On October 27, 2020, then-President Donald Trump stood before a mostly maskless assemblage of adoring fans and declared the nation was “rounding the turn” on the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the 40th time he had made this claim in the last 57 days, and it was no more true then than it is now. The average daily infection rate at that time stood around 85,000 new cases per day. Today? Over 121,000 cases a day, with a daily death toll back above 1,200.
A lot of Trump’s people at that time fully believed his negligently homicidal claims about that corner, and many of them still do. Not as many now, of course; some have come to embrace the science, but tens of thousands of Trump supporters have been killed by this thing, by Trump’s flippant dismissal of it all. Because of this, there will in all likelihood never be a corner to turn. “Endemic” is the hot word among COVID epidemiologists these days, which is science-speak for “pretty much forever.”
“Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President [Joe] Biden,” reports NPR. “The trend was robust, even when controlling for age, which is the primary demographic risk of COVID-19 mortality. The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate.”
Now comes the ominously titled Omicron variant, kissing cousin to the Delta variant that is presently kicking ass all over the country. Omicron has been confirmed in 66 countries all over the world and in 22 U.S. states. COVID experts are laying themselves out trying to answer a number of pressing questions: How transmissible is Omicron? Are the symptoms worse than Delta? Will the vaccines still work?
“A sobering portrait of the omicron variant is emerging from the first burst of laboratory studies on the coronavirus’s latest incarnation, showing that the mutated virus can slip past a shield of protection provided by the standard two-shot vaccine regimen,” reports The Washington Post. “But the studies, including one released Wednesday by Pfizer and its vaccine partner BioNTech, point to a potential path for slowing omicron’s march: Booster shots could help control the variant by raising virus-fighting antibodies high enough to block the pathogen.”
This is but one of the studies that are taking place, as yet to be peer-reviewed and rigorously confirmed. There are also suggestions that the symptoms of Omicron could be “mild” in comparison to those of Delta or the original strain. “More than 40 people in the U.S. have been found to be infected with the omicron variant so far,” reports the Associated Press, “and more than three-quarters of them had been vaccinated, the chief of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] said Wednesday. But she said nearly all of them were only mildly ill.”
We can speculate all we wish about the possible need for boosters amid a “mild”-symptomed, fifth wave of infections, but we won’t have solid data about Omicron until all the testing has been completed and reviewed. Even then, the variant’s long-term effects will remain unknown. One thing appears reasonably certain, however: This new wave, in whatever iteration, will likely exercise the peak of its lethality within the ranks of those who believed Trump’s tall tales about “rounding the turn.”
“If Trump had a single care for the people who make him possible,” I wrote back in June, “he would embark on a vaccination campaign in all the states he carried in 2020, but he will not do this unless forced to. He will squat in his Bedminster lair plotting revenge, even as those he owes his power to die preventable deaths every day.”
It did not have to be this way, but here we are. Perhaps, after another winter of illness, suffering and doubt, at least some of those who embraced Trump’s denial of science will find their way out of that fog. I stand in dread of the body count to come between then and now, if “then” ever comes at all.