2021 ends with COVID craziness in sports and politics

The Star Tribune newspaper reports:

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is on the COVID-19 reserve list after testing positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday night’s game against the Packers. …

From the Star Tribune website


Cousins, who is unvaccinated, was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list as a close contact early in training camp after (one backup quarterback) tested positive for the virus. After returning from a five-day quarantine, he declined to discuss his decision on whether to be vaccinated, calling it a personal choice and saying his focus was on avoiding being a close contact.

He had avoided being placed on the reserve list all season. But after (another backup quarterback) tested positive, Cousins admitted staying clear of the virus before the Vikings’ most important game of the season would be tough.

Across the field for Sunday’s Vikings-Packers game, another unvaccinated quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, continues to make headlines about comments he makes criticizing National Football League COVID-related policies.

You may not care about football or about unvaccinated but highly paid athletes.  There are no winners on this topic.  How must Cousins’ vaccinated teammates feel about their “field general” leaving them in the lurch on the eve of a game that could determine their season’s success or failure. And if failure, it may impact the jobs of some players and coaches.

It is, indeed, a personal choice for Cousins and Rodgers. But their personal choice has far-reaching implications because of their role on these teams and the pedestal on which some fans place pro athletes.

So much for sports.  Next, politics.

I live in Plymouth, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis with about 80,000 residents.  I’ve been here less than a year.  This week I had my first contact with the city council member representing my local ward.  The topic was COVID and he made it an ugly first encounter.

This week the city of Plymouth started promoting a Viva Las Vegas event for January 21, one of the first big events to open the city’s newly expanded community center.  The marketing messages stated:

Attendees can look forward to an evening of Las Vegas style games, a catered Italian-style dinner, music and drinks at the new Active Wing of the Plymouth Community Center. A cash bar will be available. … Organizations may sponsor a table at the event for $250. Sponsors will see their name and logo posted at the table and displayed on signage at the event.

Games, food, drink, music, opportunities for sponsors to put their name in front of local residents.  But not a single word about COVID precautions.

That’s why I wrote my concerns to the department managing the event, with a cc to the city council member for my neighborhood.  His response to me, a taxpayer and voter in his district, was insulting, inflammatory and wildly inaccurate.  Some excerpts of what he wrote me:

“After 2 years of fear induced destruction of our civil society, it is past the time for us to move on and return to our lives. …It will be a perpetual flu and each strain will likely be less virulent then (sic) the previous one. When the shutdowns started in March 2020, I predicted correctly that this will not end until individuals decide it will end.  Some in government don’t ever want it to be over. It gave them extraordinary power. They abused it in the name of safety. They are despicable. … For those who insist on spreading fear, I say stay home. You are not helpful any more.”

We are accustomed to pandemic polarization and politicization (PPP) from what often feels like far-away Washington, DC.  But if I needed any evidence of how the PPP has trickled down to even the local ward politics of local government, this blast of bile from my council member delivered it.

I’m a voter and taxpayer in his district.  I raised questions and concerns respectfully. I was floored and saddened by his response.

I’m sure the Viva Las Vegas event will go on.  But I reminded city officials that their party is being promoted while New Year’s Eve celebrations around the globe are being curtailed due to COVID concerns, while many venues locally were cancelling upcoming events due to omicron concerns, while our local hospitals are overloaded with COVID patients, while local health care workers are overworked and stressed by the demands of what they are seeing and treating every day, and while even some sports venues require fans to show proof of vaccination and/or mandate masks for all attendees.

It’s difficult to reason with a local politician who believes that the pandemic will end when “individuals decide it will end.” He – and maybe others in local government here – are now saying the pandemic is over, and so gosh darn it, it’s over.  It’s time to party.

Will some of my neighbors get sick if they attend the city’s Viva Las Vegas event?  I hope not, but there’s a risk of that.

Will the owners of the Minnesota Vikings do anything about their quarterback, who makes about $35 million a year?  I doubt it.

After two years of the pandemic, are we getting any smarter about risk communication? Are we getting any better about our ability to talk with each other thoughtfully and respectfully about our views of vaccination and public health precautions?

I’ll end 2021 with those questions, hoping that we can come up with better answers in a brighter, healthier 2022.

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