Letters from the front line
“Like clay pressed into a mould, Covid outbreaks tend to conform to the contours of a country’s existing inequalities and cracks, replicating them over again.”
— Tess McClure, columnist, Christchurch, New Zealand (The Guardian)
The number from the Ministry of Health was absolutely staggering, even deeply dispiriting. My initial reaction was one of growing bewilderment. How could this be? That 93 per cent of all deaths as of the end of September because of this Covid-induced pandemic were Black. Moreover, how do we arrive at a fully vaccinated rate for the island at 66 per cent as of a few weeks ago when it is clear to me that the Black Bermudian vaccination rate probably can lie only somewhere between 40 per cent to 50 per cent of this population group. This is an inescapable conclusion when one considers that 93 per cent figure.
Remember, Blacks are only 56 per cent of Bermuda’s resident population. If any statistic spells overrepresentation, under the heading of racial disparity, this would be it. Conversely, the vaccination rates of White residents would have to be fairly high — somewhere north of 80 per cent for Bermuda to have achieved that 66 per cent rate at this point. This, as total deaths from Covid approaches one hundred as we move further into October.
At this point you are probably wondering why I could not simply access data that outlines the racial demographic of those vaccinated. Surely the Government must have that data? Not exactly. According to a public health official I conferred with, there were a number of people who chose either not to declare race as part of their vaccine registration, which is myopic, or possibly they were not being asked during the earlier stages of the vaccine drives.
So we are left with my best hunch and yours; my good-faith guesstimate, if you will. Why is this important? It’s important because the Government and competent health authorities can then use that data with public policies and appeals featuring trusted spokesmen and women with the aim of rebuilding trust with the affected, vulnerable community. If Whites were vastly underrepresented in the ranks of the unvaccinated, I would be making the same appeal.
Having clearly got the message in my last opinion that this curfew was a very weak response to the present surge and late in terms of its implementation to date, I presume the Premier could not be seen to be bowing to reality by taking on my recommendation to at least strengthen it by extending its hours of operation from midnight to 5am to at least 9.30pm to 5am. If not, what is the sense and even efficacy of establishing a curfew such as this unless it is solely to give the appearance of doing something or demonstrating what I would call faux leadership.
As I said that curfew should have been implemented weeks ago. At the risk of repeating myself, what is needed now is the tightening of border controls, followed shortly by a complete ten-day shutdown if the present surge does not continue to abate over the next week, as it appears to be doing. One thing is certain: no one kicks a can down the road as well as David Burt does.
Where are the mandates on testing and vaccinations? Ninety-nine per cent of American Airlines employees are now vaccinated along with more than 55 thousand United Airlines employees — guess what, 99 per cent of employees. Can one travel to the United States or work for the Federal Government without proving one’s vaccination status?
Mandates work. When will the Government take the lead and mandate that all of its employees must be vaccinated? A significant number of international business companies will be soon requiring the same of their employees, as they must adhere to the global standards imposed by corporate headquarters. That is what time it is. We are at an inflection point and stronger measures on behalf of the common good are required and even overdue.
They have prioritised keeping the economy open, yet there is a trade-off for doing so. Look no farther than the horror show that has unfolded at the hospital. The trade-off has been a massive surge by Bermuda standards and scores of hospital admissions and deaths. There are always trade-offs.
Saul (Sally) on the road to Damascus
Sally — not her real name — styles herself a Facebook influencer and user in an era where too many believe that all opinions are equal; that people are entitled to their own facts; and where a toxic culture has weaponised the social-media mirror, which breeds narcissism like rabbits.
Her forte? Sally likes to spread wacky, anti-vaccine misinformation, which she has done with alacrity for months. She apparently had or has a significant following of Bermudians who treat her pronouncements and downloads as if Moses himself has come down from the mountain called Town Hill with two iPad tablets in his hands.
But somehow recently a miracle occurred — a highly improbable one — as like Saul on the way to Damascus, Sally had an epiphany. That epiphany resulted in her giving up her heart not to Jesus but to science. Perhaps it was the recent spike in deaths that scared her straight. Or, perhaps, a close friend or family member had died because of Covid. Who knows? But one day recently she showed up at the hospital and in a somewhat nervous state, akin to a shoplifter about to be busted, asked for the vaccine to be administered to her.
Being the minor local star she was, though, she was readily identifiable by the nurses on duty. When one of those nurses approached and gave poor Sally the “hey…I know you…aren’t you the one on Facebook?”, poor Sally, chastened and busted, turned red and became understandably speechless, as the life-saving shot was administered.
And speaking of ...
I have never used Facebook. I was probably the only politician in Bermuda who never did. I always viewed it as dangerous and have the lash marks on my back to prove it. In a recent article on the growing trouble facing Facebook — which needs to be broken into its constituent parts at the very least — The New York Times’s Kevin Roose, commenting on the recently leaked “The Facebook Files”, wrote that Facebook had a far bigger problem when it came to vaccine misinformation than it let on.
Did Facebook create the problem? No. But it made it far worse throughout the known universe. In effect, it has created a platform driven by its algorithms that pushed conflict and misinformation to the fore because that is what keeps us glued to those screens while they laughed all the way to the bank. It is simply too big and wields too much power.
Go on any Facebook site and type in ivermectin and the cascade of misinformation is there for the taking. The same would not occur via a search of ivermectin on Google, where you would be directed to credible information to its lack of efficacy in combating Covid and its potential dangers outside of its prescribed use. As the Facebook whistleblower, former employee and manager Francis Haugen, said during her testimony, the company routinely placed profits over safety. Facebook, it is now clear and has often been said, amplifies some of the worst examples of human behaviour while it hides in the shadows.
The cruellest of jokes? The misinformation virus that Sally and hundreds of Bermuda’s so-called Facebook influencers and users have willingly pushed on that and other obliging social-media platforms for free has occurred without them even realising that all along they were in fact the product — and not Facebook.
Hope springs eternal
The greatest concern now is that there may be more variants of concern to emerge, which will be even more dangerous than the Delta variant and which will find their way to our shores as the previous variants did.
Booster shots will be soon be available for those residents who have received both rounds of the Pfizer vaccine, and I encourage Bermudians who have not availed themselves of the vaccine at all to do so. Something now tells me that message is one that even Sally; who has safely reached Damascus, is now prepared to listen to.
• Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage