At the March 2020 First Friday Luncheon, Angelina County & Cities Health District director Sharon Shaw told attendees about preparations being made for the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Angelina County.
Many probably weren’t all that worried at the time, although enough were that soon bleach wipes, hand sanitizer and — inexplicably — toilet paper would become scarcer than a Cabbage Patch Kid circa 1983.
Within days, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo came to an early end, U.S. air travel to Europe was suspended for 30 days and Austin’s South by Southwest Festival was canceled. Then the dominoes really started to fall.
By March 12, all Angelina County schools had announced they would be closed for the next week. The Texas primary runoff elections were delayed. Local Easter egg hunts, the Angelina County Fair and several Angelina Arts Alliance performances were canceled.
The real “holy crap” moment for the newsroom was when the NCAA canceled cash cow March Madness on March 13. That’s when we knew this was really serious.
A year and a half and 378 countywide deaths later, you’d think we’d all know just how serious this is. There’s not a soul in Angelina County who doesn’t know someone who has either contracted COVID-19 or died from it. And yet there are far too many who still stubbornly refuse to take this seriously.
They don’t take it seriously because they don’t think it’s real — it’s a hoax. Or maybe it’s real but it’s been exaggerated — overblown by the media. The numbers can’t be trusted. They urge us all to use perspective, citing irrelevant flu stats that don’t bolster their argument even if they were relevant.
They don’t care how many people’s lives they endanger by not being vaccinated and — even worse — they actively encourage others not to get the vaccine, spewing misinformation everywhere from high school sporting events to social media to the check-out line at Walmart, proudly unmasked in all their glorious ignorance.
Many took to Facebook to complain that Lufkin ISD superintendent Lynn Torres didn’t seem to be paying any attention to those who complained about the school’s mask mandate during a recent school board meeting. We applaud her for that. Nobody should pay attention to any of that hogwash. And there’s about to be one fewer place for folks to spew it.
Effective immediately, we are no longer printing any columns or letters that spread misinformation or conspiracy theories concerning COVID-19, and we’ll be closely monitoring the comments on our Facebook page, as well. Like Torres, we’re not paying any attention to it and we strongly urge our readers to ignore it anywhere they see it, as well. But we will no longer provide a platform for such dangerous rhetoric. This isn’t a matter of silencing opinion — it’s a matter of life and death.
If your opinion is informed by misinformation that can harm others, you’re simply going to have to take that nonsense elsewhere. If you insist your claims that the media is skewing numbers are true, how do you explain the uptick since the start of the pandemic in the obituaries we print? Since the delta variant hit East Texas, we can seldom fit them all on one page.
Nearly all Americans agree that the spread of misinformation is a problem and most blame individual users and social media companies, according to a New Pearson Institute/AP-NORC poll. Yet relatively few are very concerned that they might play a role.
In his latest column, syndicated writer Leonard Pitts points out that whenever faced with some mandate imposed in the interest of common good — including seatbelt laws, not smoking in movie theaters and noise ordinances — “some of us act like they just woke up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.”
And for those who’ve chosen to quit their jobs rather than get the vaccine, he offers a word of response: goodbye — before adding two more: good riddance.
We’ll offer those and the following to the naysayers we’re no longer giving a soapbox to on our Facebook and Opinion pages: Don’t let the door hit you in the body part out of which you prefer to talk.