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The people and their government cannot get complacent

This past week marked a harrowing milestone in the pandemic: 500,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. That is more than the number of soldiers that died in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. Despite the massive loss our country has suffered, some in the U.P. continue to deny the reality we are in. There are still shoppers unmasked at Walmart. There are still sick people who refuse to be tested. There are still others who deny the overwhelming scientific consensus. In order to get through the lack of masking and social distancing, mass vaccination is our best chance at eliminating coronavirus.

This week also marked the halfway point of President Joe Biden’s 100 million doses in 100 days vaccination plan. The Biden presidency so far has been defined by competent governance. A well-functioning federal distribution plan of vaccine doses to states did not exist until Biden took office. Even through dipping case numbers and increased vaccine distribution, now is not the time to be complacent. There are still 70,000 cases every day in the U.S. But with the headlines of declining cases, it’s attractive to let your guard down. Decreases in cases have typically caused state governments to relax safety measures only for cases to skyrocket once again. We and our government cannot fall into that trap again.

The long-term “yo-yo” approach to COVID-19 restrictions is unsustainable and ineffective. When cases go down, governments relax the restrictions, only for cases to go up again due to relaxed restrictions. New Zealand’s firm approach to the pandemic allowed them to return to normal life far sooner than the rest of the world. New Zealand does have the advantage of being an island nation, but nevertheless seeing photos of New Zealand feels like being in a pre-COVID fever dream. A strong COVID-19 approach taken by states might be painful in the short-run, but it would mean we can move on from the virus far sooner.

Now, financial relief is needed to incentivize businesses and employees to follow and support safety measures. The Michigan state legislature has largely failed to provide relief to small businesses and workers due to the inability of the Republican majority to form detailed legislation. To make matters worse, the Republican legislature is holding billions in federal COVID-19 relief money hostage in a move to force Gov. Whitmer to lift safety measures. If they continue this ploy, Michigan’s federal dollars will expire, and the funds will go to other states. We can hope that Republican lawmakers will see sense, but if not, new federal COVID-19 relief is on its way. 

On his first day in office, Biden announced the American Rescue Plan, his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that is going to end this pandemic. While the package includes much needed vaccine distribution funds, it also includes more stimulus checks, boosted unemployment benefits, and additional relief to hurting small businesses. The Upper Peninsula needs this bill to pass in its entirety to ensure easy vaccine access and critical economic relief. This bold plan by the Biden administration is the opposite of complacency — it’s action.

Safety measures have been incorrectly blasted as hurting small businesses. This hurt would not be nearly as bad if President Trump and Senate Republicans, as well as the Michigan state legislature, had passed sufficient pandemic relief from the outset. The passage of the American Rescue Plan will remedy that and ramp up the vaccination rate to ideally 3 million daily doses — as long as we are there to get them. 

I hardly want to give any acknowledgement to the opposite view, but when discussing vaccines, it must be said: the vaccines approved by the FDA are safe and effective. Do not cower to the skeptical extremists who say otherwise. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are scientific breakthroughs built upon decades of research and approved through all proper safety channels. When it’s my turn to get the vaccine, I will be the first one to call and schedule an appointment with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. In the meantime, we still have a personal responsibility to continue to wear masks and socially distance — we cannot add to the 476 Yoopers lost to coronavirus.

The people who attack the safety measures related to COVID are the same ones spreading false information about the vaccine. Their actions are disrespectful of the 500,000 dead from this virus. There was an opportunity to unify and defeat this virus together. But President Trump and elected Republicans opted against that and instead divided the public while refusing to take responsible action. It’s now caused a harsh economic toll and a devastating emotional one. Now, with new leaders, America is on the right track.

This week reflected the two sides of the coin: immeasurable feelings of loss over the past year and a small feeling of hope that we’re on our way to ending the pandemic. If you’re following the safety measures and medical advice, continue to do so. If you’ve not been wearing a mask in Walmart or have been socializing unmasked , it is never too late to do your part to end this pandemic. The American Rescue Plan is coming — our job is to make sure it has people to rescue.

Finn Storer is a longtime Houghton resident and former campaign staffer. He can be reached at storer.comms@gmail.com

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