Sound and fury at the Assembly

Watching the raucous, serial three-ring circuses passing for Assembly hearings of late as the powers-that-be hear the public’s take on a proposed mask ordinance has been, to be kind, a hoot.

Or it was, until history-challenged ordinance opponents, in three-minute bursts of often inflammatory bilge, tried to sell the idea they were as put-upon, as oppressed, as the 6 million or so Jews slaughtered in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

In a bit of gut-punch, ugly theater aimed at making their point that mask mandates are bad, bad, bad, several ordinance opponents marched into the Assembly chambers wearing yellow star badges. Considering the historical context, it was mind-numbing.

Nazis in 1941 decreed Jews older than 6 must wear the six-point, yellow Star of David while in public to identify, isolate and humiliate them. Nazis labeled them, and others they targeted, Lebensunwertes Leben, or “life unworthy of life.”

Then, the Nazis rounded up millions of those Jews, and millions of others, jammed them into boxcars like cattle, and shipped them to concentration camps. Some — terrified women, children, elderly and infirm prisoners — were herded into gas chambers and murdered. Some became Nazi slaves.

Mayor Dave Bronson, who refuses to buy into mask or vaccine mandates, initially defended those wearing the yellow Star of David to make their anti-mask points — and made splashy headlines across the nation.

It was a grievous insult wrapped in an embarrassment, and it underscores the hearings’ tenor and tone.

With Anchorage still stinging from economy-crushing shutdowns and mandates from earlier municipal emergency COVID orders, feelings remain raw and the hearings, often unruly, have been punctuated by arrests, insults and shouts. A study in caustic politics, the hearings were as porch lights to moths, attracting the “Give me liberty or give me death” crowd, joined by the “we will not comply” and “slippery slope” bunch.

The proposal in question, AO-2021-91, is the brainchild of Assembly members Meg Zaletel and Pete Petersen. In part, it asserts: “All individuals must wear masks or face coverings over their noses and mouths when they are … indoors in public settings or communal spaces outside the home; or outdoors at large crowded public events.”

Even discounting the nuttiness surfacing at some of the hearings, it is time to do something. COVID numbers are compelling, even though they appear to be dropping slightly as more people are vaccinated. Across the nation, there have been 44 million cases reported and more than 707,000 deaths.

More than 118,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Alaska, giving the state in recent weeks the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the nation. Nearly 50,000 of those cases have been reported in Anchorage, with 275 of the state’s more than 560 deaths also in Anchorage.

Count me among those who get very itchy about government mandates. Any right surrendered to public officials is difficult, if not impossible, to regain, and, let’s face it, our government is not run by geniuses. If we do not want these characters leaping in to “save” us, we must step up and do our part.

While Alaskans spend a lot of time wrangling, pontificating and cogitating about individual rights, when it comes to talking about the attendant responsibilities — crickets. Those responsibilities require we take care of ourselves and others in these trying times.

Our weapons are limited, but two things seem to slow the spread of COVID-19: masks and vaccinations. Instead of waiting for government, why not simply do what so many doctors and scientists suggest: mask up and get vaccinated.

While the anti-mask, anti-vax crowd offers no better ideas, they will tell you masks do not work; that they make people sick; that they cause more problems than they fix. But large recent studies conclude masks, indeed, can be an important and effective part of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

And vaccines? Oh, the detractors say, the juice contains microchips allowing government to control us, or find us, or give us cooties.

These same folks, mind you, continue eating things such as hot dogs, which include “mechanically separated” chicken and pork, meat slurry and, heaven help us, pink slime. Bon appétit.

Sure, the vaccinated still can contract COVID-19, but they are less likely to contract the virus’ delta variant. If they suffer a “breakthrough” infection, odds are they likely will not end up in the hospital. If they do, they have a smaller chance of dying. Anything that increases our odds is a good thing.

We can mask up and get the shots because they are the right, effective and the responsible things to do — or we can pin on yellow stars and belligerently rant at public hearings.

Ask yourself: Which is likely to do the most good?

Paul Jenkins is a longtime Alaska journalist. He wears masks and has been vaccinated, including the COVID-19 booster shot.

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