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Rep. Billy Long on Missouri’s COVID-19 surge: ‘It’s a pretty dire situation right now’

The delta variant continues to surge in the U.S.. The country is now experiencing more than 100,000 new infections a day. One of the places hit particularly hard is Missouri, where only 42 percent of eligible people are fully vaccinated, while the state has recorded more than 20,000 new cases during the last seven days. Republican Missouri Rep. Billy Long joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • William Brangham:

    Back in this country, the delta variant continues to surge. For the first time since February, the U.S. is averaging over one hundred thousand new infections a day. One of the places hit particularly hard is Missouri, where, right now, only 42 percent of eligible people are fully vaccinated. In the last seven days, Missouri has recorded more than twenty thousand cases.

    I'm joined now by a Republican who has been very public about his vaccination and is urging others to do the same. Representative Billy Long represents Missouri's 7th congressional district. He's also running for the open Senate seat being left by Senator Roy Blunt.

    Congressman Long, great to have you on the NewsHour.

    Could you just give us a sense of how things are in Missouri right now? How are your hospitals doing? How are cases doing?

  • Rep. Billy Long (R-MO):

    In Springfield where I am, the hospitals are having a really, really tough time trying to keep up. They're trying to transfer patients to other locations. They even have little issue with that.

    I know the one hospital hire had 11 folks deceased since Friday evening. And so it's pretty dire situation right now. I will report, I heard you give the statistics there, about 42 percent of Missouri. Springfield is up over 50 percent now, which is a very good trend.

    I think that a lot of people are reassessing their position on the vaccine, and deciding that seeing folks in the hospital and they see the sad stories about people on their last breathe saying, I wish I hadn't — said I wouldn't take it for a year. I was going to wait a year and now it is too late and that person is deceased a day or two later.

    So, I think people are really starting to understand how important it is to do what I did, is what I tell people. Go to your doctor, as soon as I was eligible for the vaccine, I went to the doctor stayed you know my medical history, you know, everything about me, am I a good candidate for this vaccine and should I take it and the doctor said you are a very good candidate for the vaccine.

    So I took both doses, of course, of the Pfizer vaccine is the one that I took. My wife has had the vaccine. Both daughters have had the vaccine.

  • William Brangham:

    On this issue of the sort of misinformation and disinformation and mistrust out there, you have been, as you were saying, very public in celebrating getting this vaccine. You have encouraged others to do it.

    Do you think that if President Trump had done the same, if he when the vaccine came out if he had said this is the safe vaccine, it's one of the great successes of my administration, I want you all to watch me get the shot and I want you to do the same, do you think that would have helped change some Missourians minds about this?

  • Billy Long:

    I don't know. The main people that didn't want the Trump vaccine were the Democrats at the time, if you remember, even before it came out. They said, well, Trump developed it. We think he is doing it too quick.

    I think all politics should be removed from this. It's ridiculous for me to bring politics into this life or death situation. Trump did what no one has ever done before, and brought a vaccine to the market, rapidly. He took the vaccine immediately. And I think that the — making it a political football is repugnant to me.

    I think everybody should operate with whatever level they are comfortable with, whether, like I say, check with their doctor. I had a guy today contact me and he asked me the same thing about where I was on the vaccine. And I read all these different reports. And I see this, and I see that. I really don't know what to believe.

    And I suggested he check with his doctor and do as I did and take the vaccine if his doctor recommended it. And he wrote back and told me of some situations, things that his doctor wasn't real sure if he should take if or not. I said, hey, that's why I told you to go to your doctor. I'm not a doctor, don't come to me — but, you know, that is just my advice to everyone.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, I hear what you are saying, vaccine hesitancy is disproportionately high among GOP voters. But — moving on for a second. We have seen mandates started to come out, businesses, state and local governments have been coming out with mandates. Do you think that that's an idea? Could that get these numbers up and could that help save lives.

  • Billy Long:

    I don't know if it would help get it up. But I'm not for mandating putting a needle on anyone's arm, period. I don't think that that's the good way to go. I think the best way is to encourage people and show them what happens to the majority of the people that are vaccinated, how it's a good, safe vaccine and just take the vaccine.

    But mandating anything in the United States of America in a free country I think should happen.

  • William Brangham:

    Well, we do mandate certain things. I mean, for kids to go to public school in Missouri. They say you are basically required to have measles, mumps, rubella vaccine.

    You don't think in this case that that would be a smart thing? I mean, schools will reopen in a couple of weeks.

  • Billy Long:

    No, I don't — I'm not nor mandating vaccine, no. I'm for encouraging people to take the vaccine but I'm not for mandating it and making people put something in their body against their wishes.

  • William Brangham:

    All right. Representative Long, best of luck to you in Missouri. Thanks very much for being here.

  • Billy Long:

    Thank you. I appreciate the time.

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