting to now— so now that we're in like, mid-August, early September, I think you know, this is obviously very recent history. This just happened. But also, I think that you know, I don't know, I experienced this fall— so many people, I think even— you know, people who had been working remotely for a long time, certainly like kids who had been taking school remotely, including some universities etc. like, went back in person for the first time. A lot more people were like forced back in person again than even had been before.
Obviously acknowledging that a lot of people never were doing remote stuff, and were like, constantly in the workplace the whole time, obviously. But like, it was, yes, the worst possible thing that you could do to just sort of mass say, "Okay, everyone back to school, back to work at the beginning of August," and it is no surprise— as we talked about, really at the you know, in the beginning in the fall— is no surprise that we are where we are now.
But still, it is upsetting to me to look back to this recent history and think, you know, okay, so like September 10th, right? 657,997 dead.
We are at that point, back to the 1000 deaths a day territory, basically, at or around there. And the Biden administration has just let— as Phil was talking about— a bunch of pandemic benefits programs expire, or general protections expire and, you know, we're seeing all these horrible indicators.
And what does Biden say, on September 10th? Quote, "this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated—" two months after Walensky first said it, and it's still been, you know— many people said it in between, obviously, I'm just saying he's still saying it in speeches two months later. "This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And it's caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot." So...
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:06:33
[sigh] Which is just the fact that like, we reopen schools before the EUA, for vaccinating children before it is— is just ridiculous. Because what happens between that first week of September and like, you know, beginning of December is 2 million kids in the United States test positive for COVID. That's like, millions of infections that we could have mitigated.
Artie Vierkant 1:06:57
By mid-fall, I remember, it being also that like, 300 kids a day were being hospitalized. So, anyway—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:07:02
And who knows what's going to happen in terms of post viral syndromes in everyone who's gotten infected, right? We have no idea, and post viral diseases are some of the most stigmatized autoimmune diseases out there that are barely studied. We don't know what we're dealing with at all.
Artie Vierkant 1:07:16
September 17th, seven days later— seven days after Biden's speech, a CDC MMWR is released that we talked about on the show.
We did a little bit of a big segment on it, I think. And this is weird, because this is so recent, and I feel like I forgot about it, and it frustrates me a lot. This MMWR is called, "Monitoring incidents of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccination status; 13 US jurisdictions April 4th to July 17th, 2021." Recall that I said earlier that on August 5th, Walensky was asked in an interview, you know, "where is the data from for, you know, saying that the vaccinated are like protected, and that like breakthrough infections are incredibly rare and never get serious?" or something, right? And she says, like, oh, the data is from January through June. So, this is data— this is an MMWR on data from April to July. It is not— you know, it is only from certain jurisdictions, but it does show a number of breakthrough cases and people with breakthrough cases dying from April through June.
We obviously know that some— like we know now that like, people can have breakthrough infections that lead to death. Like, we have people who are friends of the show who have experienced that to their fucking family members. You know, this is a thing that we know can happen, even though many people will like, say that it doesn't exist or whatever. But we have something that can happen, but it's important to note that like, there wasn't a lot of data on this before. And this does show that if between April and mid-July, literally July 17th, like, so they stopped collecting the day after she used the pandemic of the unvaccinated line the first time.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:09:03
Wait, really? The day after?
Artie Vierkant 1:09:05
This shows that— yes! Well, it's not— I mean it's a coincidence, but you know what I mean, it's just—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:09:07
I mean yeah, but, ugh. It's just— it's just tragic. That's what I mean, you know?
Artie Vierkant 1:09:10
But this means that, you know, April 4 through July 17th some people with breakthrough infections died. And yet, you know, Walensky, CDC director is up there saying— you know, whatever, anyway—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:09:18
Well, obviously, this whole time— explaining away deaths as being you know, due to the fact that the person who died was like, more vulnerable. Either because they were older or they had a pre-existing condition, or comorbidity, or underlying disease, or whatever. Right?
