When it comes to the pandemic, Daniel Cameron needs another “Catch-Up Plan”
Imagine if the entire population of Winchester, Kentucky vanished overnight. The relatives and friends of the disappeared would be grief-stricken and confused. They would seek answers about what happened while wanting their losses respected, their loved ones remembered. And as Kentuckians we would try to help them recover, with empathy and grace.
Yet, though Kentucky has lost approximately the same number of citizens to the pandemic as currently reside in Winchester, the GOP gubernatorial campaign has made a mockery of the COVID-19 tragedy by framing its key talking points around aspects of the pandemic response that they weaponize without context or logic.
We’ve been subjected to Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s ads for months, full of deceptive claims about church, school, and business closures as though Governor Beshear made those decisions on a random whim, and not because we were besieged by a contagious virus that then had no cure or viable treatments. At the time that Beshear paused the state and instituted lockdowns, our televisions were filled with images of refrigerated trucks of bodies in Italy and New York City. We were worried about our family members because when they left home, without PPE, to work in hospitals, drive our buses, and be cashiers at the supermarket, they risked their lives every day.
And yet, in each of the five debates, including the final one, when presented with the opportunity to acknowledge our pandemic losses and sacrifices, Cameron repeated his grievances without ever noting the history from which they descend. When Beshear discussed the vulnerability of the elderly, immunocompromised educators, and our brave frontline medical workers, Cameron rebutted with gratuitous asides that we should “look out for our neighbors.”
Well, I speak regularly to those neighbors and they are repulsed by Cameron’s betrayal. As the creator and curator of WhoWeLost.org, a pandemic remembrance story project that offers safe space to all, my thoughts are intertwined with the concerns of the COVID-bereaved. I know they worry that their losses are already minimized or entirely forgotten. Many remain estranged from their families due to the politicization of the virus, vaccine disinformation, and denial of science. They harbor guilt about how their loved ones disappeared and then died alone, and so when Cameron fictionalizes the pandemic to suit his narrative, it feels like another slap in the face.
There was a particular moment in the NKU Beshear-Cameron debate that typifies how the politicization of COVID is not only treacherous from a public health perspective but is also offensive to those most affected by the pandemic. Responding to a question about whether Medicaid benefits should come with a work requirement, Cameron dissed the forthcoming hospital in West Louisville, and other health care facility advances, by insisting that Kentucky does not have a big enough work force to staff these new facilities because Beshear told “folks to stay at home.” “Right now,” Cameron said, “there is a 22% vacancy as it relates to nurses.”
What a ridiculous conflation to attribute nursing shortages to Beshear’s Medicaid policies—as well as supremely ironic because the moral injuries medical professionals have suffered since March 2020 is one of the primary reasons they’re leaving the field. They have endured trauma due to dire work conditions, verbal assaults, and much more.
At each debate, Cameron touted his “Catch-Up Plan” to address learning deficits, which he also blames on Beshear, though this is a nationwide post-pandemic dilemma, not unique to the Commonwealth, as 48 states also shut down in-person learning, beginning with Ohio.
Cameron boasts about the teachers in his family, but he does not mourn the dozens of Kentucky educators who we’ve lost, nor does he acknowledge the sorrow of those they left behind. Apparently his family’s educators only know healthy, young colleagues who live on mythical virus-free hilltops. This alternate reality agenda, that minimizes the history of the pandemic, triggers anxiety and sadness for those still recovering from its effects.
March will be four years since COVID began in Kentucky, not forty years, yet Cameron encourages us to blame, forget, and distort. He’s making a sadistic bet that pandemic fatigue will win him votes, though in the end this revisionism can only harm us all. Cameron needs his own private “Catch-Up Plan,” a serious one, not an alliterative game. He must be reminded of what has happened, and what can happen again, if we choose to ignore our collective losses.
Martha Greenwald is the founding director and curator of The WhoWeLost Project and editor of Who We Lost: A Portable COVID Memorial. She serves as a special advisor to “Rituals in the Making,” a project at George Washington University that focuses on pandemic remembrance.