Tag Archives: COVID

Gravity Makes Stuff Fall Down…

Academic studies often rigorously test a thesis that many people consider obvious. (There are good reasons for testing such assumptions, but such research gives ammunition to a lot of anti-academic critics.) Juanita Jean recently reported on a study conducted by scholars at Johns Hopkins and the University of South Carolina that confirmed something arguably as obvious as “gravity makes stuff fall down”: COVID  has spread more rapidly in states with Republican Governors.

As the researchers politely put it,

Governors’ party affiliation may have contributed to a range of policy decisions that, together, influenced the spread of the virus.  These findings underscore the need for state policy actions that are guided by public health considerations rather than by partisan politics.

Ya think? The research confirmed that states with Republican Governors had both higher case rates and higher death rates.

One of the most depressing aspects of this incredibly depressing pandemic has been the number of people who have rejected medical science and demonstrated their utter lack of concern for other human beings. The sheer number of such people, and their belligerent refusal to take even the most reasonable steps to avoid infecting others, has been unsettling, to put it mildly.

As reprehensible as these individual actions have been, the decision to pander to them–to politicize a medical pandemic in order to curry favor with unreasonable voters–is worse.

Other studies have found evidence that Republican governors in 2020 were broadly less strict than their Democrat counterparts in setting policies on mask-wearing, social distancing, and other pandemic-related measures. The researchers say that those studies, along with the links they found between Republican governorship and greater COVID-19 impact, are consistent with the idea that the political polarization of the COVID-19 response has contributed to less effective COVID-19 policies and worse case-related statistics in some states.

“Despite a more coordinated federal response this year, governors still play a key role in the pandemic response,” says Benjamin-Neelon. “As we’re seeing, several states have lifted mask requirements even though we have yet to make substantial progress in controlling the spread of the virus.”

Florida is a good example of a state that has flouted medical advice in order to curry favor with a Republican base unwilling to accept constraints on dangerous behaviors.

As the Guardian previously reported, Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration ‘suppressed facts’ and ‘dispensed dangerous misinformation’-it was the third US state to record a million coronavirus cases. An investigation found that, especially in the run-up to the presidential election, the DeSantis administration lied about the extent and dangers of the pandemic. (In fact, the Florida department of health’s county-level spokespeople simply stopped issuing public statements about Covid-19 between September and the  November election.)

After the election, headlines like this one from the Orlando Sentinel accused the Governor of being missing in action in the fight against COVID, reporting that “Cases are surging, people are waiting hours to get tested and Ron DeSantis doesn’t appear up to the job.” That disinterest in public health characterizes much of the GOP base that applauded the lack of a vigorous state response to the pandemic.

More recently, NPR reported on accusations that DeSantis was “playing politics” with COVID. Not only did the Governor “open” the state more quickly than epidemiologists thought safe, vaccine distribution was originally limited to areas populated by DeSantis voters and donors.

DeSantis certainly isn’t the only Governor who has routinely elevated political goals over duty. It should be obvious that when elected officials take their cues from the subset of voters who prioritize being able to do whatever they want whenever they want, rather than from medical science, public health suffers.

These days, as the research demonstrated, that subset and those Governors are Republicans.



A Depressing Analysis

Despite overwhelming relief at the victory of the Biden/Harris ticket, those of us horrified by Donald Trump and his enablers are still coming to terms with the fact that some 70 million people voted for four more years of the disaster we’ve just experienced.

Unlike those Republicans who continue to insist that up is down and Trump was somehow cheated out of a win, we live in the real world. We recognize that those 70 million votes were cast. The question is: why?  Trump’s hardcore base is demonstrably racist, but surely, America isn’t home to seventy million racists willing to dispense with functional governance so long as dark-skinned people and “foreign elements” are kept in their place.

Will Wilkinson considered that question in a recent column in the New York Times. He identified three factors that made the election difficult for the Democrats: partisan polarization, obscured by the inaccurate polling; the strength of what he labeled the “juiced” pre-Covid-19 economy; and the success of Mr. Trump’s denialist, open-everything-up nonresponse to the pandemic.

