Michigan resident explains why anti-maskers and coronavirus deniers made his town 'COVIDville, USA'

Michigan resident explains why anti-maskers and coronavirus deniers made his town 'COVIDville, USA'

Michigan is among the midwestern states that now-President Joe Biden won in the 2020 election, and its Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has been quite proactive in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But Michigan has also been plagued by domestic terrorist activity, including a plot by far-right militia extremists to kidnap and possibly murder Whitmer, and angry protests by coronavirus deniers, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who are oblivious to the fact that COVID-19 has killed more than 3.5 million people worldwide (according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore). Owosso, Michigan resident Matthew J. Luther, in an article published by The Bulwark on June 1, explains why MAGA extremists have made his town "COVIDville, USA."

Luther notes that in 2020, Owosso "became a flashpoint in the lockdown protest movement" and has been "the site of multiple rallies against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's health and safety measures" — adding that Owosso "spent all of April 2021 in the top ten of the (New York Times) list of U.S. metro areas with the largest number of new cases relative to population."

"Between April 12 and April 21," Luther explains, Owosso "held the number 1 spot — that is, it had the most new COVID infections as a share of population of any jurisdiction in the country. When the NYT discontinued tracking at the metro level on May 24, Owosso was still number 30. Welcome to COVIDville, USA."

Luther has had first-hand experience with COVID-19. His fiancée, Elisabeth — who suffers from lupus — was infected with COVID-19 in 2020 and had a fever of 102F at one point. She was also "coughing violently," according to Luther. Elisabeth's mother, Rebecca, and Luther himself were also infected.

"Blessedly, my course with the illness was mild and amounted to little more than a persistent and disorienting fever that made it difficult to concentrate," Luther recalls. "Elisabeth and Rebecca, however, got the full suite of severe flu-like symptoms, including the disconcerting drop in blood oxygenation that meant their lung function was decreasing. The people working for the state's COVID hotline had informed us we would be turned away from the hospitals for want of open beds so long as their blood oxygen levels remained above the 85% threshold indicating severe respiratory distress."

In his article, Luther points the finger at local MAGA Republicans — stressing that their coronavirus denialism made Owosso's experience with COVID-19 worse than it had to be.

Luther recalls, "Most of the essential businesses in Owosso that were permitted to stay open during the lockdowns posted notices about the statewide mandates for wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, but few were enforcing those requirements. On April 13, 2020, Rep. John Moolenaar, a Republican representing Michigan's 4th Congressional District which includes Owosso — signed an open letter with five other GOP congressmen, condemning Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders as 'overly restrictive'…. The following month, Shiawassee County Sheriff Brian BeGole would join five other Michigan sheriffs in refusing to enforce Gov. Whitmer's orders closing nonessential businesses and requiring residents to wear masks."

In 2021, Luther observes, 36% of Shiawassee County residents have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, which is 5% lower than Michigan's overall vaccination rate of 41%. Unlike the anti-vaxxers in Shiawassee, Luther was glad to be vaccinated.

"Elisabeth and I received our first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 31 — as it happens, the anniversary of our first date," Luther writes. "Neither of us was willing to chance that our brush with the disease had conferred immunity from future infection, particularly with her compromised immune system. We received our second dose as the disease was peaking in the county in April."

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