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GUEST COLUMN: What a difference a year makes: Nakagiri was for COVID funding before he was against it

Nakagiri advanced the COVID funding resolution on July 6, 2020, and voted for it on Aug. 10, 2020

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As we begin the school year with COVID ravaging the schools, and efforts to employ an “alternate quarantine” to appease the masses, I can’t help but look upon what is happening in our community and shake my head in utter disappointment. There is a plague in Livingston County, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of; it’s a plague of ignorance.

Having observed meetings across the county over the past few months, from the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority to the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, I am aghast at what some residents try to pass off as fact in an attempt to strong-arm public officials. Most recently, I endured the hours of public comment from the uninformed masses attempting to “educate” the county board of commissioners on masks, the health department funds, and government overreach. I cannot possibly attempt to correct someone who insists that we cannot breathe oxygen through masks, yet those same masks won’t contain COVID — last I learned, in fifth grade, humans breathe air, which is a combination of mostly nitrogen and a smaller part of oxygen and other components. How can we take these people seriously? I usually find these folks amusing but I can no longer sit back and watch them attempt to dismantle our community with their willful ignorance.

Up for consideration is the well-publicized $1.5 million in COVID funding for our local health department to continue its work in mitigating COVID-19. Notice the italicization? Yes, I said continue because who do you think has been doing all this work for the past year-and-a-half? 

Far too many participants in the recent Livingston County Board of Commissioners meetings have spewed misinformation, and it’s high time the residents of this county learn what their health department does for them.

A cursory review of the health department’s home page is an enlightening entrée to the smorgasbord of services provided to even the most ungrateful of residents. From dental services to environmental health, our local health department helps the residents of Livingston County get healthy and stay healthy. For instance, check out the Prescription for Health program that provides fresh food for residents to create and maintain healthy lifestyles, or Children’s Special Healthcare services that provide supplemental medical coverage for families with chronically ill kids, or the Environmental Health division that provides those free radon test kits. Many children benefit from the hearing and sight testing provided in schools that have identified issues that affect their learning.

From public pools to emergency preparedness, tuberculosis testing to food protection, clean air to clean water, our Livingston County Health Department helps the community be a safer, healthier place to live, work, and play. So, imagine my chagrin at the accusation that our health department is “over funded” and that we “don’t need that COVID money.”

What?

This self-proclaimed majority has the audacity to claim that this funding is somehow going to turn the commissioners into devils incarnate. For the record, Miss “Moms of Liberty,” unless you’re keeping 96,000 residents in your pocket, you do not speak for the majority.

That’s quite a position of privilege to be sitting in to claim “we don’t need that money.” Let me explain this a little better: Our county board approved COVID-19 funds LAST YEAR with the knowledge that funding would be coming available again this year. If there were “strings attached” to those funds, why haven’t we experienced the negative effects that many residents have claimed will happen with the upcoming years’ funding? 

There have been no mask mandates from our health department, no jabs into children without parental knowledge, no nefarious tracking of COVID-positive people, no arrests or detainment, or any of the illogical fears that some members of this community have placed upon this money. Sounds a little more like “fear over faith,” but let’s dig in to what we actually know: Our Livingston County Health Department — by virtue of COVID-19 funding — helped facilitate in-person learning across the county for the 2020/21 school year and was the envy of the region. In-school transmissions were low, and compliance with protocols were high, and we all benefited from keeping our kids in school. That success was, in no small part, due to the support provided by the Livingston County Health Department.  

The COVID funds that were approved in 2020 served to employ a communicable disease clerk, 2 epidemiologists, a health promotion specialist, 2 program clerks, and 3 public health nurses, and those folks are still employed to this day, providing COVID mitigation support. These funds cover the time period from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021. With funding set to expire at the end of this month and Covid spreading through the schools (and no mask mandate), who will be left to provide COVID response? How will other services be affected due to the shifting of responsibilities from other health department initiatives toward COVID response? Or, will COVID response suffer?  Either way, services are undoubtedly going to be affected — and not in a good way.

Why are our commissioners suddenly so skittish about this money? For reference, Wes Nakagiri not only advanced the resolution through committee on July 6, 2020; he also voted for it in the full board meeting of Aug. 10, 2020. (Click here to read that resolution.) Matter of fact, no one voted against receiving those funds in 2020. NO ONE. 

Now, there are differences between the two resolutions. The one currently under consideration is for over twice as much funding, and part of its purpose is to “support (Livingston County Health Department) vaccination events.”

