Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Their lies are killing us and lining pockets.
Alaska's battle with covid misinformation and disinformation is prolonging the pandemic, deepening the toll on Alaskans and the state's economy, and all to make a buck.
Happy Friday, Alaska!
In this edition: The disinformation and misinformation is killing us, the reading list and the weekend watching. It’s a Saturday in the Sun sort of week, so watch for that to be out sometime tomorrow with plenty more.
The killing lie
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink’s editorial in The Washington Post starts out the way a lot of editorials written by frontline health care workers start out: With a scene of severely ill patient struggling to breath, scared and with plummeting oxygen levels “not usually compatible with life.” It contains the same lamentation about how the patient—like so many critically ill patients are nowadays—is unvaccinated. The patient, Zink writes, “was suffering not just because of the virus, but also because of the deadly combination of misinformation and disinformation in a broken health-care system, in a country of broken trust.”
While the editorial goes on to talk about how Alaska’s strong initial response to the pandemic and the rollout of vaccines—which were both driven primarily by the state’s tribal health care system—eventually faltered and what’s needed to remake and repair the health care system that’s been ravaged, this point is particularly important: “Hesitancy and misinformation made many people underestimate the risk of covid-19 infections and overestimate the risk from the coronavirus vaccines.”
It’s a story that’s playing out on a daily basis—both through the steady march of deaths and in stories like this—as people continue to underestimate the risk of a virus that they’ve been told over and over again is somewhere between a Democratic hoax and no worse than the common cold. All along the way, covid-19 conspiracies have been enmeshed in the wellness movement with claims that the hospitals and Big Pharma are ignoring the real and simple cures like anti-parasitics and heavy doses of vitamins (which the purveyors of those fantasies just so happen to be selling). As if to put a fine point on it, this weekend several prominent vaccine skeptics will be in Anchorage for a conference on “the covid virus and effective treatments!” where you, too, can get in on the secrets that Big Medicine doesn’t want you to know for a cool $20 for the morning session and another $20 for the afternoon session.
It’s messaging like that, which is breathlessly relayed and amplified by far-right enablers as some kind of gotcha on the libs, that drive their followers down this route with very real consequences. Filled with the hope of miracle cures and distrust of the hospitals, followers of these fringe hucksters are not just more likely to get the virus but they’re also more likely to wait to get tested and wait to seek medical care. When they eventually do seek care, they are that much more sick, that much closer to intubation and that much more likely to suffer long-term impacts of the virus.
In Zink’s piece, she notes the patient “had spent hundreds of dollars for online remedies” when he got sick. And yet, there he was gasping for air with oxygen levels “not usually compatible with life.”
The story comports with a recent study that found the likelihood to believe in covid conspiracy theories predicted a decreased likelihood of getting tested; an increased likelihood to test positive if they do get tested and an increased likelihood to violate public health measures. That makes sense, but what’s even more interesting is that the belief in conspiracy theories also was linked to an increased likelihood of job loss, reduced income, social rejection and overall wellbeing.
It’s something about the belief in the conspiracy that it’s really Big Doctor making you sick, poor and unhappy that’s really why you’re sick, poor and unhappy.
Zink’s editorial doesn’t point fingers, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that much of the blame for the prolonged pain and suffering of Alaskans—and not to mention the tepid economic recovery—rests with the purveyors of these lies.
But even when confronted with the consequences of their misinformation—whether it be through their own long-haul symptoms (following what is usually the best care unavailable to most) or the deaths of prominent members of their following—they’ve only dug in that much deeper. We’ve hoped time and again that something would click and our elected leaders could at least have the humility to urge their followers to get the vaccine and consider wearing a mask, but that would require them admitting that they had some responsibility in shaping the misguided views of their followers.
“People don’t really wake up until it happens to them or someone they love,” Assemblymember Christopher Constant told Alaska Public Media for a story about the diverging realities in the wake of William Topel’s death from covid-19. “And even now, you have evidence that that isn’t even enough to wake people up.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Dunleavy—who once whined about Alaska Public Media’s mask mandate as “virtue signaling”—today announced he’s dragged the state into a lawsuit to protect the virtues of Alaskans who refuse to get vaccinated.
Alaska has a shocking lack of support for eating disorders. From KTOO: Eating disorders are on the rise in Alaska, but local resources are scarce
Mayor Dave Bronson’s pick for real estate director, a position that’s mired in whistleblower allegations that it’s tied to political payback, was rejected on a 5-5 vote by the Anchorage Assembly on Thursday night. Bronson claims it’s the Assembly, not him, who’s playing politics with it. From Alaska Public Media: Anchorage Assembly declines to confirm real estate director connected to whistleblower complaint
Following an initial transition that looking to be somewhat competent, it sounds like things are going south for Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena shelter in a week where the city’s homelessness director surprisingly resigned. From KTUU: ‘I’d rather sleep outside’: People experiencing homelessness talk about life inside the Sullivan Arena
And now for something completely different
I was really racking my brain for a spooky bit of video to put here and recalled this short-but-sweet animation that came out of the 2013 “Ghost Stories” short animation anthology from a group called Late Night Work Club. There’s plenty of neat (and very weird) shorts from it that are worth checking out. “Mountain Ash” and “The American Dream” both really stand out, but my favorite has to be “The Jump.”
Have a nice weekend, y’all. Eat too much candy, watch a scary movie and, as always, be kind.