After Republicans won big on Election Night in the heart of the United States in the state of Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds claimed her vindication for her lean approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a validation of our balanced response to Covid-19,” Reynolds said of the vote. “One that takes into account both public health and economic health.”
That was two weeks ago. Since then, the trajectory of the pandemic in Iowa, as in other parts of the American Midwest, has taken a sharp and tragic turn.
Daily confirmed Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have increased 100% in Iowa since Election Night, and daily deaths increased more than 50%, reaching 41 on Tuesday. Nationally, the United States has surpassed 250,000 confirmed deaths, roughly double that of any other country.
Like other Republicans torn between fighting the pandemic and fighting the culture wars, Reynolds spent months dismissing the need for a mask mandate in his state, calling it a “feel good” measure. But new local hospital warnings Dangerous overload finally led Reynolds to change course this week.
“The pandemic in Iowa is the worst it has ever been,” he said. “Nobody wants to do this. I do not want to do this “.
The reluctance to “do this” is not unique to Reynolds, but it is unique to one of America’s two major political parties.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Republican officials across the country, intimidated by Donald Trump, voters swayed by conspiracy and minor political calculations, have resisted asking voters to take personal steps to stop the spread of Covid-19. . Until recently, many of those states had escaped the worst consequences of official neglect, enjoying some luck in the mysterious dynamics of the virus’ spread.
But with the arrival of cooler temperatures, increased indoor activity, and widespread pandemic fatigue, that story has changed terribly this fall, as public health experts predicted. With each passing week, Republican-elect unwillingness to act against the virus is taking an ever-increasing price, health experts say.
And the mistrust of basic public health guidelines that Republicans have sown comes with a potentially destructive additional cost that has yet to be paid: The climate of mistrust appears to hamper the country’s impending effort to escape the clutches of the virus through universal vaccination.
“It’s not just that anti-mask, anti-distancing, anti-testing Republicans are wrong as a matter of public policy.” tweeted Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative anti-Trump Bulwark. “It is not even that they lack empathy for those who suffer. They enjoy your lack of empathy. They pride themselves on their callousness. They are proud of their inhumanity. “
Daily coronavirus-related deaths since the election increased by more than 50% in Republican-led western states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska, according to the Covid monitoring project – and like Iowa, those states have been inundated with new infections.
Some Republican governors, like Reynolds and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, have been driven by desperation to don masks. But others, like Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a prominent Trump supporter, have resisted a blanket mandate.
In lieu of such a mandate, hundreds of Nebraska healthcare workers signed an open letter published Wednesday by the Omaha World-Herald, pleading with the public to mask themselves.
“Your frontline healthcare workers are exhausted,” they wrote. “We are afraid that hospitals do not have the space and the people to meet the growing demand. We are seeing many deaths and we will continue to see many more ”.
There is no clear map of the United States overlapping holes in political leadership with spikes in coronavirus cases, because the virus does not respect political boundaries, said Lawrence O Gostin, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University.
“It is really difficult to establish a direct and causal connection between the governors of conservative states who refuse to order masks, distance themselves or send mixed messages” and the cases, Gostin told The Guardian.
“But make no mistake about it, they are causing huge outbreaks in the United States, because we cannot think of the state as an autonomous unit. They affect other states and affect the entire country ”.
Republican resistance to masks, social distancing, and other coronavirus mitigation measures began early in the pandemic. The purely political prism through which Trump viewed the pandemic set the tone.
Privately, Trump said the virus was “a deadly thing” that “passes through the air,” while in public he said the virus was a “hoax” that “would go away.” Any Republican governor who dared to split with the party line, like Mike DeWine of Ohio and Larry Hogan of Maryland, sparked a furious Twitter attack from the White House.
Republicans also viewed the rejection of the coronavirus as an ideological battle, equating basic health precautions with existential threats to personal freedom.
Conservative Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito said last week that security measures had imposed “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” Attorney General William Barr called the possible stay-at-home orders “the greatest intrusion into civil liberties in American history,” other than slavery.
The partisan chasm produced a surprising scene in the Senate this week, when Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown asked the presiding senator, Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan, to wear a mask to protect the health of staff members who are required to be present in the chamber, including a staff member sitting directly below Sullivan.
“I don’t need your instruction,” Sullivan barked in denial.
Ted Cruz, another Republican senator, went ahead. “Sherrod Brown is being a complete jerk”, tweeted.
Senators had been called to the chamber to confirm some final Trump judges. But that fact only underscored the Republican failure, in the eyes of critics, to find Democrats halfway through a much-needed new coronavirus relief bill, which appears to be a dead letter.
For millions of American lives affected by the coronavirus, it was too late to correct the failure of masking and social distancing protocols, testing and contact tracing. But the negative consequences of the culture war surrounding the pandemic could still come, damaging the national vaccination effort.
“The primary responsibility for prioritizing vaccines and distributing them [lies with] state and local health departments, ”Gostin said. “Although you will likely have leadership that values science, you will nevertheless have a state and local government that resists, is not distributing the vaccine effectively, and is not encouraging the public to get the vaccine.
“So the fragmented and fragmented approach in the United States will only look worse when it comes to vaccine distribution.”
Gostin said he expected Biden to convene a Covid-19 summit at the White House that would include all governors and public health commissioners.
“It’s going to be tough,” Gostin said, “but I think that’s our only hope of meeting what we face: the most daunting logistical challenge for a vaccine campaign in our life.”