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COVID cases spike in Kent County: Sen. Mike Shirkey, Herd Immunity and the bewildered herd

October 13, 2020

Last week we wrote a post about the state GOP’s reaction to the Michigan Supreme Court ruling, which determined that Gov. Whitmer had over-stepped her authority during the COVID 19 crisis.

The legal challenge to Gov. Whitmer’s executive orders specific to the COVID 19 crisis was initiated by the far right think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has received lots of funding from several of the DeVos family foundations over the years, was responsible for making Michigan a Right to Work State, plus they have pushed for lots of other austerity measures and worked to undermine public sector unions for several decades.

On October 10, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, while addressing a crowd at a rally organized by the Pastors Alliance (a group of conservative/reactionary Christian), said this about the COVID 19 crisis:

“I just simply don’t believe we need to continue to have the oppressive mandates that we’ve had. There’s no business that I know of that will put their customers, their employees, their patrons, their families at risk.

Nobody should be misled here or of the opinion that you can keep it from spreading – it’s going to spread, so we just do the best we can. I’m also a big believer that there’s an element of herd immunity that needs to take place.”

When Sen. Shirkey uses the phrase herd immunity, he is essentially saying that a certain percentage of the population is expendable, and therefore allowing them to die from COVID 19 is acceptable.

For a more clinical explanation of “herd immunity”, see the definition presented by the Mayo Clinic:

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

Often, a percentage of the population must be capable of getting a disease in order for it to spread. This is called a threshold proportion. If the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is greater than this threshold, the spread of the disease will decline. This is known as the herd immunity threshold.

What percentage of a community needs to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity? It varies from disease to disease. The more contagious a disease is, the greater the proportion of the population that needs to be immune to the disease to stop its spread. For example, the measles is a highly contagious illness. It’s estimated that 94% of the population must be immune to interrupt the chain of transmission.

Ok, so lets look at the data to make some determinations about herd immunity in Michigan, specifically in Kent County. Looking at the data from Access Kent, we can see that currently there have been 136,465 COVID cases reported in the State of Michigan, with 6,898 deaths. In Kent County (as of Oct. 12), there have been 10,636 cases of COVID, with 169 deaths. There has definitely been an increased in the number of new COVID cases in Kent County, as you can see in the graphic above.

One argument for the spike in case for Kent County is that there is more testing. More testing is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be an argument against any concern for increased COVID 19 cases. Another argument is that more and more of the area has opened up, meaning more businesses have opened, education systems have opened and more and more people are out in public with too many people not taking masks and sanitizing seriously enough…….what we might call a herd mentality, where leaders minimize the COVID harm, so their followers minimize the risks. 

In Walter Lippman’s book, Public Opinion. he referred to the public as the bewildered herd that should be governed by a specialized class of people, since the public was not really capable of making policy decisions, like those centered around COVID 19. Sen. Shirkey embraces the same kind of thinking, as do most politicians, that the public is not really capable of making important decisions about policy.

Now, there is still so much we do not know about this virus, but we also shouldn’t accept the notion that certain lives are expendable, even when we apply the herd immunity principle. No ones lives should be expendable and especially the masses of people who are already vulnerable because of pre-existing health conditions, those who are hurting financially, and those that are also facing horrific systems of oppression like White Supremacy.

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