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Ron Malzer: Ron Johnson may be hazardous to your health

Ron Malzer: Ron Johnson may be hazardous to your health

“Acting on the wrong information can kill. In the first 3 months of 2020, nearly 6,000 people around the globe were hospitalized because of coronavirus misinformation, recent research suggests. During this period, researchers say at least 800 people may have died due to misinformation related to COVID-19.” — World Health Organization, April 17, 2021. 

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a guest on an April 22 Vicki McKenna podcast, defiantly and belligerently posed two questions to push back against the calls for universal COVID-19 vaccination: “What do you care if your neighbor has one or not?” and, “So why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?”  

Dr. Anthony Fauci wasted no time in denouncing Johnson’s death-risk-promoting campaign, reminding him, and the American people: “We are dealing with an emergency. … How can anyone say that 567,000 dead Americans is not an emergency?"

Johnson has been spreading dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus for more than a year. On April 1, 2020, he pontificated: “COVID-19 is transmitted primarily from the hands to the face. … Feel free to use a face mask, primarily to train yourself NOT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE.” (Capital letters per original).

Johnson’s zero-evidence claim about hand-to-face coronavirus transmission was the height of recklessness. It also was dead wrong. Fifty-one days after Johnson’s behavior-directing editorial, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) exposed Johnson’s falsehood: It is in fact respiratory transmission, not hand-to-face contact, that is the primary route of the killer virus.

Johnson’s early-in-the-pandemic false claim green-lighted any business owner thinking about reopening without implementing socially-distanced work conditions; blame could be shifted onto an alleged laxity of handwashing by employees.

Johnson incredulously pressed policymakers to prioritize concern about financial loss over and above the predicted coronavirus morbidity and mortality. He began a USA Today column on a fatalistic note — “Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life” — and concluded by arguing that business shutdowns should therefore be kept to a minimum.

Addressing the pandemic with calls for nonscientific approaches, Johnson has publicly promoted medications untested for COVID use. An accountant by educational background, Johnson used hearings to broadcast self-proclaimed virus experts, who touted supposed pandemic-related benefits of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. They presented no valid evaluative data.

Johnson, a frequent purveyor of politically-convenient conspiracy theories, used his media spotlight to declare, without evidence, that “tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lives” have been lost due to actions by unnamed others. He decried, with no substantiation, those “discouraging and in some cases prohibiting the research and use of drugs that have been safely used for decades.”

Johnson’s strong predilection toward unscientific notions, ones damaging to public health, is by no means confined to the pandemic. Heading into his campaign for a first Senate term in 2010, he declared: “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. … It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time.”

Johnson’s record includes a vote for a 2011 Senate amendment that would have prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and would have “repealed” the data-driven EPA finding that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are endangering human health and the environment.

The World Health Organization has estimated that climate change is responsible for more than 150,000 deaths annually. Johnson has yet to apologize for his climate change-denying votes, or any part of his misinformation campaigns.

Heading into his 2016 reelection campaign, Johnson made an unconditional promise to the voters: If re-elected to the Senate, he would step down at the end of the 2017-22 term. He is now looking for wiggle room to betray his commitment.

We, the residents of Wisconsin, need to be contacting his office now, letting staffers there know that we are ready to hold him to his word.

Ron Malzer is a freelance writer in Madison. 

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