When COVID-19 kills someone society actually tries to save, simply change the cause of death

Unfortunately, a 41-year-old man, husband, and father, has passed away from complications of COVID-19. He was also a Republican recently elected to Congress, who spoke out against pandemic-responsive policies in Louisiana. It should go without saying that, regardless of their political persuasion or personal opinions about COVID-19, nobody deserves to die of this disease. Luke Letlow is survived by a wife and two children, who will now usher in the new year plagued by grief.

This should never have happened, and this was preventable, as were most of the over 336,000 COVID-19 fatalities in the US.

Instead of his death serving as a tragic wake-up call to his supporters, they are flooding comments sections of news articles saying that the heart attack he suffered–while intubated as a middle-aged man with no relevant preexisting conditions–was unrelated. There are also conspiracy posts floating around that he was murdered.

I suppose to me, a hyperbolic hardass who has recently been accused of turning “I fucking love science” into a personality–as though that’s an insult!–yes, he was murdered. He has been murdered by a toxic and apparently uniquely American narrative that COVID-19 is not so bad, if it exists at all. Masks are useless at best and harmful at worst. The vaccines were rushed and unsafe. These lockdowns are killing the economy in an effort to save people from a disease that “only” kills the elderly and infirm.

Since Americans frequently do not exhibit compassion for its most vulnerable populations, especially when it inconveniences them, let’s make it clear: Mr. Letlow was 41, white, healthy, and privileged. Letlow was not “supposed” to die.

I mean this not only because he appeared to lack several characteristics associated with severe disease, but also because he embodied the most coveted demographics in American society. Americans are trained from birth to covet and protect privileged white men. We carve their faces into stone and teach children that they built our society. This pandemic has disproportionately killed Black and indigenous people of color and we don’t care. In fact, when it kills Black doctors, hospital systems claim that they were too intimidating to receive adequate treatment*.

Mr. Letlow did receive adequate treatment. He was young and privileged and white. And he still died. This is why COVID-19 is serious. While we can identify epidemiological trends in its mortality, there are still lots of outliers, and any of us could be one of them. To attend large social gatherings without a mask, as Mr. Letlow appeared to do some weeks before his COVID-19 diagnosis, is to play Russian roulette with what goes in your lungs, particularly if steps aren’t taken to lighten viral load exposure.

The death of Luke Letlow needs to serve as a wake-up call to his constituents, and for Republican voters all around the country. This virus frankly does not give a shit whether you believe in it or not. That’s the terrific thing about science: it exists with or without our consent. As proven to us time and time again, this virus will triumph if we allow it to, by meeting with others without masks on before we are sufficiently inoculated against it. Based just anecdotally on what I’ve seen people saying about masks, the vaccine and, now, Mr. Letlow’s untimely passing–not to mention the numerous data showing that Republicans generally don’t take COVID-19 as seriously–this virus is going to keep on raging, facilitated by people who simply don’t care to prevent it.

*I have been meaning to post about the case of Dr. Susan Moore for several days. Doing so is difficult because of the “this could be me” factor. As an educated woman of color who has been described as “intimidating” on several occasions, I cannot help but wonder if this could be me someday.

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