The money the health department was seeking was intended to pay for the hiring of six much-needed new health workers and was requested in direct response to a survey of the health needs of the county’s two major hospitals, which was given to its Black, Hispanic and Amish residents. not enough information about preventable health problems such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The survey found that as a result of this lack of assistance, hospitals in the province were unnecessarily overcrowded with patients, so new staff members were sought to reach out to local communities to provide more education.
As explained by Roger Schneider, reports for the Goshen News, in addition to paying for these new hires, the grant funding would also include “mental health” [treatment] with a need for a mobile response unit, co-morbidities and treatment of chronic diseases” within these communities. The grant application also had strong support from the local mayors in the province. All in all, it seemed like a smart move to improve the health of the county’s residents and relieve the congested local hospitals.
But the health of their community was the last thing on several residents’ minds during the Sept. 11 city council meeting. Instead, these residents’ focus was on conspiracy theories, expressed in paranoid diatribes about the role of the federal government. in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. The catalyst for this bizarre feat was apparently a single line in the federal grant application that stipulated that local health officials agree to work with the CDC to monitor the number of local COVID-19 infections and support their efforts to contact them. quarantine with spores and infected inhabitants.
This standard contractual clause apparently smacked of pure “government tyranny” and reached out too much to many of these people, who had clearly absorbed all of their knowledge about COVID-19 from Fox News and incendiary right-wing social media posts.
One resident, Alison Gingerich, was typical and weighed in on her heartfelt “concerns:”
“I have to believe that this grant has a lot to do with COVID,” she said. “We are tired of being educated about COVID. We’ve had two years of education about COVID. Two years of contract tracing with COVID. More education stands for threat, coercion, bullying and virtue signaling. And we’re done with it. If we have $3 million to throw around, let’s throw it around somewhere else. We are tired of masking our children.
“We are tired of being forced to get vaccines. And frankly, yesterday or the day before President Biden declared civil war on the country. And that’s why we’re here. We are very concerned. We are concerned that our freedoms are being taken away and by perpetuating this crisis, which is not a crisis, you can look at the numbers, we are not tripping over corpses on the street. So we are tired and tired of the fear that it will continue.”
As noted above, the grant itself had nothing to do with COVID-19 and nothing to do with vaccines, despite Gingerich’s rambunctious speech. It was intended to bolster the dwindling resources of the local health department to improve the overall health of the community. According to Dr. Daniel Nafziger, a former county health official, interviewed for the Goshen News article, the province’s hospitals are on the brink of being overrun by the influx of COVID-19 patients. He compared the county’s situation to that of Idaho (which recently enacted a health rationing policy), and said the county’s health system is “nearly breaking”. But as this council meeting showed, it’s nearly impossible to talk to them once this right-wing, paranoid framing of all things COVID-related takes hold in people’s minds.
This is especially true when elected community leaders choose to sit in the stands instead of doing the harder work of explaining issues to an unwitting, uninformed audience. To explain why he would vote against the grant request, Councilor Adam Bujalski quoted a single sentence in the grant application and stated bluntly, “That one sentence is my no…I refuse to say that whatever the federal government tells me I must do, I must do. I’ll never say that.” In all, more than 20 people spoke out against receiving this free money from the federal government, many wearing “Vote NO” stickers and sporty T-shirts with American flags and words like “JESUS” on them.
In the end, the vote was not close and there was no disagreement: The county voted unanimously to reject its own health department’s grant request.
Of course, since some of this grant money would have improved the health and lives of people of color, there was probably an element of racism at the root of this strange disregard for free federal funds. Photos of the meeting show an almost all-white audience, and the council itself is almost entirely made up of white men. The county is strongly Republican, and many of the voters who benefited directly from the grant ostensibly belonged to Democratic demographics. If the express purpose of this grant had been anything other than to support the health of the county’s minority populations, the outcome might have been different.
But the county’s willingness to waive money their federal taxes had paid in the face of these raging, misguided voters spewing conspiracy nonsense speaks volumes about how dysfunctional the response to this pandemic has become, especially in staunch “red” areas of the country like this. According to the AP article, Elkhart County, just east of South Bend, “had seen severe COVID-19 outbreaks earlier in the year and was under a health department-issued mask mandate for months until county commissioners refused to renew it under a mandate in May.” new Republican-backed state law requiring elected officials to pass such requirements.”
That means these residents’ so-called concerns about federal reach are completely undeserved. The CDC in Elkhart County has no power to “enforce” the kind of mandates these people are raving about, nor do they have the ability to “force” the vaccines on anyone or quarantine anyone. The provision requiring local health departments to work with the federal government simply reiterates the CDC’s position since the start of the pandemic. Coordination of COVID-19 infection data with the federal government provides the CDC with the means to determine where the virus is developing and where it is declining so that federal resources can be appropriately allocated.
The government will fight the pandemic to save as many lives as possible. At the risk of saying the obvious, all of that effort is aimed at keeping people like Gingerich and her ilk alive and out of the province’s few remaining ICUs. They are not part of some government conspiracy to take away one’s ‘liberties’. Former Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman, who was interviewed for the Associated Press article, continued to shake his head in dismay after the council’s vote to reject the grant:
“I’ve never seen anything like it, never. And I never thought I would ever do that. It’s crazy,” Kauffman said. ‘What the hell are these people reading? … They want to believe these conspiracy theories.”
The brainwashing and manipulation of entire regions of this country by Fox News and right-wing media has now reached its apotheosis. Local governments are now willing to cut their noses to hate their faces, rather than support national efforts to contain the spread of the virus. The irony is that many of those in attendance at that Elkhart County Council meeting will be the same ones who end up in the hospital loudly demanding their “liberties” until the breathing tubes are shoved down their throats.