Gone Viral

ADDITIONAL CONTEXT | Land Back for the Nez Perce, Racism in the NFL (surprise), and an extended Jurassic Park COVID metaphor

Delta Farce

Three angles on an increasingly troubling variant

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS | In Jurassic Park, terrorized humans use their ingenuity (and opposable thumbs) evade marauding dinosaurs by frantically driving and frantically running before eventually just closing a door. The tactic is surprisingly successful, a moment of brains over brawn, and it offers both our heroes and the audience a brief reprieve. But then — just when the audience begins to let its guard down — in come the velociraptors. They’re more adaptable than the other dinos, quickly bypassing the humans’ impregnable defenses (they pull the door handles). Just like that, the terror resumes. 

For some reason, the plot of this small independent film has been on our minds as the seriousness of the Delta variant of COVID-19 came into focus the last couple weeks. 

Very quickly, Delta has become the predominant strain in America, responsible for a surge in cases that is now clearly a wave, and the vast majority of new hospitalizations. Breakthrough infections of vaccinated people have been documented, and while vaccinated people don’t get as ill, they do carry enough virus load in their sinuses and mouths to be energetic vectors for spreading the disease. That’s the raptor claw on the doorknob: the plot twist we didn’t see coming.

And so, for us too, a familiar chaos resumes.

The surge is causing a dangerous resource-drain of intensive-care beds — again — which limits a hospital’s ability to handle all other emergencies. In the last week of July, 84.4% of ICU beds were occupied. On average 11.3% of those were covid patients. At the height of the winter and spring waves, the average hovered between 12 and 13%. Fewer people are dying, but that’s still a lot of people getting sick.

Scientists have also detected the Delta Plus and Lambda strains here in the US, though these mutations’ behavior and breakthrough potential (ability to infect a vaccinated person) are yet to be determined. 

Of course, while the humans in Jurassic Park didn’t always work together, they at least weren’t, like, leaving doors open for the raptors. That is, sadly, what’s happening right now with COVID. Because while Delta is unequivocally more catchy than previous strains, it’s getting an additional boost from inadequate vaccination rates, which have given it time, opportunity, and a healthy pool of nasal cavities to evolve inside. 

In especially vaccination-averse areas like Little Rock, Arkansas, hospitals are even more crowded than the worst of previous waves. The pressure is crushing. Hospital personnel are walking off the job from the stress. One EMS worker called it a “slow moving, mass casualty event.”

A small shard of hope before more bad news: In the past three weeks, there’s been a rise in new vaccine doses administered, especially in areas hardest hit by new outbreaks. While that’s encouraging, time is very much of the essence, because if this uptick in cases continues, by fall/winter, we could see a variant capable of beating the vaccines. To quote Dr. Fauci: 

"[Q]uite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness . . . If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble”

To quote another man in a lab coat:

CHILDREN’S CRUSADE | While it’s easy (and sometimes cathartic) to blame adults who refuse to get jabbed, inoculation still isn’t an option for the immunocompromised and young children. Those children will be starting school — in person — next month.

These kids’ safety could largely be determined by where they live, as the fight against COVID-19 shifts from a national war zone to state and local battlegrounds. Regional policies differ wildly from state to county to school district, with skirmishes at all levels. In Tri-Cities, parents were up in arms over Kennewick, Richland and Pasco districts’ decision to comply with Gov. Inslee’s mask requirement for students and teachers. Parents in New Jersey are pre-emptively suing Gov. Phil Murphy to stop him from potentially reinstating a mask mandate for kids if COVID numbers rise. And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to DeSantis; Southern Poverty Law Center is suing him in an attempt to protect the millions of school children who happen to live in Florida. 

Then, last week while the adults were in the other room fighting, pediatric COVID cases surged 84%. 

WORK/DEATH BALANCE | Kids aren’t the only people being thrust back into the world. Offices — both private and public — are beginning to open up as well. And since the feds, most states, counties, cities and other jurisdictions don’t seem to even want to mandate masks again, to say nothing of mandating vaccines (with one significant exception1), the national war that has devolved into state and local skirmishes is about to splinter even further, down to the level of individual businesses and organizations. 

And if you thought the differences in pandemic response between Washington and Florida were stark, hooooo-boy, wait ‘til you hear about the difference between Spokane’s Baby Bar and Pasta e Vino, the pride(?) of Huntington Beach, CA.

