The number of new COVID-19 infections in the country topped 26,500 yesterday, a two-week increase of 111 percent. Experts broadly agree the reasons behind this new infection spike are twofold: (1) The Delta variant of COVID is highly infectious and on the verge of becoming the dominant strain in the U.S.; (2) Millions of people continue to refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks.
Note well, there are plenty of people who remain unvaccinated for very comprehensible reasons: They live in areas where the shot is still difficult to obtain, or they are prevented from doing so for unavoidable work/life requirements, or they have vaccination hesitancy that is deeply rooted in an understandable distrust of medical experts who have grossly abused their communities for generations.
The problem, however, is that millions of people remain unvaccinated — and won’t wear masks — because they think Donald Trump won the 2020 election, because Trump says he did. The way they have chosen to combat the ocean of criticism earned by the Trump presidency is simple, and utterly lethal: If Trump is good, that means science is bad, so screw science and screw you, too. If this self-destructive practice is not interrupted, we may be in for another long and brutal winter.
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“Vaccines have been available to most Americans for months,” reports CNN, “but still only 48.2% of the country is fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and the rate of new vaccinations is on the decline. Meanwhile, case rates have been going up dramatically. In 47 states, the rate of new cases in the past week are at least 10% higher than the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Of those, 35 have seen increases of over 50%. Officials and experts have said disinformation is largely to blame for the high number of unvaccinated Americans, a group which is now seeing the largest impacts of the pandemic.”
Matters are becoming dire enough to spur the largest nurses’ union in the U.S. to urge the reinstatement of the mask mandate. National Nurses United executive director Bonnie Castillo transmitted a letter to the CDC warning, “The Covid-19 pandemic is far from over.” The letter goes on to lay out a swath of terrifying infection numbers. “NNU strongly urges the CDC to reinstate universal masking, irrespective of vaccination status, to help reduce the spread of the virus, especially from infected individuals who do not have any symptoms,” pleads the concluding message.
“Officials and experts have said disinformation is largely to blame for the high number of unvaccinated Americans,” reported CNN. But why? Qui bono? Who benefits? As it turns out, the same old right-wing hucksters are the ones who benefit the most, the ones who will say anything in order to dent the conversation and increase their own power, no matter how many of their own people they trick into an early, gasping grave. Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg News explains it:
It works like this. A fringe group of the party seeks to differentiate itself from the mainstream. To do that, its members set out to prove that they are the True Conservatives and everyone else is a wishy-washy Republican in Name Only at best, and a collaborating liberal at worst. However, by now the mainstream of the party has become so conservative that there are no easy moves to make that involve pushing one or another policy preference….
The key point here is that there is no counter move available to the rest of the party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can say that they oppose such-and-such a policy because they are liberals, not socialists. There’s no parallel move for the Republican congressional leaders, Kevin McCarthy in the House or Mitch McConnell in the Senate. That doesn’t mean that mainstream conservatives always go along, but within the norms of the party they’re not allowed to call anyone too conservative, let alone any more negative characterization.
How do you set yourself outside and above the conservative pack? Start by refusing to wear a mask. Follow that by refusing to get vaccinated. Not long after, begin making spurious claims that the vaccinations are deadly, and when people don’t die in sufficient numbers to support that egregious lie, downshift to the argument that vaccinations and masks are the newest iteration of Nazi fascism.
I do not see an easy solution to this problem, especially in a country that prides itself on freedom of opinion, even monstrously self-destructive opinion. How do you fix this when the governor of Florida is selling t-shirts attacking Anthony Fauci, the government’s lead COVID expert, even as that state endures 3,000 new COVID hospitalizations a day? New infections in Florida are up 429 percent over the last two weeks, a number only matched by Tennessee, where the government has all but declared the topic of coronavirus to be off limits.
The way things are headed, we could soon be forced back into our masks for all occasions, back into seclusion, and worse, forced to bear witness to a segment of the population as it kills itself in the culmination of 40 years of nihilistic Republican ideology. One wonders if it really could have ended any other way.