Columns, Coronavirus, Opinion

Social Science Weekly: Red America’s lethargic response to the pandemic is becoming lethal

Republican nonchalance to the coronavirus is quickly becoming suicidal. Even as the pandemic was ravaging urban America and charging into its rural surroundings through March and into early April, red states were reluctant to raise alarm. For months they refrained from issuing stay-at-home orders for reasons of “personal liberty,” disbelief and unconflicted disregard.

In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, Republicans were considerably less likely to characterize coronavirus as a serious health threat. Almost eight in ten left-leaning respondents thought the pandemic amounted to “a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole,” whereas 48 percent of Republican respondents felt this was an overstatement. Republican respondents were also less likely to describe the outbreak as presenting, “a major threat to the U.S. economy, their personal finances,” and even, “their own health.” 

Conservatives were also much more likely to express disbelief that hospitals could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 in the future. This disparity is surprising because, impressively, Pew also has found that nearly three in ten Americans say that the coronavirus pandemic was “most likely,” developed, “intentionally in a lab,” with the best represented category by far in this answer being Republicans. 

One wonders how conservatives could both think we are being subjected to the greatest act of bioterrorism in history and not also consider it a significant threat to public health, or struggle to see how the demand for hospital beds might overwhelm the supply. Perhaps, for the first time in history, conspiracy theorists are the ones suffering from a failure of imagination. 

Of the 15 last states to issue stay-at-home orders, all 15 boast Republican leadership. Just a handful of these stragglers make for an all-star team of Trump supporters, the distinguished governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Arkansas included. 

A now-deleted tweet by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on March 14th features a photo of the Stitt family at a crowded restaurant. “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans at Collective OKC!” the caption read, adding, “It’s packed tonight!” A day later, Stitt declared a statewide emergency, lamenting, “the impending threat of COVID-19 to the people of this state and the public’s peace, health and safety.” 

After a torrent of confused and concerned commenters pointed out the strange inconsistency between the two statements, Stitt’s chief communications officer clarified that, “The Governor will continue to take his family out to dinner and to the grocery store without living in fear and encourages Oklahomans to do the same.”

Then we have Georgia governor Brian Kemp, mounting the podium on April 1 to announce that it is finally time to stay at home in The Peach State. Why did he hold out until April Fool’s Day to urge caution against a deadly disease? “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours. This is a game changer for us,” he explained. 

Bear in mind that the existence of asymptomatic carriers has been known to the healthcare community since January, to say nothing of the fact that it’s headlined the nightly news for so long now it would actually take more effort to be only just now noticing. This is how slowly information moves in Trump’s political orbit, apparently. 

In Trumpistan, even where state-wide measures have been called for, they have been far too tepid and halfhearted to encourage a real response. Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order provides sweeping exemptions for, “religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship,” and, as if that wasn’t open-ended enough, “recreational activities.” 

Twelve states have exempted church gatherings from closure requirements, stipulating that they are forms of “essential activity.” This is deeply concerning. In-person worship is probably the single most hazardous health risk you could expose yourself to, second only to free-running in the ICU of your nearest hospital. Regardless of your views on religion, drawing in deep breaths and bellowing out songs of worship in a room packed with the elderly, sharing in a swirling miasma of infectious air, is extremely ill-advised. 

And these exemptions are not just a matter of principle. Watch this short CNN feature in which a church attendee defends her decision to expose herself and others to disease. “Can I ask you about your decision to go to church and be inside that building,” asks the interviewer. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” she replies. 

He presses her, saying, “Aren’t you concerned you could infect other people if you get sick inside?” Her reply: “I’m covered in Jesus’ blood. I’m covered in Jesus’ blood!” She follows this by saying, “I go to the grocery store every day! I’m in Walmart, Home Depot … they could get me sick, but they’re not, because I’m covered in his blood. Thank you very much.” Behind the woman being interviewed is a train of SUVs stretching as far behind her as the camera’s view can reach.

A disease does not become less lethal simply because it has crossed a state-line. It is time we acknowledged it. Republican negligence is killing Americans. With the election coming into view, I hope we will remember who gave priority to survival and who failed to summon the political will necessary to mount a meaningful response. 

Inaction is itself an action, and “not choosing” is a choice of its own. I hope the consequences of this fact will not rear their ugly heads in the weeks to come.

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One Comment

  1. How about Pelosi visiting Chinatown in her homeless state and Biden calling the president’s travel ban from China racist. I guess you forgot about some facts Jonah.