This MAGA Congresswoman Is Ignoring the Real Threat in Her Backyard
COVID is hammering Michigan’s “Thumb.” So why is Rep. Lisa McClain obsessing about “alien children” 2,000 miles away?
On COVID-19 maps where red indicates the highest rate of new infections, The Thumb of Michigan looks like a huge hammer smashed the whole peninsula that gives the area its name.
The entire mitten-shaped state has been exploding with new cases over the past fortnight, to a daily average of 72 new cases per 100,000—the highest infection rate in the nation.
But the rates of hospitalization and deaths, as well as new infections, are all highest in The Thumb—which has considerably fewer medical resources than the urban areas.
And yet The Thumb’s new Trump-loving representative in Congress, rather than encouraging residents to mask-up in the face of a dire and unprecedented health crisis, is busy tweeting about what she describes as the true threat to Michigan: “unaccompanied alien children” at the southwest border.
Rep. Lisa McClain saw fit to tweet about the “crisis at the southwest border” as recently as Friday, all the while remaining almost entirely silent about the soaring COVID-19 cases in what is now the hottest hot spot in the nation, save for one boilerplate tweet on Saturday morning about where to get vaccines.
“Finally a useful tweet,” a commenter responded.
From the start, McClain’s focus has been elsewhere. She was among those who continued to make groundless claims that the election had been stolen long after those claims were debunked by all the courts in the land. Her first big moment in Congress came in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. She became one of three representatives from Michigan and 139 altogether who voted against certification.
“The American people need to have confidence in our democratic elections and the rule of law,” she said in a statement afterwards.
At least McClain is reasonable enough at the start of a public appearance to ask if anyone minds if she removes her mask so she can be better heard. She did so at the start of a town hall in Marysville on March 16, the same day the number of daily new COVID-19 infections in the county ballooned to 84.
“This riled up her supporters in the room with them cheering for her to take off the mask,” a young woman who attended the gathering recalled. “As she was about to, someone walked through the door and had to repeat themselves three times that she should keep her mask on. For the rest of the event, she kept pulling it away from her face—but still in front of her face—to talk and would get quite close to people while doing this.”
The young woman, who asked not to be identified, was able to hear McClain make a bizarre comparison between COVID-19 and children who drown. According to her, COVID had killed less than 250 children, whereas 800 drown each year in America.
“We don’t ban swimming pools,” McClain then declared.
Not even Trump had compared dead kid stats in an effort to minimize the threat of a virus that has killed more than half a million Americans. McClain could get away with it in a rural realm that at that time had largely escaped the surges experienced by Detroit.
But the numbers were growing. New cases in St. Clair County soon rose from one in a day to the present average of more than 260. The rest of the The Thumb was also surging, perhaps in part because it had not been hit so hard previously.
“I think it left some people thinking it’s not as bad,” Dr. Mark Hamed, medical director of eight upper Michigan counties, four of them in The Thumb, told The Daily Beast.
The five counties generally considered to comprise The Thumb have now all reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000. The highest of those, St. Clair, reported 165, more than twice that of Michigan, more than three times that of New Jersey, and more than four times that of New York.
St. Clair also reported a 31 percent positivity rate in testing. Huron County was even higher, with 35.5 percent. Sanilac was 43.1 percent, and Tuscola 31.1 percent. Lapeer was lower, with 24.1 percent, but still markedly higher than Michigan as a whole, which was 16.5 percent.
Hamed figures that pandemic fatigue set in with many of those who had been adhering to the mask mandate and other restrictions imposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer early on. Others had resisted the measures all along.
“Then the variants started…” Hamed said.
The B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom was documented in The Thumb in February. Hamed was initially not sure how much of an additional threat it constituted. The rising numbers lead him to believe it will prove to be more contagious and perhaps more lethal. And it has been becoming more dominant just as people have become more lax.
“A perfect storm,” Hamed said.
Whitmer’s administration still has a statewide mask mandate in effect. But she faced the wrath of angry constituents earlier on in the pandemic for taking the drastic step of ordering lockdowns and is now appealing to residents to simply “take personal responsibility” rather than relying on new restrictions. She has ignored calls by many doctors for a fresh round of lockdowns and said Friday that “policy change alone won’t change the tide.”
Hamed also works as an emergency doctor in Sanilac County, which he reports is “slammed” with COVID-19 cases. Urban facilities fret about ICU occupancy rates. All of Sanilac has no ICU beds at all.
“Never did,” Hamed noted.
Hamed reported that the hospitals of The Thumb do have extraordinarily dedicated nurses. He describes them as “very influential” among their friends and neighbors and imparts an important message:
”What we’re seeing is legit.”
The Thumb also has a strong sense of community. Each death has a significant impact.
“It hits them a lot harder,” Hamed said. “They care about each other.”
Hamed figures the worst may be yet to come in the wake of Easter, a holiday where the religious, family-oriented folks of The Thumb gather at church and at home. He worries there will be a surge atop the surge.
“We’re preparing for the worst,” he said.
But Hamed does see a promising sign amidst the storm.
“I see more people wearing masks on their own,” he said. “There’s hope. I’m optimistic.”
And now would be the time for the new congresswoman from the hardest-hit area to set politics aside and join in quelling the surge.
But as COVID maps show the whole Thumb hammered bloody red by the virus, the only red Rep. Lisa McClain seems to see is that which denotes Republicans as opposed to the blue of the Democrats.
In a tweet on Friday night, McClain stooped even lower than using dead kid stats to minimize the pandemic.
“@HHSGov is opening a facility in MI to house unaccompanied alien children who illegally cross the border. Instead of stopping the crisis, @POTUS is threatening the safety of my state,” she declared on Twitter.
An elected official who should be giving her all in the fight against the pandemic in The Thumb had the audacity to then add, “@POTUS do your job!”