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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A worthy debate

by John Brummett | July 13, 2021 at 4:20 a.m.

Twitter is in part a toxic wasteland and in part a forum of valuable discussion.

It might help if more people could tell the difference.

In the valuable category, Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, posted a long thread of tweets last week giving his reasoning for wearing a mask though vaccinated and for believing that all vaccinated persons should do the same.

To synopsize Patterson's position: Vaccinated persons should still wear a mask in certain indoor or snug settings when engaged with the general public because, though asymptomatic and at low statistical risk of problems themselves, they might still harbor a virus that rages otherwise. They potentially could pass on the virus among the state's sadly unvaccinated majority--or to the small statistical minority of vaccinated people with weakened immune systems who could face life-threatening problems. Thus, they would worsen an already untenable public health situation that conceivably will become more serious in the coming months than what we endured last year.

I found the thread worthy of reposting, after which Davy Carter, the former Republican speaker of the House and now a banker and independent thinker who'd make a fine independent candidate for governor, took Patterson to task.

Carter said the UAMS official was contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says masks need not be worn by vaccinated persons.

He also said Patterson's advocacy sent a counterproductive signal to the state's unvaccinated resisters that the vaccination was not all that effective anyway because these resisters would still need to wear a mask after getting the shot or shots.

Carter said we needed to focus singularly on a clear and simple priority, which is persuading more people to get vaccinated.

Don't confuse people beyond that, he was saying.

"Hit singles," he tweeted.

He was saying the vaccination cause in Arkansas needs baserunners before it can start scoring runs in vital bunches.

Carter then got beaten up--which is the rhythm of Twitter--by people saying we need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

They said we ought to read not just CDC data but CDC footnotes, one of which says the no-mask policy for the vaccinated might not apply in areas of a surge, such as what one might call the current situation in Arkansas.

Three days later, ABC's George Stephanopoulos brought Gov. Asa Hutchinson onto his "This Week" news program and asked him about Patterson's advocacy. Hutchinson saw it as Carter had seen it, saying it was "absolutely the wrong" message during a vaccination push to assert that vaccinated people ought to be just as wary post-vaccination.

Thus we confront one of those situations made complicated by the inconvenience of everyone being right.

Patterson is correct--medically, statistically, morally and compassionately--that, with so many people unvaccinated in Arkansas and new infections rising last week to the highest level per capita among states, the fully vaccinated among us ought to choose to go above and beyond.

He was right to seek to use his medical authority to relate that he would keep wearing a mask and hoped others also would.

But Carter and Hutchinson are right about the political practicality. We need to spend our persuasive energies trying to bring people into understanding that the vaccination is safe and, while not foolproof, darned close to it. We dilute our own message if we jointly stress that you must get the shot because the shot works, but that we'll need you to keep wearing a mask afterward.

To put it plainly, some people won't handle that truth.

Our Legislature has outlawed a mask mandate, so we're only talking about personal choice anyway.

Patterson's personal choice is best in the current situation, and we should choose to follow it. But Carter's and Hutchinson's political pragmatism is wisest, and we ought to hammer vaccines now, and not vaccines now and masks after.

It's a beautiful old cliché that I overuse, the one about not making the perfect the enemy of the good, but it so thoroughly applies.

We are so far from perfect now that we ought to try first to get to mere good, especially since a 70 percent vaccination rate would make the issue moot or nearly so.

We need people to hit singles. And those who volunteer to get out in the field and play defense with masks on--bless them.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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