You know, this has been a conversation the whole time. But I really feel like, you know, as there starts to be push back on the pandemic of the unvaccinated framework, which starts to really quickly have holes poked into it because of the breakthrough case issue, right— you know, what I really feel like you start to see is people really doubling down on the vulnerability rhetoric, and the idea that vulnerable deaths are sort of destined to have occurred. And I think this also happens in response to the very clear evidence that we have, you know, by the end of the summer and beginning into the early fall, of children getting sick, too. Because it's also used against children that are that are sick.
And so, what we have is this kind of highlighting of like, vulnerable deaths, and simultaneous erasure of it, right? Where it's like, you're saying, like, "oh, yeah, you care about those breakthrough deaths? Well, those are already vulnerable people, those are deaths pulled from the future," like, "gotcha! You're being paranoid." And this is kind of like a strategy rhetorically that I feel like starts to really be levied heavy against people who are speaking up about COVID right now, especially about people who are coming from like, you know, the left or center democratic like population, right? Who are very quietly and very respectfully questioning the Biden administration, they're being treated also at this point, like they're, you know, inspiring antivax sentiment and, you know, sowing discord.
Artie Vierkant 1:11:01
So, I'm going to run through the, you know, more recent stuff pretty quickly, I think, because, you know, we've kind of just gone through this. Listeners will probably recall a lot better even or more clearly, like a lot of this stuff that's just happened, but I'm just going to play a few of the hits really quick. October 12th, 715,679 dead. David Leonhardt posts, "COVID and Age," despite the fact that at that point, over 500 children are dead from COVID-19. He says— he literally defends the Emily Oster article about you know, an unvaccinated child being similar to a vaccinated grandparent saying, "seven months later, with a lot more COVID data available, the debate over the article looks quite different. Oster is the one who has largely been vindicated, if anything—"
Phil Rocco 1:11:55
Oh yeah, I remember that article.
Artie Vierkant 1:11:56
"Subsequent data indicates she did not go far enough in describing the age skew of COVID." About one week later, October 19th, J.G. Allen's Washington Post op ed, "schools should do away with mass mandates by the end of the year." Which gets us straight to, by November 3rd, at the beginning of November, "we are in an off-ramp territory," with Jessica Gross in the New York Times writing, "We need to talk about an off ramp for masking at school." Ross Barkan writing in the Atlantic— again, the Atlantic— "why aren't we even talking about easing COVID restrictions?" And Monica Gandhi, of course, writing, "it's time to contemplate the end of the crisis." All of them basically suggesting, you know, we're not going to live with these restrictions forever. The pandemic's over for you—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:12:49
I mean, they EUA for children ages five through 11 years old for the Pfizer vaccine did not even come through until October 29th. So, at this point with mere weeks, not even, 10 days of children being able to be vaccinated, right, you start to have the conversation of, "well, it's time to do off ramps again," right? "It's time to talk about reopening even more, now."
Artie Vierkant 1:13:15
Meanwhile, or shortly after, November, let's say 11th, we have the conversation on the show. How many like deaths per day where we at this time last year? About 1000-1200 or so a day, which is the same as the amount of deaths per day that were happening in November of 2020. So, we have—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:13:40
It's just so strange.
Artie Vierkant 1:13:41
—as we talked about on the show, full circle. It's like we're stuck in time, or some shit. While we're having that conversation on November 11th, the Omicron variant is sequenced in Botswana for the first time. So that's fun. November 29th, we do our Omicron episode. [laughs]
November 30th, we talked to Justin Feldman about his paper. You should— everyone, you know, that's a recent episode of one should go back and listen to that, if you haven't. But— and significantly, one thing that comes up in that is that that week, you know, roughly that week of November 30th, or maybe the week prior, if you know according to— as Bea was mentioning before— the CDC's own estimates of how common underreporting is of COVID deaths, that week is probably the week that we passed a million COVID deaths in the United States.