How could a president responsible for one of the gravest failures of governance in American history nevertheless maintain such rock-solid support? Democracy’s throw-the-bums-out feedback mechanism gets gummed up when the electorate disagrees about the identity of the bums, what did and didn’t occur on their watch and who deserves what share of the credit or blame.

When party affiliation becomes a central source of meaning and self-definition, reality itself becomes contested and verifiable facts turn into hot-button controversies. Elections can’t render an authoritative verdict on the performance of incumbents when partisans in a closely divided electorate tell wildly inconsistent stories about one another and the world they share.

Wilkinson looked at Trump’s war of words against governors and mayors — especially Democratic ones — who refused to risk their citizens’ lives by allowing economic and social activity to resume, and to Republican messaging that defined the contrast between the parties’ approaches to the pandemic as a battle between individual freedom and over-reaching government.

The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?

Make no mistake, it was unforgivably cruel of Republicans to force blue-collar and service workers to risk death for grocery money. Yet their disinformation campaign persuaded many millions of Americans that the risk was minimal and that Democrats were keeping their workplaces and schools closed, their customers and kids at home, and their wallets empty and cupboards bare for bogus reasons.

Democrats fell into the trap Republicans set with their dogged refusal to do anything about the uncontained pandemic. Wilkinson concluded that the “spell of polarization” turns every issue into a clash of political identities. As a result, “real” Republicans largely dismissed the pandemic as a hoax, a dismissal that conveniently excused the President’s manifest failure to deal with it.

This rings true to me–so far as it goes. But political polarization alone does not and cannot explain why millions of Americans chose to occupy an alternate reality and to dismiss evidence that was staring them in the face.

Constructing a world where the deaths of one’s neighbors are attributed to something–anything– other than COVID, a world in which a President’s too-obvious-to-ignore lack of competence is a sign that he’s being hobbled by the “deep state,”a world  in which that President’s lack of humanity is explained away as “telling it like it is,” a world where science is “elitist” and warnings from doctors are politically-motivated efforts to diminish the President–such a  world requires a media infrastructure.

There are multitudes of alternate reality purveyors:  websites and cable channels and talk radio hosts willing to confirm the accuracy of your preferred “facts” and the superiority of your chosen tribe.  Trump will go, but that media infrastructure will stay.

I think I need a drink.




Covid Covid Covid…

Hopes are high that we will see a  COVID-19 vaccine soon. But it will be a long time before America recovers from the Trump administration’s monumental mismanagement of the pandemic, and its efforts to evade responsibility for that mismanagement.

Those efforts included Trump’s attacks on the news media leading up to the election and his bizarre (and patently unconstitutional) insistence that there should be a law to keep the media from focusing on the COVID pandemic.

It is certainly true that stories about the pandemic have occupied significant space in the national conversation, but despite general condemnation of the administration’s lack of leadership, I’ve seen few detailed explanations of the mechanics of that mismanagement.

It can be hard to help the public understand how obscure bureaucratic decisions have undermined the national response. One of the many such moves was described by Heather Cox Richardson in one of her Letters from an American:

The administration’s changes to the reporting system for coronavirus have hampered our ability to combat it. In July, the administration shifted the way hospital data is collected, taking the project away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and giving it to a private contractor. CDC experts no longer check and analyze the data. Information on hospitalizations is no longer publicly available, so states cannot see what is happening elsewhere. This hides the picture of what is happening nationally, making it impossible for public health officials to plan for spikes.

Multiply this sort of thing by dozens if not hundreds of difficult-to-detect decisions, and then add the utter lack of visible national leadership, the administration’s repeated assertions that a national–nay, international–pandemic was somehow a state-level problem that they couldn’t be bothered addressing, and you have…Covid, Covid, Covid, and thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Many of those deaths could have been avoided, had Trump just not turned mask-wearing into a political litmus test.

And of course, there were the dangerous quack “cures” Trump promoted. Bleach. Hydroxychloroquine.

The White House decision to set aside the mandatory safety controls put in place by the Food and Drug Administration fueled one of the most disputed initiatives in the administration’s response to the pandemic: the distribution of millions of ineffective, potentially dangerous pills from a federally controlled cache of drugs called the Strategic National Stockpile.

