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Heinz smacks down Christy's list of dumb COVID questions

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What the Devil won't tell you

Heinz smacks down Christy's list of dumb COVID questions

  • Supervisor Matt Heinz is ready to rumble against 'junk science' he says his colleague Steve Christy is spreading. Christy says he's just the voice of his constituents.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comSupervisor Matt Heinz is ready to rumble against 'junk science' he says his colleague Steve Christy is spreading. Christy says he's just the voice of his constituents.

Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz has had enough of his Republican colleague Steve Christy's verbal thwacking of county health experts about coronavirus.

So he basically accused Christy of killing people during Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Heinz described it as "transitioning to active verbs."

Supervisor Christy described his reaction with a symbolic shrug.

"I was raised and tutored in the car business and I’ve been called a lot of things. They have the effect of water off the duck’s back," he told me later.

He might want to wear a slicker because Heinz, a physician, plans on keeping it up, which means supervisors' meetings may get more contentious.

What Christy has been doing is peppering county health staff with questions, queries and interrogatives that seem to confuse the basics of the COVID-19 pandemic we've now been dealing with for two years.

People are willing to use that clouding of the issues to justify their hesitancy and/or refusal to get vaccinated against the virus.

One in four Pima County residents seem adamant about not getting vaccinated, and those refuseniks are responsible for yet another spike in cases.

Heinz is right to lay the wood to people trying to confuse or lie about coronavirus, but in a representative democracy, the lone Republican Christy is left to act as the board's voice representing a whole lotta people talking a whole lotta nonsense about the virus.

Experts can let their expertise beat them if they treat the novice skeptic with kid gloves. It's high time for scientists to use their knowledge as an unfair advantage.

It's almost past the point where this is a health issue, as much as it is a political issue that voters will settle at the polls. Will the party of holdouts pay the price for the continued sickness they are inflicting on society — or are we willing to to declare that hundreds of thousands (or a million) deaths is the price of freedom?

At the very least, it's time for a fair fight (18 months too late).

Vaccine 101

Here's one example from a recent meeting, when Christy "got" county Public Health Director Francisco Garcia to "admit" that the vaccine had limited capacity to prevent the spread of coronavirus from person to person.

"He (Christy) doesn't understand how vaccines work," Heinz said when I talked to him the night of the meeting. "Vaccines teach the body how to attack the virus." 

Right. Old-school vaccines would put a bit of the virus into the body, and your immune system would learn how to kill it. When the virus showed up in force, vaccines didn't necessarily stop it from entering the body, but the virus would quickly get ambushed and overwhelmed by a smarter, prepared immune system.

Before I beat up too much on Christy, I should tell y'all what I told him. I understand that he is representing — all by himself on a board with four Democrats — a sizeable chunk of voters. I write a lot about democracy and democracy means representatives of the people give those people a voice. 

That's Christy's job even if the people he represents make much of the rest of the county's eyes roll.

"What better forum than to ask questions – where people are upset or anxious or concerned and they want answers," Christy said in an interview after the meeting. "And they don't have access to county elected officials or staff."

I gotta say: While I'm with Heinz on substance, Christy is not the problem.

When we ended our talk, Christy and I agreed we both absolutely changed each other's minds. It was a joke. But it raises a point.

What if Christy tomorrow, put out a press release agreeing with me? "I read Blake's column and he's right. Everyone needs to get the vaccine even if it takes mandates." Would that get Pima County up to 90 percent vaccinated? No. It would just assure Christy gets knocked off in a Republican primary come 2024.

Heinz meanwhile, is a hospitalist, meaning he is a doctor whose practice is dedicated to care in — you guessed it — a hospital.

He's stuck dealing with the pandemic every stinking day he clocks in to work. So he knows of what he speaks when he says: "You are depriving people awaiting open-heart surgery of an ICU bed (after their surgery), which means they are getting their life-saving procedures canceled," Heinz said. "Some of these people won’t make it."

In an exasperated huff he says, "No one protests against seat belts."

So what was Christy's series of gripes this time?

Christy essentially complained about the firing of 51 unvaccinated county employees and then he was off to the races. Why doesn’t the county give unvaccinated employees a test? Is there are a problem with the testing? Why not wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on federal workplace regulations requiring COVID tests before firing anybody? What about herd immunity? We knew exactly what it was. And now we don’t? Does that mean we don't know? Then how is the science settled? What about deaths? Does coronavirus actually kill or is it a complicating factor in deaths? If it’s just aggravating, why say anyone dies of COVID at all? Has anyone tried leeches?

In my book, he confused the issue and declared the issue confusing and then blamed science for the confusion.

