Let me start by saying that I am thrilled the Livingston County Board of Commissioners has finally realized COVID-19 is real.
For months now, while so many people have been knocking themselves silly sounding the alarm about COVID (you can read everything the LivPo posted on the virus by clicking here), our county leadership hasn’t seemed quite as convinced as to the seriousness of the virus.
Think about it: Now-Chair of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners Wes Nakagiri attempted in October to make mask use optional in county buildings; the attempt failed after a huge outcry from the community and county workers.
Sheriff Mike Murphy got a lot of press after he joined several other sheriffs in the state to not enforce Michigan’s mask mandate.
Local Republicans carried on as if the virus wasn’t much of a threat even after some of them — including Sheriff Murphy and State Rep. Ann Bollin — contracted COVID-19. The Republicans partied hearty during election season for “freedom” at events patterned after those of the national Republicans, featuring large, maskless groups ignoring social distancing and carrying on as if COVID-19 wasn’t real. Check out these photos from the Oct. 3, 2020, Trump rally in Howell:
It feels an awful lot like the local GOP may be taking its marching orders from somewhere other than its Livingston County constituents.
But now these constituents — apparently tuned in to the seriousness of COVID-19 — are finding vaccines difficult to come by. It’s challenging, for sure, and frustrating as hell.
At the Feb. 8, 2021, meeting of the county board, Dianne McCormick, director of the Livingston County Health Department, reported on vaccination efforts. She was frustrated because the fact that Michigan was using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index in distributing vaccines to counties meant Livingston was receiving less than it could easily use.
It’s a tough situation. I get it. I’ve not left my house in months, except for the occasional drive alone or with my husband. I take COVID-19 seriously. I also want a vaccination. But I don’t want a vaccination at the expense of someone who is at greater risk. I am willing to wait my turn, and I am lucky because like many other people in Livingston County, it’s something I can afford to do.
You see, while Livingston County has warmly embraced its position as Michigan’s fastest-growing, best-educated and wealthiest community, it’s finding that the flip side of the coin — social vulnerability — is working against it as residents join the hunt for vaccines.
Commissioner Jay Drick had an idea at the Feb. 8, 2021, board meeting. He asked McCormick whether there was any money in the health department’s budget to purchase Vitamin D-3. (Drick said he read somewhere that England had made it mandatory for citizens to take Vitamin D-3 to combat COVID-19, but I’ve not been able to corroborate that. If anyone has any information on that from a reliable news source, pass it along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Drick then offered to write McCormick a check for $2,000 to purchase Vitamin D-3 for county residents.
McCormick looked stunned.
“I am not sure how to respond,” she said.
“Is it in your budget,” Drick asked again.
McCormick answered by saying the health department’s priority is vaccination.
And that’s just how it should be: The priority should always be vaccination.
That we can’t get everyone vaccinated in a couple mass clinics is frustrating as hell, but there’s not enough vaccine to go around.
With supply lagging behind demand, how then to distribute the vaccines the state receives?
Along with over half the states in the nation, Michigan is using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index to distribute vaccines.
You may think the SVI is something created just for the COVID-19 pandemic. But the SVI as a concept has been around since the 1970s; the one currently being used was created in 2011 to help coordinate aid during major natural catastrophes like hurricanes or floods. (If you know anyone in risk management, ask them about the SVI.) Since Livingston County hasn’t suffered any major natural catastrophes, it really didn’t have to concern itself with how aid gets distributed. We’ve been blessed in that regard, and for that I am thankful. Until COVID-19, major natural catastrophes happened in one state or region.
But COVID changed all that. We are in uncharted territory. We don’t like rationing, and now we have to deal with it in the form of life-saving vaccinations.
So how are we handling it?
Our board of commissioners is poised to pass a resolution demanding Gov. Whitmer use a metric other than the SVI — one based on age, no matter the vulnerability — so that our older residents receive priority because they’re older, not because they are more likely to suffer from COVID-19.
You can read Commissioner Mitchell Zajac’s guest column on the resolution here. I sympathized deeply with his frustration — it really is difficult to be patient during this terrible time — but Zajac lost me when he made the jaw-dropping assertion that Livingston County is being punished with less vaccine because it is Republican and our governor is not.
Yep. In the middle of this pandemic, Zajac pulled a pissy partisan punch, one that is as unhelpful to Livingston County residents as it is unsupported by evidence.
Those of us wanting vaccines will be able to get them — eventually. We need to be patient.
Consider this behemoth vaccination effort: the mobilization encompasses research, manufacturing, shipping, organizing and, finally, arm jabs. Then consider that Livingston County is but a speck in this national mobilization effort. To consider there’s a sinister plot working against us because we are Republican is like saying the sun shines only on communities that mandate the use of sunscreen.
What I fear is that the county board may be becoming something I’ve feared: a government-hating entity devoted to advancing radical Republican ideology, pumped to play political gamesmanship rather than tending to the business of the taxpayers.
There’s a reason the SVI is being used by more than half the states in the U.S. to deliver vaccines until there’s enough for us all. It endeavors to inject fairness into distribution. It never crossed my mind to see whether the states using the index are run by Democrats or Republicans.
Like I never, ever tire of saying, Jack LaBelle wouldn’t have stood for this. For those of you who didn’t have the honor of knowing LaBelle, he remains the longest-serving county commissioner in Michigan history. A staunch Republican, he was the long-time chair of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, as well as the most talented politician I’ve ever known. LaBelle worked for one person only: the Livingston County taxpayer.
If I were the Livingston Democrats, I’d be working feverishly on the 2022 election, pouring all available resources into races for each county board seat. Flipping just a couple seats — a seemingly herculean but certainly not impossible task in this red, red county — will help tilt the board back to center.
You can read about how each state is allocating its vaccines by clicking here.
You can read about the CDC recommendations for vaccine distribution by clicking here.
Interested in the ethics of distributing vaccines? Click here.