Although, you know, as we've talked about at the top of the show, it's the official figure is only 800,000 currently. I'm just putting this one in here for posterity; December 7th, Washington Post headline, "Omicron seems to cause milder illness, Fauci says." I'm just putting that there for, I don't know, this time next year. And anyway, that basically— that brings us to today.
Today, on this day of recording, official death toll has reached 800,000. Of those, as of September 6th, 2021, 514 were children. As of December 11th, 992 were children. We are back over 1000 deaths a day. We have not moved forward; we have moved backwards.
I will remind you, also, that while we were at 800,000 deaths as of today, on inauguration day, we were at 414,000.
So that means not only have we overtaken— like, you know, there was that thing a few weeks ago, where, you know, people I think reacted with shock that we had overtaken the amount of COVID deaths in 2021, compared with 2020. Not only that, but shortly, probably by the time— if we've unlocked this probably by the time that like, this episode is unlocked, it will be the case that there will have been more deaths under Biden since he took office, than there were cumulatively over the course of the pandemic under Trump.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:16:07
And I think the thing that's like, the biggest indictment to me and what makes me the most frustrated when you see stuff like what we mentioned at the top— The American Prospect piece that said, you know, it was like absurd to even criticize the Biden administration here— is that so many of those deaths in children happened under Biden. And not a single expert I have seen comment on changes in the biology and in the fitness of variants has said that they think that the variant has, you know, become more transmissible in children. This is not even like, being discussed, right? Like some people have talked about variants being more transmissible in general. Right? But there isn't anyone out there who's beating the drum like, "oh, you know, the reason why more children have died under Biden than under Trump is that, you know, Delta is more deadly to children than the wild type was."
Artie Vierkant 1:17:12
Well, but I mean, I think this also, though, is maybe even more importantly explained by what we brought up earlier, which is like, it's clear that reopening schools in the middle of a raging pandemic has not exactly helped keep kids from being like, put in the fucking hospital.
Phil Rocco 1:17:32
Well— And what the administration apologists will say, is they will say that "well, those were all local decisions.? And my you know— I think very clear refutation of that is, imagine what would have happened had CDC not released the guidance that it did. Which, I mean, if you have been to school board meetings, I mean, I'm not even talking about the crazy ones— like, the normal ones, the normal ones, where people are looking to that guidance to make decisions about, you know, what's happening. That's all they have. Right? And that shapes the guidance that like, state and local health department's put out; it is a keystone of like, management.
And it really does, even though it's a very decentralized approach to sort of regulating public health in the United States, the CDC does still play an important— a keystone role in suasion on these things. I mean, that had a huge effect, I don't think that you can discount that at all. And I think that it's very— I think this like, mystification has gone on and continues to go on, because there is like, this high level of institutional decentralization in the United States. Just because that's true does not mean that the powers of the Executive Branch are not vast. They are vast in terms of their ability to marshal resources; there are wartime level executive emergency powers that can be invoked to do that.
There are, you know, massive sort of grants of authority that Congress has made over the years. And like, can they be challenged in litigation? Of course, they can. Are courts going to try to strike them down? Of course, they are going to try to strike them down. But the point is this. Like, even if we're just talking about this, like the realistic constraints on Biden's presidency, the failure of the administration to even set up that political fracture, or that fracture along the lines of, do we actually want to protect people from a disease?
Artie Vierkant 1:19:52
Yeah, and you don't get points for not trying.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:19:54
Phil Rocco 1:19:54
It's like in ice skating. Yeah, you don't get points for not attempting the moves, right? It's— you have to attempt them. And if you fail, you don't get those points, but you have to at least attempt them. And the point is that like, the— any idea that this was going to be some sort of like, transformational moment that like Biden— in like, marking a shift away from the Trump presidency was going to like, there's going to be this like transformational moment in which he said like, "this is actually what we care about, and we need to like reject this idea that it's like growth at all costs," like, that was purely about vibes. And all of the people who wrote those very glowing prospectuses for the administration at the beginning— there are things that like, the American Enterprise Institute put out at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 that were more far reaching than what the Biden administration has done. Let that fucking sink in for a second.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:20:52
Sickening. Absolutely sickening.
