On Saturday night, Florida conservative talk radio show Marc Bernier, an outspoken opponent of masking and vaccines to combat Covid-19, died of Covid-19. Earlier in the day, Caleb Wallace, a prominent opponent of masks as a means to slow the spread of Covid-19, died of Covid-19.
Wallace was 30 years old. Bernier was 65.
The two deaths are simply the latest in a string of incidents in which crusaders against mask-wearing and vaccines have died – or been hospitalized – after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
Bernier, in fact, was the third conservative talk radio host who opined against masks and expressed skepticism about the vaccine to die from Covid-19 in recent weeks. Earlier this month Dick Farrel, a Florida-based talk radio host, passed away from the coronavirus. Just last week, Nashville-based host Phil Valentine, 65, died from the virus.
These deaths didn’t have to happen. The three Covid-19 vaccines have each proven incredibly effective at lessening – and almost eliminating – hospitalizations and deaths of people who get the virus. The vaccines have been readily available for months, with many states and localities offering incentives – financial and otherwise – for those willing to get the shots.
Masking, in study after study after study, has proven to be – along with social distancing – our single best tool to prevent the rapid spread of the virus, up to and including the highly contagious Delta variant.
These are public health FACTS. They have zero to do with what political party you belong to. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The coronavirus doesn’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or don’t follow politics at all. It isn’t interested in whether you believe in it – or subscribe to the best scientific guidelines about how to slow its spread. It will infect you if you believe in it or not. Or whether you voted for Donald Trump or Joe Biden or someone else.
A single death – like those of the men listed above – is a blow because it was almost certainly avoidable in each of these cases.
The story of Wallace, who leaves behind a wife and three children with a fourth on the way in a month or so – is particularly devastating. As the San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times wrote of Wallace:
“At first, Caleb refused to get tested for COVID-19, or go to the hospital.
“‘He was so hard-headed,’ Jessica [his wife] said. “’He didn’t want to see a doctor, because he didn’t want to be part of the statistics with COVID tests.’
“‘Caleb instead began taking tablets of ivermectin (an anti-parasitic medicine the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since urged people not to take for COVID-19), high doses of Vitamin C, zinc aspirin, and an inhaler. By July 30, however, Caleb was taken by a relative to the emergency room at Shannon Medical Center.’”
That is a crushing loss. As are the deaths of Bernier, Farrel and Valentine. That they spread their anti-science views on masking and vaccinations only to die from the very virus they scoffed at makes their lives (and deaths) a tragedy of significant proportions.
Valentine and Farrel changed their views on vaccines and masks as they grew sicker.
“Farrel, a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, said on his Facebook page last month that inoculations were ‘promoted by people who lied [to you] all along about masks, where the virus came from and the death toll.’”
“However, Farrel swiftly changed his perspective about the vaccine after he contracted the virus, his friends and family said.”
Valentine, in a statement released by his radio station, said this after he had gotten the virus:
“Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxer’ he regrets not being more vehemently ‘pro-vaccine,’ and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air, which we all hope will be soon.”
It was too late for them. Might their deathbed conversions impact how their former listeners feel about masking and getting the vaccine? We can always hope.