Navigating the pandemic's sea of gray areas

Uncertainty, nuance and evolving understanding don't fit particularly well in the headline-driven world.

Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 84 of the 32nd Legislature, we’ve passed the first guess in the #GavelClassic and WrestleMania 37 was pretty dang good.

The pandemic: “She got COVID-19, got vaccinated - and then got COVID again” is the headline plastered across the top of this morning’s edition of the Anchorage Daily News, sits atop the newspaper’s most-read section and elicited what I’m sure were a fair amount of groans this morning. As we move into the latest stage of the pandemic where we’re seeing rising case rates, new variants and plateauing vaccination rates thanks to widespread vaccine skepticism and fearmongering, this kind of headline—in an age where headlines are what mostly gets read—leaves a lot to be desired. Read just the headline, and you might see the precise kind of justification anti-vaxxers have been searching for. Read the story and you’ll see the nuance, the explanation of why the headline isn’t quite as alarming as you might think.

This is the kind of problem we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, with a wave of articles attempting to wade through a tricky situation where medical experts’ understanding of the virus has evolved throughout the months and so, too, has the guidance. Measures like the vaccine, social distancing and masking end up, not necessarily through any one article’s fault, getting painted with a broad brush, appealing to the quick-fixes we’ve come to expect. And it doesn’t help that the country’s understanding and handling of the pandemic was both muddled and politicized from the get-go. Expectations were never really set because, frankly, no one really knew what to expect.

The reality is that the pandemic is and always has been about minimizing—not eliminating, at least at this point—the risk involved with the virus. Masks and social distancing are the measures that get the most bang for the buck short of herd immunity. The vaccine, too, has never been promised as a panacea to the pandemic but a way to reach herd immunity without a bunch more people dying along the way. Yes, you can still get the virus when vaccinated but the point is that you’re far, far less likely to become critically ill or need hospitalization.

And these are all points that are made in the body of the ADN’s story, as many have pointed out.

“It would be great if it completely protected you,” said Kim Akers, the subject of the story told the ADN, but that’s not what vaccine is supposed to do. “It’s to keep you out of the hospital and prevent death and hopefully lessen your symptoms.”

But the thing is, we assume that everyone has the same background knowledge and media literacy—that everyone does as Twitter asks and reads the article before retweeting it—but we have seen that not to be the case, even when it comes to nerd-pants NPR followers (Source: NPR Pulled a Brilliant April Fools' Prank On People Who Don't Read).

Anchorage elections update

The city added about 2,000 ballots on Saturday. Bronson still holds onto the lead in the mayoral race, which he gained on Friday, while progressive school board candidates all still hold onto slim to sizable leads over their conservative opponents. Once again, the tightest race is the four-way race for School Board Seat B where Kelly Lessens’ lead on Judy Eledge is down to less than one percentage point. Bronson and Dunbar will face off on the May 11 run-off at this point.

On the agenda

Find the full agenda here, but here’s what’s on my radar.

9 a.m. Senate Finance — HB 76, extending the covid-19 disaster emergency. After pretty much sidelining the bill for the last week, the Senate is set to hear legislation extending the state’s covid-19 disaster declaration. Just what direction the Senate, which has been more skeptical about the need for making the full disaster declaration powers available to the governor than the House, plans to take the legislation should be clear today. The Legislature is running up to the deadline for SNAP funding.

10:30 a.m. House Floor — SB 70 by Sen. Wilson making opioid overdose reversal drugs permanently available.

1 p.m. House Judiciary — Confirmation hearings for the police standards council; HB116 by Rep. Spohnholz on juvenile justice and treatment; HB 66 by Rep. Tuck to create permanent absentee by-mail voting, ballot curing, keeps early voting locations the same from election to election, clarifying that ballot initiative groups have their own poll watchers.

1:30 p.m. House Finance — The operating budget with a presentation on the American Rescue Plan Act funding

1:30 p.m. Senate Judiciary — SB 15 by Sen. Costello, punishing everyone except legislators for violations of the open meetings act; SB 82 by Gov. Dunleavy, creating a system for the public to call for investigations into the election; SB 9 by Micciche, updating Alaska’s alcohol laws.

Reading list

My one last wrestling-related thing

The first night of Wrestlemania (yes, it’s two nights now, but that’s way better than one seven-hour day) was main evented by Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair, the first time two Black women main evented a night of the show, in a dream match long in the making. It was just as good and emotional as everyone would expect for sports entertainment with Belair winning the belt to close the show. Even though Sasha Banks lost, a fan caught her reaction after the loss to tell you all you need to know about the moment.