Perhaps one of the most shocking elements of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the cataclysmic partisan split over how to address a public health crisis. Earlier this month, two Democratic legislators, both with medical degrees and careers’ worth of health care experience, called on Gov. Sununu to do more to combat COVID-19 as New Hampshire continues to average over 1,000 new cases per day, the omicron variant continues its global spread, and our hospitals report less than 1 percent of all staffed adult ICU beds as being available.

This call to action has been echoed time and again by Democratic legislators as we work to complete the people’s business in ways that support public health efforts. Rather than recognizing the concern expressed by medical professionals, the governor took his typical approach of political grandstanding, calling “shame on them” for, as he put it, “politicizing the response to the pandemic.” He then went so far as to criticize the media for reporting on the call.

There comes a point when we just have to say enough is enough. When doctors say that we cannot breeze past the deaths of over 1,800 Granite Staters, that’s not political. The speaker of the House hosting an anti-vaccine rally outside of the Statehouse, is. When a private business requires that customers wear masks, that’s not political. Extremist protestors at Executive Council and Fiscal Committee meetings shouting “we know where you live” at elected officials and state employees, is. Repeating the scientifically proven message that the vaccine is the best way out of this nightmare is not political. Filing dozens of bills to dismantle not only COVID-19 vaccination efforts, but all vaccination requirements, is. Supporting the calls of our doctors and nurses to get vaccinated because our hospitals are overrun is not political. The Executive Council and Fiscal Committee delaying the acceptance of federal funding for state vaccination efforts, thereby delaying New Hampshire’s ability to offer booster shots and vaccinate our children, based on nothing but misinformation and distrust of the public health system, is.

At this point, the argument against protecting public health can be boiled down to “I don’t want to.”

For some, there may be very legitimate reasons like actual religious conviction or allergies to an ingredient in the vaccine that will stop them from getting vaccinated. But for most, the hesitancy comes as a result of misinformation campaigns that have been allowed to fester unchecked. However, the choices made by these individuals refusing to take commonsense steps to protect their communities are forcing the choices of those who have continued to adhere to public health guidelines for nearly two years.

No one wants to wear a mask for the next five years. But the mass opposition to safe and effective vaccines has allowed multiple variations of this preventable virus, so we will keep them on to protect our friends, neighbors and children.

No one wants to close down businesses. But when half the staff is infected with COVID-19 because variants have been allowed to run rampant, doors will be forced to close on their own.

No one wants schools to shut down again. Our teachers are exhausted and all of us would rather see kids in classrooms. But with 55 current outbreaks and 221 clusters as of Dec. 17, we need to give our schools flexibility to keep our kids safe. Instead of making our own choices in these and other impacted areas, they are being made for us by the virus, COVID-19.

None of this needed to be partisan. In the early days of the pandemic the country united as we waited to learn more about the nature of this disease. But over the past year, conspiracies have been allowed to run wild, our health care professionals and teachers have been criminalized and threatened while simply trying to do their jobs under previously unimaginable circumstances, and our governor is lashing out when doctors are asking him to do more because he views it as politically inconvenient.

It’s long past time that we cut through the noise and political grandstanding and recognize the situation for what it is and what it has been for nearly two years — a public health crisis. It is time that we listen to our doctors — and yes, that even means the Democratic ones elected to serve the people of New Hampshire.

It is time that our leaders actually lead, and not just work to protect their reputation among those who would rather die than allow the rest of us to live.

Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-West Lebanon, represents Senate District 5. Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, represents Cheshire District 1.

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