Phil Rocco 1:20:53
But that illustrates to me why it is— and like, to say nothing of the fact that left media, such as it is, has largely treated the pandemic as something that's like the remainder in long division. They're just like, going to like, put that aside for a second, you know— but like, I think it is significant, that the general approach to talking about the Biden administration, on the mainstream and even center-left has been one of pure vibes. One of the ideas that like, it's the rhetoric that matters, it's that sort of tonality, and the direction that the administration is setting rhetorically that matters, as opposed to what actually they do. And I think even the focus on the CDC is like a little bit— you know, people see the CDC as if it's like the sun, and it's the thing like casting light on Earth.
The CDC is the moon in the presidency, right? It gives off a reflection of where the real source of power is, which is in the economic management functions of the Presidency, and the CDC is reflective of those functions. And you can see this like, very clearly, when people talk about the birth of OSHA, even, back in the 70s, and 80s. The initial thing that people will always say is like, "well its really Reagan that like, gutted OSHA, it's really Reagan that, you know, led to this huge retrenchment in like, the regulation of health and safety standards of work," not thinking about how really after 1978, Carter went full bore in an assault on OSHA.
It didn't release any new regulations, after the whatever, the Cotton Dust Standard. It instituted cost benefit analysis in OSHA, even— it didn't do it as a requirement, but as a guideline— it like set the plinth for what the Reagan administration did. Was a different stylistically? Did they have a more pro-labor OSHA administrator? Yes, they did. Do they actually do a couple of regulations, including the Cotton Dust Standard? Yes, they did. But overall, what mattered is not what was happening at OSHA; what mattered what was happening in the actual institutions that through the Executive Branch run the economy— or manage, like crises of capitalism. Which, by 1978, we are emphatically in. And when Biden came into office, we were also in. And if you look at everything Biden has done as being oriented towards the pandemic, it makes no sense, right? There's— none of the actions seem correlated at all. If you look at it as a set of decisions that are about economic management, it— at least in a very short term, narrowly rational, systemic defense sort of way— it does sort of make sense, because what are we doing? Like we're generating, you know, a resurgence in household spending, we are pushing people back to work. And even if growth is sluggish, in terms of the job market, we can at least— that becomes not the President's problem. That's like, a problem of the workers, right?
Artie Vierkant 1:24:16
Because the story that we just heard— or the story, you know, that I just kind of told— is basically one of the moments that you have any sort of inkling of a possible opening for— either like, there's like some metric that is showing slightly better or where you can, at least as we were talking about before, explain certain things away that are inconvenient to that same narrative. Then like that is seized upon immediately as a moment to— as you're saying, Phil— like, do the pro-capitalist economy thing. Right? To like, just aggressively reopen as much as you can, to make sure that people are like kids are back in school so that their parents can go to work, to make sure that like, such and such restriction is either lifted or just like made even further nonexistent, because so many of these things were just like very loose before. Right?
You know, the only reason that you do that is if— yeah, like you're saying— your priorities— It's like this dual thing of like, clearly your priorities are in the management of capitalism. But also, it is clearly— what I feel like I hear over and over in the story is like, people who have no idea what they're even doing; it's not in a bumbling way, but in a, I fundamentally do not believe that they understand how bad every decision that we just talked about was, right? No, I don't think that they do.
Phil Rocco 1:25:48
I think that this is certainly a problem when— but I think it actually goes a little bit deeper. So, like, one level of the problem is, okay, there are crises, but you know, they're containable, as long as you can learn from things, as long as you can learn from your decisions. Okay, what if you can't? What if you like, refuse to learn from your decisions? That's bad, that's bad.
