The St. Louis Urban League isn’t usually known for anti-gambling activism. But their “All In” campaign launched this week is trying to convince Black St. Louisans not to play what West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice called “the death lottery,” which is precisely what people who refuse to get COVID-19 vaccines are doing.
The COVID Delta variant, the highly transmissible mutation first discovered in India, has been tearing through unvaccinated, white, rural Missouri for weeks. Highly infectious and up to eight times as deadly as the first OG strain of COVID, the Delta variant has caused Missouri to lead the nation in new cases, new hospitalizations and new death per capita for more than a month.
The entire southwest quadrant of the state is on fire, as counties where both Trump support and COVID denial run high are lighting up with more new cases than at any time since January.
Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo., has run out of ventilators. The Cox Hospital Group based in Springfield is almost out of ICU beds, as the same people who insist that Trump won the election and that COVID has been nothing but liberal hysteria from the beginning now refuse to get vaccinated. They’re making the choice to endanger themselves, their families and medical workers so they can own the libs and stay true to a tribal, populist ideology that has contempt for the “elitists” in science.
In the city, the cause is different, but the effect is the same.
Among African-Americans, suspicion of systemic racism in American medical care, from the Tuskegee Experiment to high mortality rates among Black women in maternity wards, has led many to refuse the vaccine. Conspiracy theories on social media, ranging from false claims that the vaccine contains a microchip to bogus homeopathic and nutritional advice (Vitamin D! Zinc! More fiber!), have added to the problem.
Between the white rural and Black urban refusals to get the vaccines, Missouri will reach herd stupidity long before herd immunity; and the Urban League, along with its partners at the National Action League and the CDC, knows it.
They know that facts matter. Facts like
- African-Americans are three times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID than whites
- African-Americans die from COVID at twice the rate of whites
- African-Americans made up 80 percent of St. Louis COVID cases in May and June
The All In project, which is being launched in Black communities nationwide, aims to use social media and Black churches to drive home the message that the pandemic is still very real and spreading, that vaccines are readily available and that they work.
Of all hospitalizations for COVID in Missouri in the last two months, 99.97 percent were among the unvaxed.
In North City, neighborhoods such as Carr Square, Jeff-Vander-Lou, the Ville, Mark Twain, Downtown West, Wells-Goodfellow, Walnut Park East, Penrose and Kingsway East, vaccination rates are below 30 percent, in some cases below 20 percent. In Black North County areas such as Bellefontaine Neighbors, Spanish Lake and Moline Acres, the rates are similar.
You have to wonder how effective a social media and church-driven campaign will be, given that many of the so-called “vaccine hesitant” have been marinating in online conspiracy theories for more than a year.
Mobile vaccination clinics going block by block and door to door would be more effective, the same way they are in politics. Having a political campaign pepper you with online appeals is never as effective as a campaign worker knocking in the door and actually talking to people.
Then, there’s the lack of urgency and the mixed messaging coming from the top of the governance food chain. Both Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Dr. Sam Page have been consistent, for months, in their appeals and messaging about getting a vaccine and the dangers of COVID. Elsewhere, though, not so much.
Take the move last week by both the city and county health departments to recommend that people start wearing masks again, whenever they’re indoors in a public place. It was an abrupt reversal of earlier guidance that had been buoyed by both the county and city’s (relatively) robust vax rates. But the surge in the highly infectious Delta variant changed their minds.
The problem is, most businesses are ignoring it. Signs requiring masks before entering businesses have all but disappeared in the city and county, leaving customers confused, or often unaware, of the changed health guidance.
The response from state officials, of course, remains a joke.
Gov. Mike Parson has darkly warned that vaccines might make you ill. The GOP supermajority state legislature passed one COVID law this session, making businesses and religious groups bulletproof against lawsuits for spreading COVID and ignoring health protocols. And the state senator from the six southwestern Missouri counties hardest hit by the new surge responds to COVID with “Eek! Negroes!” by demanding the governor outlaw teaching about racism in the public schools.
All the luck in the world to hospitals, health care heroes, the CDC, Mayor Jones, County Executive Page, the Urban League, the city and county health departments, and sane people who got the vaccines for their work in trying to convince their fellow residents that COVID is a real threat and that vaccines are the real solution.
While they make their best efforts, though, it’s good to remember the words of the late Jim White of KMOX.
You can’t fix stupid.