Americans Are Dying Over Their Politics
The United States of America is in the midst of the largest wave of COVID-19 infections since the beginning of the pandemic. States across the nations are breaking hospitalization records, and we're seeing hospitals operating at overcapacity.
Still, there is a widespread split between Americans as to whether or not the virus is a big deal. Even with a quarter of a million deaths so far, less than half of all Americans are even willing to take a Coronavirus vaccine when one becomes available.
Mask wearing is also divided, with states that are majority Republican having a much lower percentage of mask wearers than majority Democrat states. These states, where mask-wearing isn't happening as consistently, are also suffering the most in the current surge.
The Politicization of a Pandemic
The correlation between someone's politics and their response to the pandemic is not accidental. The pandemic has been politicized from the beginning.
Prior to becoming the White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany assured Americans that, "We will not see diseases like the Coronavirus come here." As months went on, the message of the then-confirmed Press Secretary evolved to declare that Donald Trump would not cave to the media and suspend his rallies.
Rallies continued, and COVID cases in the United States continued to rise.
This was not the only stark contrast. As Democratic leaders pleaded with Americans to adopt mask-wearing, President Trump and his spokespeople took up a new talking point: that early in the pandemic, Dr. Fauci had dismissed mask-wearing. Indeed, he did.
However, that was before it became clear that this new virus was not only airborne but easily spread from person to person. At the time, community spread wasn't apparent, and certainly not taking place in the United States at the levels it was in China.
As science evolved, so did the advice of the scientists. Discoveries were made, and tests were done which concluded that masks were not only effective but very much so.
Masks became a laughing point at Trump's rallies. He mocked Democrats for wearing masks and made fun of how they wore them.
The result was simple: Americans that believed what he said questioned the use of masks themselves and decided they didn't need them. They saw masks as a symbol of compliance and leftist ideals. Mask wearers were "sheeple" and "liberal snowflakes."
Trump's rallies continued throughout the campaign, with only a brief pause when he, himself, caught COVID-19. Once he recovered, he declared himself "totally immune" to the virus, even as repeat cases among previously-recovered individuals started to surface.
One study has linked over 700 deaths to Donald Trump's political rallies.
Protests, Counter-Protests, and Celebrations
Rallies aren't the only venue for COVID spread in the current political climate. Protests, counter-protests, and post-election celebrations draw massive groups of people together in tight spaces.
Even though left-driven protests have a visibly larger percentage of mask wearers, the proximity between people and the time spent in those large groups increases the risk of COVID spread considerably.
That said, a recent study by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities covered nearly 40,000 people who participated in national demonstrations and found no significant link between these protests and spikes in COVID cases.
There hasn't been enough time to tell whether or not the post-election celebrations that occurred shortly after Joe Biden became the projected President-elect has contributed to or escaped being a significant contributor of COVID spread.
This brings me to outright COVID denial. There is a significant segment of the American population that believes that the entire pandemic is a hoax perpetuated by the Democratic party to control the population and hurt the chances that Donald Trump will serve a second term.
Even after Donald Trump contracted COVID-19, his rapid recovery from the virus served as evidence (or proof) that the Coronavirus was nothing to be afraid of.
COVID skeptics are not a new phenomenon. There are deniers and conspiracy theorists for virtually every major event or topic. There are people that truly believe that, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
In one case, Pastor Gerald Glenn went so far as to tell his congregation to ignore social distancing practices and put their faith in God. He later died of complications resulting from COVID-19.
For many, it takes having a first-hand experience with the virus (and not just an asymptomatic or mild case) to understand its reality.
Perhaps the most important take-away from this pandemic is that humans are fallible. They are susceptible to rhetoric of all types, and conspiracy theories are especially attractive as we humans crave a good story.
To me, the best story we can pass on to generations that come after us is that we finally came together as a people and separated science from politics once and for all.