But before we get to the fun stuff, let’s take a spin through the high rises and office parks of corporate America. As our suited overlords contemplate the future of work, the biggest players, from Uber to Disney to Facebook to Walmart, are drafting vaccine mandates to return to the office. Microsoft is requiring vaccinations for both employees and visitors, and has delayed office re-openings until October. Tyson Foods, which had a number of shutdowns last year at its meat processing facilities, is requiring all of its 120,000 employees to get vaccinated by Nov. 1, and new hires to be vaccinated before beginning work.

Amazon is not requiring vaccines, but is requiring masks — and has pushed the return of its office employees from September back to January 2022. Its warehouse workers, of course — including more than 2,000 in Spokane — never left

Far more companies are going the Amazon route than the Tyson route, having one set of rules for office workers and another set for the front line. At Walmart, vaccines are only mandated at its headquarters and for managers who travel. Just 17,000 of its 1.6 million employees work at Walmart HQ. Barely 1 percent. Vaccines around the water cooler, but not the produce aisle. 

It goes without saying that frontline workers are at far greater risk of infection than those in any office block. This risk is compounded by a clear class divide on vaccine hesitancy uncovered by a recent Kaiser poll. The vaccine gap between Republicans and Democrats makes for great culture-war headlines, but there’s apparently an even bigger gap between blue collar workers and white collar workers

Between full mandate and free-for-all, there’s a third strategy that seemingly wants to acknowledge bodily autonomy while also annoying the hell out of people until they getting a jab. While Tyson Foods is offering employees $200 to soothe the pain of getting vaccinated, Oregon just announced the state’s healthcare workers need to be vaxxed or else undergo weekly COVID tests, starting Sept. 30.

Closer to home, two beloved nightlife spots, Nyne and the Baby Bar, have begun requiring proof of vaccinations in order to party. Baby Bar posted this simple, characteristically punk mandate last week:

Social media handled the announcement well.

There were some nasty reactions in person as well, but co-owner Tim Lannigan says for every one angry comment, about five other people offered their support or come in for a drink specifically because of the policy, like the table of ICU nurses he served this week.   

So yeah, because our politicians are too scared to pass a single, nationwide vaccine mandate, are left to navigate a Balkanized Absurdistan where the rules are different shop to shop, office to office. 

No matter what, we’re all going to need to get used to wielding your vaccination card like a passport. The Seattle Times did a nice rundown of the many emerging ways — from DIY to download an app — to carry your vaccine proof without carrying the actual card.

IN BRIEF 

WORK & DEATH | Despite new rules to protect them, farmworkers are still dying in the Central Washington heat. (Daisy Zavala & Hal Bernton | Seattle Times)

THE ABOLITIONIST & THE REPUBLICAN | What sounds like the world’s nerdiest bodice-ripper is actually the state of the Seattle City Attorney race after the latest tranche of votes dropped late Thursday. Eleven-year incumbent Pete Holmes fell to third place, with election analysts saying his chances look grim. The woman who passed him, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is a strident abolitionist who was deeply impacted as a public defender, where she witnessed poor people prosecuted for crimes as minor as stealing socks, and has said her role if elected would be to unmake as much of the “criminal punishment system” as possible. Currently leading the race — but by just over 1% — is conservative Ann Davidson running a standard tough-on-crime campaign. If these positions hold, the general election is going to be wild: And in Seattle, between the abolitionist and the Republican, we know where we’re putting our my money.

MONEY & POLITICS | Speaking of Elections, Washington State has the only public information laws requiring advertising platforms — be it The Spokesman or Google Ads — to disclose political advertising information to anyone who asks at a high level of detail, requiring everyone to disclose the candidate or ballot measure supported or opposed, the name and address of the people paying for the advertisement (including federal EINs or other identification numbers), the amount of the spend — all within 24 hours of the ad running. 

The law goes a level deeper for tech platforms: 

(g) For digital communication platforms: A description of the demographic information (e.g., age, gender, race, location, etc.) of the audiences targeted and reached, to the extent such information is collected by the commercial advertiser as part of its regular course of business, and the total number of impressions generated by the advertisement of communication.

That’s the real prize, as dark money critics and election watchdogs have begun to worry that the kind of micro-targeting made possible by digital advertising is undermining democracy itself.

The law is extensive enough that Facebook said it was no longer accepting political ads in Washington at all. Well, except it seems like they still are, actually.

Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Eli Sanders did a public-records request under the law and wrote a fascinating piece about what we can learn — and what Facebook is trying really hard to hide — about its political ads in Washington. It’s a good read that underscores that passing laws is only part of the game. Enforcing them is trickier.

SPORTS & RACISM | Call it “race-norming,” call it modern-day phrenology. Call it racist as hell. Either way, the NFL has apparently been mandating a different set of cognitive standards for black former players than their white colleagues when petitioning money from a landmark brain-injury settlement. The league denies it, but the neuroscientists who conduct the tests allege a clear pattern. In the words of one:

“Whenever you didn’t [race-norm], and it made a difference, and the player qualified [for a payout] … they, BrownGreer and the NFL, went after you.”

Spokane’s Mark Rypien was one of the most visible and vocal plaintiffs in the landmark class-action suit originally settled in 2013. Rypien spoke out again about his struggles with dementia-like symptoms and suicidal ideation after WSU Quarterback Tyler Hilinski committed suicide in 2018. Rypien was then arrested in 2019 for domestic violence, but the charge was later dropped. Rypien’s wife believes he suffers from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a condition of repeated concussive brain injuries that can mimic diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. CTE is only diagnosed after death by autopsying the brain. Prior to the law suit, a number of former players, including hall-of-famer Junior Seau, committed suicide in such a way to preserve their brain tissue to test for CTE.

Football is a blood sport that has disproportionately profited off of the grace of black athletes and the abuse of their bodies. And while it’s impossible to understand the havok CTE wreaks on the lives of people like Rypien, Hilinski, Seau and their families, it’s equally impossible to understand the depths of inhumanity it would take to institute the sort of racial exclusion practiced by the NFL and its lawyers, all in the name of saving a buck. — Luke

SOME GOOD NEWS, FOR ONCE

HOMECOMING | In a recent purchase, the Nez Perce Tribe gained back 150 acres of its ancestral home in the Wallowa Valley of Northeast Oregon. As the Seattle-Times reports, “The property, called Am’sáaxpa, for Place of Boulders, is a known traditional Nez Perce village site. It is overlooked by a ridge used as a council site by Chief Joseph...” Tribal members celebrated the deal on July 29th with a horseback procession and ceremony in the small town of Joseph, Oregon (named after Chief Joseph).

Nimi’ipuu, meaning “the people,” is the Tribe’s self-given name in ___ their native language. Nez Perce comes from the French, who mistook them for a different tribe that had pierced noses. For 16,500 years, home to the Nimi’ipuu was a ~17-million-acre territory centered around the salmon-rich lower Snake River, in what is now Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Once the wild descendents of horses brought by the Spanish found their way north, the Nimi’ipuu used selective breeding to produce the Appaloosa.

In a history familiar to all indigenous people, the US government and the forces of capital unleashed waves of European settlement, eventually forcing the Nez Perce onto a reservation whose land area drastically shrunk with each broken treaty and act of state violence. 

The Nez Perce war of 1877 ended with the Army pushing surrendered tribal members into hot, malarial Oklahoma, then breaking terms of surrender (shocking, right?) by refusing to allow them to return to the Wallowa Valley. 

And so, while 150 acres isn’t massive, the river property is hugely significant for the tribe, who purchased it from Mark Hettervig of Madras, OR. Hettervig said the land was intended for a 30-home development project. He sold it to the Tribe “strictly as a business deal, and drove a hard bargain.” Technically, the purchase falls under good “land back” news, but is driving “a hard bargain” and selling a tribe back its own land really justice? 

Perhaps even better good news occured in late April of 2021 when the Wallowa United Methodist Church turned over the keys to its (closed) church building, along with its deed to surrounding land, to the Nez Perce. In 2018, the church also returned a portion of Wallowa Lake to the Tribe for fishing. Unlike Hettervig’s “hard bargain,” the church’s land transfers did not involve cash. Reverend Dr. Allen Buck of the United Methodist Church — himself a member of the Cherokee Nation — participated in the transfer, which he called “a good start,” adding:

“[The land] is already theirs, it always was theirs. . . . The church is complicit, we know, in colonization all over the planet, not just in the past. . . . We recognize there can't really be reconciliation without some sort of conciliation and decolonizing."

— Elissa

1

New York City will begin requiring vaccines for indoor dining and other activities in mid-August