Here it is, the day before Christmas Eve, and the latest coronavirus variant, omicron, is poised to leave a lump of coal in our stockings. Yes, everyone is weary of the pandemic — which has been front and center for nearly two years — but nobody gets credit for time served. The threat of debilitating illness, and possibly death, is just as real today as it was in early 2020.

Given the everlasting consequences of getting it wrong, there isn’t much downside to taking COVID-19 seriously. It has killed more than 5.35 million people worldwide; here in the United States, the disease has killed more than 805,000 people. With omicron cases beginning to spike, COVID-19 isn’t done yet.

The disease doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, but it does tend to punish those who fail to protect themselves. If you don’t get the vaccine and you don’t steer clear of indoor gatherings of unvaccinated and unmasked people, then your odds of falling prey to COVID-19 go up substantially.

That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Sadly, it’s become fashionable in some conservative and religious circles to deny scientific reality and vigorously oppose public health efforts to contain the virus. Those behaviors, in turn, have led to a steady procession of COVID-19 denying conservative politicians and religious leaders dying of the disease.

Some folks delight in the irony, but the departed’s family and friends still grieve like anyone else. That grief is valid, even if their loved one’s death was preventable.

Consider Marcus Lamb, a nationally recognized televangelist and outspoken vaccine critic, who died earlier this month after being hospitalized with COVID-19. Or Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen, a fierce opponent of COVID-19 emergency orders, who also died earlier this month after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Their fiery denunciations of public health mandates counted for nothing on Judgement Day. Turns out the coronavirus doesn’t care what anyone thinks, feels, or says. It’s just like Ol’ Man River: “He don’t say nothing, but he must know something. He just keeps rolling, he keeps on rolling along … .”

And in local news …

After months of biting my tongue, I can no longer ignore Daily News columnist Chuck Pezeshki — a self-proclaimed “Reality-based Lefty” — as he foments distrust of strategies to contain the coronavirus. Reading his column, you’d think he was auditioning for FOX News.

This is difficult for me, because I’ve been on friendly terms with Chuck for years. Improbable as it may sound, we’ve done some whitewater kayaking together and have ridden hundreds of miles in the same car — cheerfully eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the back seat.

But his carelessly misinformed assertions must be challenged. Pezeshki is a mechanical engineering professor who, like me, has no credentials in public health. Though he claims to understand the science behind infectious disease research, his public pronouncements suggest otherwise.

In his latest column, Pezeshki wrote: “Masks don’t work, and they’re a torment to children in general, preventing learning as well as emotional connection. But that connection is something that our school boards have decided is really not a necessary component of a student’s learning.”

That’s something our school boards have decided? Really, Chuck? Have you no shame?

There’s a lot that we still don’t know about COVID-19, and the landscape is changing as new details emerge. School boards everywhere are doing the best they can with what they’ve got, struggling to protect students during an evolving public health emergency.

Rather than bring clarity to the issue, Pezeshki roils the waters by insisting protective measures imposed by local education leaders are wrong-headed and ineffective.

“In fact, there is plenty of work, demonstrated by football game after football game, that none of this makes any difference at all,” he wrote, apparently without irony. Who knew that football games were the gold standard of empirical research?

Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and here’s mine. Heed the experts, not reality-bereft loonies. Get vaccinated. And wear a mask when you’re inside public spaces because, yes, we are still in a deadly pandemic.

If nothing else, masks are a good reminder that it ain’t over yet.

Brock has been a Daily News columnist for 20 years. He has lived on the Palouse even longer.

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