Science types and their representatives have made the mistake of trying to "educate voters." Voters don't want a class. They want a show and they reward the side that seems to be winning the argument. Usually, that's Republicans because they are tossing around tough-sounding questions, while Democrats are too busy trying to educated about something that truthfully is complex.

Deadly questions

So as Christy dove in on the following lines of attacks, I wished someone had answered thusly and given the people the sound of two hands clapping.

1. Why not test employees who choose not to get vaccinated before firing them?  And why fire people just for deciding not to get the vaccine?

He was proposing a single test in lieu of a vaccine. Testing negative on Sunday tells us nothing about whether a person is infected on the following Friday.

He might have been willing to accept a compromise that gave corrections officers the right to get testing rather than the vaccine. But the board didn't need his vote.

As far as corrections officers and sheriff's deputies go, we afford them elevated status for assuming risks on the job for the betterment of society. Anti-social behavior that refuses personal risk (even if it's just perceived) at the expense of society, disqualifies people from serving in protective roles.

2. Why not wait until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Biden’s vaccine mandate? 

Because it’s irrelevant. The court is set to rule on the constitutionality of expanding U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration rules to require that workers get vaccinated. It’s about federal overreach, something Pima County government can’t possibly commit.

3. What’s this about not knowing what level of vaccination combined with infection establishes herd immunity? 

Christy said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry seemed to know exactly what that number was once.  At Tuesday's meeting suddenly that number is a mystery.

I don't remember, Heinz doesn't remember, no one I know who's seen the meetings remembers Huckelberry ever declaring a number as sufficient for herd immunity. Public health officials guestimated with a "maybe" when pressed to ballpark one. That’s not the same as declaring water freezes at 32 degrees.

Second, those original guesses were based on the original Alpha strain. Delta and Omicron have proven much more contagious, raising that number and moving the target.

3. Christy asked specifically and rhetorically, “The science is settled but we don’t know?”

I’m so glad he put it like that because that’s how science works. Scientists first understand the general and then dive into specifics. A great example is gravity. The details of gravity have proven elusive. But if you are on the sixth floor, don’t jump out a window or you will plummet to earth at 9.8 meters per-second squared. Scientists knows that much. They're still figuring out why gravity is a weak force and why the universe is expanding at its current rate.

Herd immunity is a number that’s out there, but for a disease like measles, it’s damned near 100 percent because it’s so contagious.

4. Christy gotcha-ed Dr. Garcia into admitting that coronavirus does not actually cause death, technically, kinda. COVID gets the body to do the dirty work.

This isn't new. AIDS doesn’t cause death. The pneumonia that people contracted because AIDS wrecked their immune systems caused their deaths.

Car crashes don't cause deaths, either. They can create the circumstances in which a sufficient amount of blood no longer flows through your body, and that causes death. Cancer doesn't cause deaths. But parts of necessary organs stop working, and that can kill you.

Know what else doesn’t cause death? Bullets. To paraphrase the phrase so many COVID deniers love to type on social media, John F. Kennedy didn’t die FROM of a bullet. He died WITH a bullet. JFK died because much of his brain suddenly stopped sending signals to his body – probably because much of it vacated his cranium at a bullet's insistence.

That way, at least the 11 people watching the supes meeting would have had two arguments to consider.

Heinz did speak up at the end dropping the rhetorical "M" bomb.

"Make no mistake. Unvaccinated people in the community are actually killing people," Heinz said. "It's not like you can charge them with a crime — yet." Then he made the case about people not getting access to life-saving surgeries because of the unvaccinated, and said Christy should know better than to obscure how the pandemic is here, thousands are dying and vaccines help.

"I just don’t want to hear any more junk science," he said, concluding with the wallop: "That is killing people, too, Supervisor Christy."

Know what? Christy's questions are what his constituents want him to ask. If that wasn't the case, Pima County would have a much higher vaccination rate.

The District 4 supervisor's people are more likely to listen to evil conspiracy hound Alex Jones, I would wager, than the long-time car dealer turned politician.

That's the problem. A huge chunk of our neighbors aren't just getting bad information from the Internet, talk radio and certain cable news channels, they are seeking out bad information that proves they can be right without the hassle of learning something new.

He has every right to ask the questions and seeing as Christy is the only Republican on either the Tucson City Council or Pima County Board of Supervisors, his community constituency is not confined to the District 4 boundaries.

More to the point, Heinz has every right (and an obligation as a physician) to stand up and show his frustrations during these meetings. The staff doesn't need to be coddled. Neither does Christy.

Then we can let the voters decide.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years, and as a communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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