Allowable under the funding is “staffing, communications, and supplies to support COVID-19 vaccination events, including PPE, vaccine refrigerators, data loggers, vaccine coolers, and indirect costs for COVID-19 related work.” The funds can be used only for “activities and personnel costs directly related to the immunization and Vaccines for Children Cooperative Agreement.” You can click here to read the FY 2022 resolution and supporting letters.

So what’s the difference? (Maybe it’s the verbiage in the resolution? Violation monitoring does look scary; maybe I should let my mind get carried away with all the horrible things that could possibly mean.)  

My rights are being trampled! 

Oh, wait! I bet it means that if you are COVID-positive, keep your contagious ass at home and you won’t have to worry about being in violation, which merely means your germ-spreading will be noted. Let’s be realistic: no epidemiologist or program clerk is going to follow you around, flashing their employee badge at you to perform an arrest. Geez, they don’t get paid enough to deal with that, so get over yourselves.

Wraparound services? OMG, that’s frightening.

Or, it’s actually a great way to meet the needs of residents impacted by quarantine by providing financial assistance. Why is this necessary?  Because those who are COVID-positive need to be isolated to interrupt the chain of transmission, and this can be burdensome for people with low-paying jobs or jobs with little benefits available. Wraparound funds are used to support these families in quarantine. Just because you don’t need it doesn’t mean that the 13,347 ALICE households don’t. (ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and they represent 20% of Livingston County households.) These are the families that are likelier to contract COVID due to circumstances, and likelier to be financially burdened by quarantine. The goal of the health department is to contain the spread of disease, and this is how they do it: by meeting the needs of the community. What could possibly be bad about that?  

But I don’t want my kid gettin the jab behind my back!!

Relax, no child under the 18 has medical autonomy in the state of Michigan. That means your child cannot get the COVID vaccine without your consent. Period. 

Instead of people going off the rails, why aren’t they asking more questions? Why not attempt to understand the systems at work around you?  The Livingston County Health Department is not being militarized to drag you out of your bed and vaccinate you. But they will actually come to your house and vaccinate you if you need that service. Pretty cool, huh?

Brenda Plank, whose flag flies with the prevailing wind, first advanced the resolution to the full board only to turn it down in the final vote. A subsequent resolution, re-framed by our own Mitchell Zajac, also failed to pass muster with Plank. 

Why? Because of college football. 

From reporting by WHMI-93.5:

Brenda Plank voted against the original resolution and maintained her “no” vote here, but said it’s not without listening and paying attention to everything the public has said. She said that in thinking about her last vote, observations from Labor Day weekend made her feel better about voting against the funding. In observing football games across the country, she said she saw thousands and thousands of people in the stands with no masks. “So I think to myself, why are the people who are so opposed or wanting us to accept the funds, I should say, I would expect those people to be standing outside the stadium with their mask on saying ‘What are you all here? You’re spreading the germs and you’re, you know, gonna be super-spreaders’ and spending time, you know, doing that, but I don’t think they did.”

Let’s hope the rest of the commission has greater discernment than to use football games as a measurement of public health. Somehow though, I don’t think some will. At least not the chair, Wes Nakagiri — who makes culture wars his job, and the fallout are the citizens of this county. Nakagiri’s “calls to action” on our local school boards incited riotous attendance by angry lemmings carrying on about non-existent curricula and evil plots to seduce kids. I wonder how he sleeps at night after putting up such a big fuss about the Social Vulnerability Index and Livingston County being left to fend for itself regarding the COVID vaccine, to now turning away the biggest defense we have against the pandemic. Overreach is a better description of Nakagiri than it is the government.

At any rate, one of the biggest problems facing this county is misinformation, and the failure to ask the real questions that will glean the real answers.

Don’t believe me?

Check the minutes; they’re public record. 

Ask the commission why the money was good enough to take last year but not this year. Hurry, though: funding expires at the end of this month.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

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3 Comments

  1. You have provided a very accurate description of the mission and responsibilites of all local public health departments in Michigan The misinformation is not just isolated to Livingston County but throughout the country I hope the Board of Commissioners will understand the importance of maintaining current operations to control the pandemic and minimize our next surge and truly understand their responsibility to ALL citizens of the County.

  2. “Instead of people going off the rails, why aren’t they asking more questions? Why not attempt to understand the systems at work around you?” MY SENTIMENTS EXACTLY. Thank you for this column.

  3. The Resolution from 2020 is very different from the 2021 Resolution which specifically states that funding will be used for Contact Tracing, Case Investigation, Testing Coordination, Violation Monitoring and enforcement.

    Livingston County Commissioners refuse to disclose what Violation Monitoring is and just exactly who will be enforcing government overreach, Contact Tracing, Case Investigation, Testing Coordination and Violation Monitoring.

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