But at the very least, there might be other people who see that you don't learn and then are able to, like, intervene at that point. What makes it even worse, is, it's not merely that you don't learn, it's that you actually believe and have an architecture for pretending that you have learned in the absence of having learned anything at all. And there is no profession in the world better at this than management consultancy. I think this is a really important point in like, the history of capitalism is like this particular class of people who have, you know— who surrounds the administration, whose staff it and who outside of it, interpret its decisions for the world, belong to this sort of quasi profession, with its series of rhetorical gestures and sort of sets of understandings about the world.
But like, Jeff Zients is like a perfect example of this; he starts his career at Bain Capital. And it's not merely that he cannot learn why— oh, gee, why would it be a bad idea to have a testing strategy that isn't somehow like, everybody gets tests sent directly to them, and we were able to, like, draw data from that source, right? It's not merely that, it's that he has a rationale for why his position of not doing that, and instead, just saying, like, "we're going to require people to like get reimbursement on insurance, here's a rationale for why that is better." And his— in the way that he says is like, "well, it gives people like, multiple access points, we want to get people as much access as possible." Now, of course—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:27:54
Phil Rocco 1:27:54
Now, any person like listening to that, that's like context free grammar, and it doesn't make any fucking sense. But in that, you know, sort of rhetorical, like, culture, epistemically like, it makes apparently, a lot of sense. And thus, even internally, it's harder for other people to hold him accountable. He doesn't— you know, there's always somebody that says something stupid in meetings, even people with like, lots of power. And when that person says that stupid thing, you know, they don't necessarily get their way, as long as there are other people in the room who recognize it as fundamentally stupid.
The problem occurs in which everybody is in the room, person says the stupid thing, and everyone else in the room also believes the, like cosmology of the world in which that thing is not stupid, but in fact, very smart. And so like, you know, not to get too much into like, sort of corporate psychology or like org behavior side of this, because I think the broader thing is, is, in fact, structural, and the Biden administration is no different from any other executive branch in terms of the fact that it worships at the altar of capital, and not anything else. But I do think the fact that like, the personnel are drawn from this class of people who, you know, very much are kind of like— live in that milieu. Like that does matter, I think.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:29:20
Yeah. I mean, what I feel like I see, this timeline is laid out in front of me, is so many missed opportunities for any degree of backbone from the Biden administration. Let's say they can't do anything, right? Let's say this is, you know, a pandemic of the unvaccinated, right, and the problem is all red states and Trumpism and misinformation, right? Because I'm sure the biggest pushback we're going to get to this episode is, you know, well, you didn't consider the role that misinformation on Facebook plays in this whole thing, or whatever. You know?
And that's— that is so beside the point, because what has been laid out in our conversation today is, over, and over, and over again, after almost no pressure, right? Pressure that occurred in these op eds, right— these kind of like liberal media op eds, the pages of The Atlantic, right— once the tiny little bit of pressure came in to roll something back from the op ed crowd, the Biden administration simply could have dug its heels in and said, "not quite yet" right?
Even if they had done nothing more. Even if they had let all the pandemic protections expire, including UI, including any of the things that they absolutely shouldn't have let expire, if they had just simply said, "not yet" to, you know, two of the requests made by the op ed crowd, right, we would have been in a completely different scenario, let alone than if they had stood up to everything.
Artie Vierkant 1:29:20
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:29:53
Bell, and by businesses, not just the op ed crowd, but like this still- but the reverse is actually a really important counterfactual that is, in some ways, the point of focusing on this narrative that we just went through. Which is that let's say, all of these decisions were set in stone, but the things that are the "what about's," right, like, anti vaxxers, entrenched Republican governors, Facebook or whatever, you know, etc., etc., vaccine hesitancy— politically divisive times and culture. Yeah.
Artie Vierkant 1:31:44
Whatever, what have you. Yeah. Whatever, whatever explanation you got, right? Whatever explanation you have to defend that a Biden administration, even if all of those things were removed, many of the, if not all of the individual decisions that we talked about and just went through, were still bad decisions. And still would have led to more infections and more deaths because of those decisions, not because of what happened from without them. Right?
