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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Politics of COVID

In a recent podcast, I heard an interesting, confusing analysis and reflection on how different people are responding to the risk of COVID. Surveys were used in an attempt to measure whether or not our understanding of COVID’s threat is reasonable and in line with known data, or if we are too careless or too careful.

We Need to Talk About Covid, Part 1 - The New York Times (

From what we know about COVID and its risk:

● Younger people should know COVID isn’t as dangerous to them, and older people should realize it is more dangerous to them

● Healthier people should feel safer than people with multiple comorbidities

● Vaccinated and boosted should feel the safest, and unvaccinated the least safe.

These impressions of the risk of COVID would match scientific, known reality.

However, when the surveys came out, young and old were almost equally “very worried” or “not at all worried” about getting sick from COVID. Oddly, a majority of people (56%) who are unvaccinated were “not too worried” or “not al all worried” about getting sick from COVID, while a majority of those vaccinated with booster (68%) were “very” or “somewhat” worried about getting sick from COVID.

What’s going on here? Why are we so off in our measure of COVID’s risk based on our honest life and health situation?

Well, underneath the data, one factor was skewing all the answers. Without this one factor, expectations of risk more closely matched reality, but with this one factor applied, responses went haywire and our understanding of risk no longer matched reality. This one factor was blinding us to reality. What is the one factor that threw everything out of whack?

Political affiliation

Republicans, even if older and unvaccinated, far underestimated the threat of COVID on themselves or others. Democrats, even if vaccinated, boosted, and younger, overestimated the threat of COVID on themselves or others. The article reported:

● “Millions of Republican voters have decided that downplaying Covid is core to their identity as conservatives, even as their skepticism of vaccines means that the virus is killing many more Republicans than Democrats,” and

● “Most Democrats, for example, say they favor moving classes online in response to Omicron, despite widespread evidence that remote school has failed and little evidence that shutting schools leads to fewer Covid cases.”

As a Mechanical Engineer by degree and an ordained Pastor, I carry science and faith with me simultaneously. I’m often confused (and frustrated) by those who reject science based on faith or ideology. I’m often equally confused (and disappointed) by those that scream science so loudly they don’t hear all its truths, all while looking down their noses at anyone with faith.

As we enter this New Year together, the science is suggesting several things to me:

COVID Omicron appears to be maxing out and will hopefully begin receding soon.

Hospitals are still currently swamped, but it looks like they will begin to lighten up and return to manageable loads within weeks.

The unvaccinated will continue to have a significantly higher risk of infection that could lead to hospitalization, and maybe death, even though Omicron is less deadly than Delta was.

Among the unvacinated, COVID is the number one killer, worse than cancer or heart disease. Among the vacinated, COVID is less dangerous than the flu.

Vaccinations are amazingly safe and effective.

Natural immunity (from having COVID) is less effective at preventing serious ilness on reinfection, has more side effects, and it’s protection doesn’t last as long as immunity from vaccines and boosters

Vaccination rates have apparently plateaued, as most people willing to get vaccinated already are.

Boosters help and reduce the risk of severe illness in the vaccinated.

Those of us who love our neighbors will probably need to continue wearing masks for a while when indoors or in tight groups, not as much in self protection, but in protection of those who choose not to get vaccinated.

Due to the hole in our vaccination wall, there could be more variants. We might rise and fall new waves of virus multiple times.

Thankfully, science is also getting better and faster at developing new iterations of vaccines for variants to limit COVID’s severity, and new treatments for those who suffer COVID anyway. The science part of me is disappointed in those boldly choosing to remain unvaccinated, at their own peril. I’m especially angry with the misinformation peddlers tricking people into ignoring or misunderstanding the science.

The faith part of me keeps imagining a day not too far away when the risk of COVID is small enough, we can all begin to return to life habits that feel more real, personable, and connected. I will finally get to see the rest of your faces! I will finally get to see you smile and laugh, and let you see me do the same. I am imagining our small groups where we can easily hear each other, and easily read the essential language of facial expressions. I am imagining singing, concerts, and fellowship events that are once again loud, raucous affairs that get our hearts pumping.

May we all trust the science, giving it no more or no less than it deserves, and may we all join hands and accelerate toward the hopeful, joyful visions of our faith.

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