EDIT: I now feel it’s fine to name who “George” is – Gregg Gonsalves, and the “abstinence rooster” thread was his vitriolic response on Twitter for being called out for dining indoors, unmasked, with a couple of his fellow infectious disease “experts.” Just for posterity, I also added screencaps of Gregg’s response at the bottom of this post.
Yes, I’m a COVID Abstinence Rooster. You read that right. What, you’ve never heard of that? Well, sit right down and I’ll tell you a little story.
I believe that one of the most shocking things to come about during this horrific pandemic is the revelation of just how many charlatans, hypocrites, incompetents, and downright evil people are in the infectious disease community writ large. I want to make clear right now that this does NOT apply to everyone in that community – far from it: many of us owe our lives to the selfless, incredibly talented, dedicated, people who have dedicated their lives to controlling and preventing infectious diseases (as opposed to the CDC, which nowadays does the opposite). No, I’m specifically talking about the overarching group we know as COVID minimizers, and in this case a subset of people who have been sources of reliable and reasonable information to a certain point, and then who suddenly (or seemingly so) shoot off the rails into the minimizer camp.
Recently one of these folks, whom we’ll call “George,” (note: I’ll call him George here, but I’m not trying that hard to conceal his identity, because none of them deserve anonymity) earned the COVID Minimizer Badge™️. George, an infectious disease expert, has for quite some time been a voice of reason and compassion on Twitter on COVID-related topics. He has a substantial following, which is important because a lot of people listen to what he has to say: he’s an influencer, a “blue check.”
Then one day one of George’s professional buds posted a photo of himself, George, and a third amigo dining indoors in a restaurant.
Now, if you’re reading this, you’re probably among the 0.1% of us who are still taking the pandemic seriously and trying our best to avoid infection, either the first time or a subsequent time. As such, you also know that one of the highest risk activities you can engage in, particularly when transmission levels are high as they are now, is dining indoors. Anyone who’s been paying any attention the last two-plus years knows this, aside from the Biden administration, White House COVID Response Team, CDC, moronic medical groups partying like it’s 1999.
And COVID minimizers. To be honest, the first thought I had was the recollection of a photo of Ashish Jha, unmasked, yucking it up with a colleague a while back before he became White House COVID Death Coordinator. He got called out for it on Twitter and he blocked a bunch of those folks (I was one of them – one of my first Minimizer Badges!).
George was called out – surprise, surprise – for this high-risk activity by folks on Twitter.
Now, here’s where we get a view of the true measure of a person. You do something you know you shouldn’t do – even something you’ve told other people they shouldn’t do (dining indoors is a high-risk activity for a reason when over 90% of U.S. counties are still at substantial or high levels of transmission as we head into the Fall) – and you’re called out on it. What’s your reaction?
Option 1: Own up to it and use it as a teaching moment to show some humility, as we’re all human and no one is infallible. Also take into account that you’re not just a regular person, but an expert in the field of transmissible diseases, with a substantial following, people who are listening to what you say, people who are in a way relying on you to help keep them alive. “Okay, folks,” George could say, “you’re right: that was a good example of what not to do! I got caught up in the moment, meeting a couple of professional colleagues [sidebar: so that’s THREE “experts” who tossed protocols and reason to the wind], and we’re not going to beat SARS2 if we – including myself – do high risk things like that. No more – let’s all do better, and here are some lessons we can all take away from this experience…”
Option 2: You can double down by giving the folks calling you out the finger while simultaneously hopping on your ego-fueled high horse.
Guess which option George chose? Yeah, that one. Number 2, just like when you go to the bathroom.
He began a thread on how “abstinence-only” approaches don’t work for sex, drugs, or living our lives, punctuating it with a picture of dear Nancy Reagan at the podium doing her “Just say no to drugs” schtick. He followed that up with a “the evidence is clear” post on the “just say no” approach to sex (well, not technically “no to sex,” but abstinence to avoid pregnancy…I guess). Now, I’m not an infectious disease expert (although my father is), but I don’t recall reading anything about either drugs or sex (or pregnancy) being transmissible, let alone as transmissible as measles. But maybe I missed something somewhere.
Then he moves on to the need for structural change and behavioral modification, and that our goal should be “minimizing risk, not trying to avoid it altogether.”
