EDITORIAL: The coddling of COVID deniers is finally over

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Oct. 1—With broad vaccine mandates now imposed by the federal government and New York state, those of us who've done the right thing during the COVID-19 pandemic can breathe a little easier, knowing that the burden of the pandemic now falls more directly onto those who insist on perpetuating it.

Many have already noted that unlike the last great national crisis — the 2008 economic meltdown, wherein reckless subprime lenders and derivatives traders who caused the crisis later sought government bailouts — the pandemic has no moral hazard. The restaurants, airlines, tourist attractions and other industries disproportionately affected were innocent victims of a botched government response. The death toll measures only a fraction of the suffering, with livelihoods destroyed and families torn apart by a nihilist political movement that turned public health into a political football.

In 2021, lives are still being destroyed by COVID. It's still sad, but much of the damage we're seeing now is self-inflicted. The unvaccinated now make up nearly all of new deaths from COVID. A less drastic example is the fate of the small-but-overhyped fringe of health care workers across New York whose hard-headed insistence on violating their Hippocratic Oath led them to quit their jobs rather than take vaccines that have repeatedly, consistently been proven safe.

Gov. Kathy Hochul deserves credit for sticking to her guns. Allowing the plague-spreaders to continue their deadly recklessness was out of the question. We've already seen the catastrophe that resulted from the disease being spread unwittingly by nursing home staffers in early 2020. But that was before we knew COVID could spread without symptoms, and months before the vaccines that significantly slow its spread were available.

There are no such excuses now. For added emphasis, Hochul has noted that health care workers who quit after refusing the vaccine will not be eligible for state unemployment benefits. Why should they be? That money is for people suffering hardship through no fault of their own, not for those who bizarrely insist they have a right to spread death and misery to others. Good luck finding a new job with such toxic idiocy now on file.

Those making such absurd arguments about "rights" are now being made to bear the consequences, no matter how rich or famous. The NHL's New York Islanders were hoping that defenseman Bode Wilde, 21, could have an impact as a rookie this season. But Wilde, the team's sole unvaccinated player, claims that being inoculated as a condition for employment violates his "human rights." Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello had no time for such nonsense; Wilde was promptly booted from training camp and banished to a lower-tier Swedish league.

Nobody's forcing Wilde to make these dumb, career-threatening choices. The same goes for Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, a notoriously outlandish conspiracy theorist who has claimed the Federal Reserve had President John F. Kennedy assassinated, that the CIA murdered Bob Marley and — we aren't making this up — that scientists haven't proven the world is actually flat. Irving is also vice president of the NBA players' union, and according to a Rolling Stone report this week, has led the effort to thwart the league's proposed vaccine mandate. Irving has reportedly been sharing web links with fellow players claiming that the COVID vaccines contain microchips that will hook Black people to a supercomputer as part of "a plan of Satan." But with New York City requiring vaccination for large events, Irving now faces the choice of barring himself from all 41 of Brooklyn's home games.

As a man once at the vanguard of the civil rights movement, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows about rights being trampled upon. The NBA's all-time leading scorer unloaded this week on vaccine refusers such as Irving for being "unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research" and for "their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts." Kareem urged the league to ban such players outright.

If such solutions sound heavy-handed, blame those who brought us here. If they would simply do the right thing, they'd have nothing to worry about.

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