The House of Representatives recently issued a blistering report on the administrative failures involved, labeling them “among the worst failures of leadership in American history” and an “American fiasco.”

The report, by the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, says the administration has consistently misled the country about the severity of the pandemic and that its lack of a national plan has hampered the ability to track, test for, treat and contain the virus. Efforts to provide economic support to Americans have been stymied by a lack of safeguards and policies that favored corporations over small business owners and failed to ensure that workers kept their jobs, the report says.

“President Trump’s decision to mislead the public about the severity of the crisis, his failure to listen to scientists about how to keep Americans healthy, and his refusal to implement a coordinated national plan to stop the coronavirus have all contributed to devastating results: more than 227,000 Americans dead, more than 8.8 million Americans infected, and a dangerous virus that continues to spread out of control nine months after it reached our nation’s shores,” the report’s introduction reads.

If we have learned anything over the past four horrible years, it is that national leadership matters. Expertise matters. Experience in and understanding of the government you are elected to administer matters. And needless to say, character, honesty, mental health and intellectual capacity matter.

That said, on November 4th, we learned that to a shocking number of Americans, none of those things matter as much as their animus to minorities and their desire to “own the libs.”

And as for their fury over the duty to don a mask to protect others–well, I couldn’t say it better than this… 

And Now, COVID…

Reactions to yesterday’s announcement that the President and First Lady have both tested positive for COVID-19 have been mixed, to put it mildly. A significant number–noting that the President rarely utters anything related to the truth–suggested it was another attempt at disinformation and/or distraction.

For those who accepted the accuracy of the announcement, most of what I have seen–especially on Facebook–invoked the concept of karma. To say that reactions aren’t overwhelmingly sympathetic might just be the understatement of the century. This is, after all, a President who has shown absolutely no concern for other people, including his own supporters. He has ignored and ridiculed advice offered by medical experts, including those in his own administration, and he has touted unproven and frequently ridiculous “cures” (ingesting bleach, anyone?). All of that is on top of the fact that he is one of the least likable people on the planet.

But quite apart from whatever our personal reactions may be,  the diagnosis raises some thorny legal and political questions, and the answers to those questions are unclear.

With a month to go until the election, Trump will quarantine for two weeks. He probably will not be able to attend the second debate–no loss there, considering the spectacle he made in the first–a consequence that will require the debate commission to decide whether to simply cancel the remaining two, or allow Biden to appear solo (unlikely).

We can already predict that Trump will attribute an election loss to his inability to hold rallies and otherwise campaign for the requisite two weeks.

Those consequences are predictable in the event that he suffers a relatively mild case of the virus. Far less predictable is what happens if this morbidly obese 74-year-old with an unhealthy diet who is known to ingest quantities of “uppers” becomes critically ill or even dies–and if so, when.

Pence has evidently tested negative thus far (“Mother” probably wouldn’t let him get too close to Hope Hicks, who presumably was the source). How sick would Trump have to get before Pence assumed the duties of the Presidency? If Trump were to become critically ill after the election but prior to January 21st, that would be one thing (and arguably not a bad thing–as vacuous and smarmy as Pence is, he’s less flat-out nuts than Trump).

The most chaotic and unpredictable set of events would be triggered by Trump’s death from COVID prior to Election Day. Would Pence automatically become the Republican nominee? Would Republican defectors be more comfortable returning to the fold if that were the case?

In a Presidency characterized by daily distractions, is this the mother of all diversions? Or does the diagnosis bring voters’ attention back to the President’s horrendous incompetence in containing the pandemic, and his obvious lack of concern for the over 200,000 Americans who have already died?

If Trump proves to have only a mild case, does he then use his own good fortune to further minimize the danger and dismiss expert advice?

I am not a praying person, and if I were, I doubt I’d find enough grace in my heart to pray for a psychopath who has done so much harm–a man with absolutely no redeeming human virtues.

I would, however, pray that his spitting and yelling during the “debate” didn’t infect Joe Biden. In fact–just in case I’m wrong and there is a personal God–I may go ahead and offer up that particular prayer. Call it covering my bases.