From President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s ludicrous assertions that the novel coronavirus pandemic is no big deal anymore to crowded bars in Arizona and block parties in New York City, it sure seems like Americans are ready to move on from the public health emergency that has dominated our lives since March.
Yes, the daily count of new infections and deaths has fallen since its peak in April in May. New York City no longer is in full crisis as the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. Stay-at-home orders have caused pain and inconvenience to virtually everyone.
But the coronavirus has infected more than 2 million Americans and killed nearly 120,000. The daily tally of new cases is now rising, not falling, both here and abroad. There have been about as many new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. over the past two weeks as there were in early April ― around 25,000 each day. The new hot spots are now places like Arizona, Florida and Texas, all states that have adopted aggressive “reopening” policies.
We may be finished with the coronavirus, but the virus isn’t finished with us.
Whether the crest we’re now riding is the continuation of the “first wave” that began in January or the onset of a “second wave” is a semantic difference that utterly doesn’t matter. The pandemic is ongoing. It will not go away just because we’re weary.
Political leaders, especially ― but not exclusively ― Republicans like Trump, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, are plainly prioritizing money over human lives. That would be bad enough, except the GOP has also politicized basic safety precautions like social distancing and mask-wearing, putting the party’s own supporters at the greatest risk.
It’s telling that while Trump is going ahead with a huge indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday despite pleading from city health officials amid a major spike in COVID-19, his campaign is trying to indemnify itself against lawsuits from attendees who become ill.
This has been Trump’s playbook from the beginning: downplay the risks of the coronavirus in public while quietly acknowledging its severity. And if he cares at all about the health of his supporters ― or anyone else ― there’s no evidence to be found of it.
Republican governors have followed his lead. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts notified counties in the state that they wouldn’t be eligible for financial aid if they imposed mask requirements in government buildings. In Texas, Abbott has rebuffed pleas from mayors to allow them to mandate masks in public. DeSantis is plowing ahead with Florida’s rapid reopening despite a sharp rise in infections.
This isn’t just about the politicians or even one political party, though. The decisions individual Americans make about how to behave are arguably an even bigger factor. It’s a political choice to allow restaurants and bars to open for outdoor seating. It’s a personal choice to go to them, to not employ sensible social distancing and to leave your face uncovered.
The pain Americans are suffering because of this outbreak is very real. The many lives that COVID-19 has interrupted, ruined or ended would be enough to illustrate that.
But millions are out of work, and unemployment benefits are close to running out. Businesses are shuttered. Schools are closed. Essential workers risk their health to commute to their jobs. Those working from home have to juggle their jobs and their family obligations. Families and friends are separated from each other. Whether you live alone or with others, isolation takes a heavy toll on your mental health.
It’s all horrible. These things are all true, and they all hurt. They also don’t matter to the virus.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that you want to hold a political rally.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that you’re worried about reelection.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that your business closed or you lost your job.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that schools are closed.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that you’re a Republican or a Democrat.
The coronavirus doesn’t care where you live.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that you miss your family and friends.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that your kids are driving you crazy.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that your children are miserable.
The coronavirus doesn’t care that the weather is nice.
The coronavirus doesn’t care how long it’s been since you had sex.
The coronavirus doesn’t care how bad your hair looks.
There is no coronavirus vaccine. There is no COVID-19 cure. The only tools we have at our disposal are the same ones everybody is fed up with. Staying at home. Hand-washing. Social distancing. Face covering. If we abandon those, it’s going to get worse.
The past few months have felt like eons. But the truly terrifying thing is that if we continue on this path toward pretending the pandemic is over, the nightmare will last even longer. Is that really what we want?
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