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:32:15
And— yes. And honestly, here's to me, what is clear that the Biden team has been banking on this whole time, is that in the vast majority of vaccinated people, when they become infected with COVID, they will not be able to differentiate that from a cold infection. Right? They are betting on the fact that if they can get the vast majority of people vaccinated in the United States, that people will stop noticing when they get sick, and they won't feel bad when they spread it to people and kill them. Right? Because ultimately—
Phil Rocco 1:32:50
Or even know.
Artie Vierkant 1:32:51
Or even know.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:32:51
Or even know, or even know.
Phil Rocco 1:32:53
And they certainly, won't blame the administration.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:32:55
No. And then it's blaming the individual, of course.
Artie Vierkant 1:32:58
Yeah. Blame the vaccinated.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:33:00
Should have been washing your hands more, right? Which, like, absolutely, we should all be fucking washing our hands a lot more. But we can't hand-wash our way out of a pandemic, right?
Artie Vierkant 1:33:10
Or a respiratory pandemic.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:33:10
And we're not going to be boosting our way out of this one, either. Unfortunately, we cannot continue to rely on vaccine-only strategies as if, you know, we have to do this with our hands tied behind our backs.
We don't need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and struggle on here, we have tools that we employed during the first year of the pandemic, that should have continued, that would have really been a lot of help here, right? But this kind of insistence of, what we need to like return to the bare minimum of protection at all times, right, as if any additional precautionary protection measures that we could be taking in a proactive stance— like we ask people to do and think about with their own frameworks of their own individual health. Right?
We're so committed to preventative health in this country, you would think, right, that there would be room for a framework for discussing NPIs and masking as a preventative measure! Right? Culturally, it's used as a preventative measure in all sorts of societies, right? And among communities in the United States, like chronically ill people, many of whom have been masking for years! Like myself, because, you know, the fact of the matter is—
Artie Vierkant 1:33:13
Prior to the pandemic, I have to say that now that the pandemic has itself lasted years.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:34:26
It's, it's uncanny, right? And the fact of the matter is, is that rather than take any precautionary approach to this, it has been pursuing this purely aesthetic, lean version of a pandemic response that is never, ever erring on the side of a little too much precaution. And I think that that sort of desire to appear to be lean, to appear to be sort of handling it off hand with as little mitigation as possible, right, and the suppression of data that has had to happen in order to maintain that picture, and the sort of things that have gone into maintaining that picture— that are honestly like authoritarian gestures of top-down power, right? In terms of messaging and crafting and, and really telling people that your experience is not valid, and your embodied experience of this pandemic is not relevant. Right?
Which is sort of the message to medically vulnerable people all along is that, you know, who gives a shit if you get sick and die, right? You don't matter to our society. Who cares if these children died because they were medically vulnerable? And I think they really all along have been betting on the fact that if they could just get enough people vaccinated, people would not notice getting sick. And the fact of the matter is, though, like, that just fundamentally shows how they don't know what the fuck they're doing. Right? Because we can't predict— we can't depend on viruses to behave at all.
Phil Rocco 1:36:02
But this is the thing is that like, even the very even— let's assume for a second that you don't buy my Marxist analysis of, my structural analysis of the presidency, okay? Let's assume that you’re like your standard issue, like lib, you believe that the purpose of institutions is to like, you know, to do self-legitimation for the structure of government that we're supposed to have, like democracy or whatever the fuck we have. Even in that world, what the Biden administration has failed to do, has actually undermined, the one thing that is supposed to like, on a legitimacy level, like, perpetuate the idea that like, yeah, government can solve some problems sometimes. Right? Even that's, like, destroyed. Right?
