Benton and Travis Hunt were traveling to Colorado for an adventure in Colorado when they discovered a sign posted at the St. Vrain River, a tributary of the Gunnison River. The sign, a warning to steer clear of getting sick from swimming in the river, said: “BIG BULL MANDATES.” The sign was inscribed in large white letters and, according to the New York Times, it read “Anodyne 1” – a reference to one of the first laws to establish abortion law in America. It was a red lettering, written in block letters and painted on one side of a highway.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, their trip to Colorado had not gone well. They became ill and had to undergo a harsh and invasive treatment with IVs, thanks to the failure of their medication to suppress fever. The operation was a failure and their bodies were still fighting as doctors expected them to, but they were at a loss for what to do and cared little for the bureaucracy, which offered no guarantee of success. The pair remains hospitalized – Travis on dialysis, Benton on ventilator support.
The couple’s journey to Colorado had been dispiriting from the start. Before they arrived in St. Vrain County, they had found what many travelers to this region have told me after coming here: One day driving around in their pickup truck in South Dakota, they witnessed a man in the truck he was in losing control. On the approach to safety, he drove off the road. When he eventually woke up, he had a tag on his right leg and was in a hospital bed. It was a recent first-time diagnosis of the Zika virus. In Colorado, “we got this sign that the government tried to tell us how to live our lives and [weren’t] telling us what we can do,” Travis said.
While Zika was not in the county’s water supply, it is still part of the southern United States’ water supply; it is also common mosquito-borne disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage citizens to use insect repellant and to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, especially during the summer months. They recommend using long-sleeved shirts and long pants, as well as closing doors and windows, and emptying standing water around their homes.
The couple recalls that they were extremely concerned when they found the “BIG BULL MANDATES” sign, because they had been able to find a booklet (a printed, licensed and signed version available on Amazon) about the fact that the county believed that “it is against local tradition and law to do something that is meant to be done, such as contracting an illness.” There were only two boxes for writing a medical request to be made, but the couple were initially unable to write what they wanted to do about Zika. They heard there would be no return postage. When that wasn’t helpful, they got permission from the health department to tell the hospital about their concern for Zika.
Diligent policies and procedures around using the Clean Water Act were implemented by the school they attended, Buchanan Community College in South Dakota. The school had procedures to fill out forms and give notes to nurses when someone seemed ill, but these procedures had been modified to include providing summaries from a search for Zika symptoms on the CDC website. They did not ask their students to worry about Zika. They needed to focus on getting an education.
For weeks, the pair would just sit and wait in the hospital’s waiting room for their tests to come back. The hospital took them both, but Travis’s body had not responded to the drugs and procedures that would keep him alive.
By a stroke of luck and unbelievable luck, their loved ones were able to take them to the boardwalk in Glenwood Springs and get their conditions stabilized. The couple stayed up all night as they ate sandwiches from the restaurant. There was no mosquitoes around the medical staff at the hospital and staff members would “walk by and just start laughing at what we were going through.”
In Colorado, however, as the fact that their son and daughter-in-law had been diagnosed with Zika had emerged as a public story, the brothers remained anxious about how to raise awareness.
They have heard that the hospital “took on this role as custodian of the truth” about Zika and about how it will continue to act upon this misinformation. Yet, when we ask the hospital to share its plans, the only piece of information that they have given us about how they hope to proceed has been that they will have to be prepared.
Vaccine mandates provide broad-