Listen, my life the last two-plus years – and I wager yours, too – has been all about BEHAVIORAL MODIFICATION by minimizing risk. Any time I’m within 50 feet of other people or in any setting indoors (even if people aren’t in the same room as I am, but their aerosols are), I’m constantly evaluating my environment to minimize risk. It’s a constant layer of stress when we’re around others, particularly when everyone is unmasked, like where I live. You know what I’m talking about, how that feels. It’s with you at work, at the store (we usually get things delivered, but sometimes we can’t), at the dentist, the doctor, the hospital, school, daycare – everywhere you go.
Many of those places we have no choice but to go to. From work to medical appointments and everything in between. Like when a tooth was killing me and I needed to see the dentist not long ago. Other things are voluntary, like a farmer’s market, or maybe an outdoor art festival. But even outdoors, if there are a lot of people, you wear your mask (please tell me you’re wearing an N95 or P100!).
Dining? Carry out or delivery. We’ve given more money to restaurants since the pandemic began than before, and I tip well. On a handful of occasions – maybe once every three to six months – we’ll eat at a restaurant outdoors. But only if the tables are spaced out, if it’s not very crowded, and I typically hope for a breeze, or pick a table that’s upwind; but if my SARS2 threat computer judges it to be unsafe, we go somewhere else. Period.
Indoor dining? Which obviously requires you do doff your mask to eat and drink?
Not a freaking chance in Hell, George, especially when transmission levels are substantial or high. The ONLY time I’ve eaten indoors since the pandemic began was in March 2021 after my wife, my dad, and myself were finally all vaccinated: we ate one time in a moderately crowded restaurant, and even then I felt so uncomfortable I’ve never done it again.
That’s “never” George. Not once. At all. Not because I’m virtuous, but because I take it as my duty to protect not only myself, but also my wife, who works at home, and my dad (he’s in his mid-80s and has medical conditions that make him highly vulnerable, so we isolate before we go to visit him), and anyone else I may encounter. Why? Because I give a damn about my fellow human beings, even those I don’t know. Maybe that’s some behavior modification you might want to consider for yourself.
But George, he’s such a down to earth guy. He observed that while he’s going to continue to try and protect others, he’s also going to live his life, by golly (read: if you get infected because he’s busy living his life, too bad for you). He also told the “Twitter randos” getting on his case that they were “abstinence roosters” (not sure where he came up with that, but I’m running with it!), and then ladled on one of my all-time favorite minimizer phrases: “we meet people where they are at.” How many times have we heard that? How many lives and how much suffering has that little phrase brought upon us?
He then followed up by saying that “we don’t scold or scorn (unless you’re an abstinence rooster or Twitter rando, apparently), and try to help people make safe(r) choices.”
Go read that bit again. We “try to help people make safe(r) choices.” So, George, you’re saying you want to help people make Safe(r) Choices™️ as part of your defense against people calling you out for being a poor example, and you’re doubling down on it? Seriously, dude, WTAF?
He goes at some length to explain how he minimized risk during air travel, etc., so he could enjoy that indoor unmasked meal. So, tell me: does it make sense to engage in low-risk behaviors for 90 or even 95 percent of the time so you feel justified sticking a revolver to your head and pulling the trigger in a game of COVID Russian Roulette? I wouldn’t care so much if you were the only one who suffered the consequences under the You Do You Doctrine. But you’re not, are you, George? Anyone you come in contact with once you become infectious is a potential casualty. I hope your good time was worth it.
And this “meet people where they are” crap is nothing but rationalizing your own irresponsible conduct – yours and your two “expert” colleagues (that’s THREE experts at once who made Safe(r) Choices™️ playing COVID Russian Roulette) – and abrogating your responsibilities to your fellow human beings. “Meet people where they are” is the cop-out slogan for the biggest failure of leadership in public health in at least the last century and has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the suffering of millions more, with thousands more suffering and dying every day.
Am I overly pissed at George? No, not any more than I am at Wen, Jha, Wachter, Gandhi, and all the other minimizers out there, execrable people who, for whatever reason, have led their followers into sickness and death. This is the group George has decided to join, and it’s a loss for the cause of those of us trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. I’m also not happy to have to write a post like this: every individual like George we lose to the Dark Side is the tip of another iceberg in future lives lost or suffering due to long COVID. It’s a tragedy every damn time. But it’s a Safe(r) Choice™️ that he made all on his own. A lot of us, especially the immunocompromised, don’t have that luxury.
So, yeah: screw the minimizers. We need strong voices who are dedicated not to meeting people where they are, but to leading them to where they need to be. Farewell, George. Thanks for the COVID Abstinence Rooster™️ badge: I’ll damn well wear it with pride.
Below are the screen caps of Gregg’s response thread, which was deleted from his timeline after he restored his account…