In the service of doing one thing and one thing only, which is compelling us to consume and to produce. Like, that is where the thing was like, yeah, you know, okay, are there like authoritarian trends in the United States, like on the rise that like, you know, creep me out? Yes, like at some visceral level. But also, it's worth recalling that like, authoritarianism doesn't always look like— it doesn't always look in, you know— people don't wear uniforms. They don't, you know, necessarily shout nationalist phrases.
Artie Vierkant 1:37:23
It doesn't always look like Trump.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:37:24
Yeah. Sometimes it looks like Emily Oster.
Phil Rocco 1:37:26
Right. And I think we've known this for a while, it's like, authoritarianism has changed. It's not— you know, it might be very conducive to, like, bottom up, like fascist movements, sure. But like, actually, what it is about, is being able to compel people to do actions, to take actions that they would not ordinarily do. To have thoughts perhaps, that they would not ordinarily have. To have thoughts that actually, are very highly contrasted with their understanding of what they can see in front of them. And it is, in that sense, that I think, what's happened over the last 12 months has been so, like, disturbing and dizzying to me, which is that we have— that sort of thing has, in fact, happened. There has been a movement to compel people to resume life as normal. And a— I think there has been— a sort of rhetorical cabining of critics of this approach. And, I don't know, it's, I don't even know that it feels like "gaslighting" to me as much as it does just like, you know, plain vanilla hegemonic discourse. Is like, gradually, the critiques that people have, they get tired of making them over and over again, and they feel like they have no audience. And they are forced to do the thing that's like, one of the most demobilizing things in the world, which is to watch people who have no fucking clue what they're talking about, in many different institutions; media, academia, you know, officialdom of Washington, you know, not just say dumb things, but be praised for saying them. That is the thing that feels like, incredibly disempowering. And—
Artie Vierkant 1:39:21
Now that sounds to me, those last few statements, like a personal year in review, that sounds like my year in review. Watching that shit happen.
Phil Rocco 1:39:32
But I think it's the case for a lot of people. A lot of people have seen— have been forced to watch these things, been forced to look at the way that other people have to endure these things. And to have the idea in their head implanted there that maybe they're being overly wishful about what could have happened, how could have been otherwise? Or the idea that maybe they're just being a crank. And I think that that's a horrifying— it's a horrifying sort of mental gymnastics you have to go through.
Artie Vierkant 1:40:11
Absolutely. Yeah. And, you know, I think with that, I want to say thank you, from all of us for sticking with us this year. Thank you to each and every one of our patrons, each and every one of our listeners. We are, you know, it's been very— frankly, I'll just, you know, I'm going to be— Yeah, it's really difficult. I gotta be honest, like—
Phil Rocco 1:40:35
This has been a hard episode for me, I'll just say personally. This hard to go through this.
Artie Vierkant 1:40:39
This has been alternating between really difficult and extremely aggravating. Also doing the research for it was. And frankly, looking back and seeing— I was telling Bea this last night— but I look back on our— we make these outlines for the show. These you know, like, stuff for each of us to kind of like look at and think about. Stuff that we kind of want to make sure to reference maybe, or just you know, so that we kind of know what we're talking about, it’s just like a shared internal document. And going through, I can see stretches where I'm like, wow, I was like, depressed. Like, no one was fucking listening to this shit, and we're just like screaming into the void about this stuff. You know what I mean? And it's like, it's hard, because I don't know— I guess, all I'm trying to say is that we really appreciate all the support. I feel like, as frustrating as all of this is, it has felt very important to do.
And I think we— look forward is not the right word for it—But we're going to be here in COVID year three. So, this has been COVID year two, everybody. And, you know, we're going to keep seeing what happens. I will say though, let me just give you a preview of COVID year three. From friend of the show, Jacob Bacharach, from a post that he did on Twitter in January, this is— I found this, sometimes I put tweets on the outline, so like I found this going through old outlines. And I was like, hell yeah. This is— but yeah, I think anyway, this tweet from front of the show, Jacob Bacharach really says a lot of what I would expect from COVID year three— years three and on words, really. "It'll be like HIV AIDS, a combination of prophylactic treatment and post infection intervention will render it functionally nonexistent for the top 50% in rich countries, while in poor communities and countries, it circulates with varying severity for the next 50 years. Anyway—
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:42:41
Yeah. I mean, I'm just incredibly grateful for getting to do the show, because I feel like it's been hard to tell if I've been, like, more sad or more angry this year as a consistent emotion. Like, you know, it's like—
Artie Vierkant 1:42:55
You were. Both.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:42:56
Yeah, no, and I think it's been really important to me to be able to channel this into, like talking about it on the show. And, you know, I think the discussion around parallels to the way that, you know, the sort of tail end of the making of the end of the HIV AIDS epidemic is really good parallel, and I think it should be really stark warning about the fight that we have ahead of us, too. Which I think it's, you know— it'd be remiss of us to not— to pretend like it's not uphill, but like, what good fight is ever downhill?
Artie Vierkant 1:43:33
Well, and also— but this is the thing too. Like, the narrative that we just went through, even the simplicity, the— literally, all we did was put two and two together, all afternoon, just on on this recording. Right? And, frankly, I don't think I should have been the one to have to fucking do that. It sucks that we had to do that. And I can't— the reason that we, you know, recorded this, I think, is because, and the reason we did all the shows that we did over the course of the year really, is like, fucking no one else was doing that. It's not one else entirely. There are some, you know, we've caught— we've mostly shouted it out the names of people who have been on top of it. You know?
Phil Rocco 1:44:17
Yeah. I often like, dip back into the world and try to give myself an excuse to not have to look as— you know, it's like, this is not a— it's not my natural inclination, it's much harder than actually, what I usually have to do. And it's, I think, also this is like a, you know, actually does force me to like, step back from the total like, PMC world that I like reside within. And sort of the professional like logics, which are very much in tune with all of this shit. I mean, it's, you know, very much part of this like, reproductive apparatus, and step back from and say like, "this is actually just, incredibly intellectually dishonest. And, you know, here's what is actually seems to be happening." So, I don't think that there's any other venue I could actually do that in.
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:45:15
Yeah. Well, and I think I'm just going to leave us with this one little part of a poem by Essex Hemphill from sort of the middle to end of the HIV AIDS epidemic, from his poem "When My Brother Fell."
"When I stand on the frontlines now, / cussing the lack of truth, / the absence of willful change, / and strategic coalitions, / I realized sewing quilts / will not bring you back nor save us.
It's too soon to make monuments, / for we are all losing for the lack of truth / as to why we are dying. / Who wants us dead? / What purpose does it serve?"
Phil Rocco 1:45:57
Artie Vierkant 1:45:57
Beatrice Adler-Bolton 1:45:59
So, patrons, thank you so much for supporting our work. We really appreciate it. Thank you for sticking with us. If you'd like to help us out a little bit more, share the show with your friends, post about your favorite episodes, or follow us at @DeathPanel_ and if you're listening to this, and you're not a patron become one at www.patreon.com/deathpanelpod if you can.
And as always;
Medicare for All now.
Stay alive another week.
Outro Music 1:46:31 [music fades in, "Fine Day" by Dinamarca]
"It's a fine day. People open windows. They leave their houses, just for a short while. It's a fine day. People open windows. They leave their houses, just for a short— It's a fine day. People open windows. They leave their houses, just for a short while. [echoes] La-da-da-da-da-dee-da-da-da. La-da-da-da-da-dah-da-da-da. La-da-da-da-da-dee-da-da-da. La-da-da-da-da-dah-da-da-da. La-da-da-da-da-dee-da-da-da. La-da-da-da-da-dah-da-da-da. La-da-da-da-da-dee-da-da-da. It's going to be a fine night tonight. It's going to be a fine day tomorrow. It's going to be a fine night tonight. It's going to be a fine day tomorrow. It's going to be a fine night tonight. It's going to be a fine day tomorrow." [repeats]
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