There are 8 million confirmed U.S. cases of coronavirus, and yet the pandemic is politicized.
President Trump largely eschews mask wearing and falsely claimed during a town hall this week that “85% of the people wearing masks catch” Covid-19 despite becoming infected himself. At the same time, Republican-leaning areas of the U.S. are now experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
“To the extent that public health measures have become politicized, it really should be no surprise that we see that the spread of the disease also runs along political lines,” Dr. Steven McDonald, a New York-based emergency medicine physician, said on Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker (video above). “When you have a Republican president telling Republican supporters that mask wearing is not necessary, even after he’s had coronavirus from a maskless event, it’s no surprise that we see surges in Republican areas.”
Data compiled by web developer Dan Goodspeed shows just how badly Republican-leaning areas have been hit in the last four months as compared to Democratic-leaning states:
‘The rise in the death rate will be soon to follow’
Coronavirus initially spread quickly on the American West coast and the Northeast, with New York City becoming the global epicenter for a time, before transmission declined rapidly after governors implemented statewide mask mandates and stay-at-home orders.
The South experienced its own wave of cases after governors lifted restrictions early into the pandemic, and transmission remains troublingly high in that region. In recent months, coronavirus spread as moved across the Midwest. Now, states in the West including Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho are seeing their own spikes in cases amid lax social distancing policies.
“The concern there is that these are geographies that don’t have the same density of hospitals and doctors as you do in the Northeast or the metropolitan South or California,” he said. “New York was completely overwhelmed — but at the same time, we have many many hospitals in the New York City metropolitan area. That's really not the case where the disease is now surging and so, that means that critical patients have fewer critical beds that they can be slotted to. That makes me very nervous.”
North Dakota and South Dakota currently have the most confirmed cases per capita among U.S. states, according to data from the New York Times. South Dakota’s governor, Kristi Noem, a Republican and staunch Trump supporter, declined to impose any mask mandate or business restrictions within her state. She’s also attributed the surge in cases to increased testing, although that doesn’t account for the surge in hospitalizations her state is also experiencing.
“People are acknowledging that the hospitalization rate is increasing,” McDonald said. “First you see the rise in cases, then the rise in hospitalizations, then the rise in deaths. The fact we’re already seeing a rise in hospitalizations, these systems are going to be overwhelmed very quickly, potentially more quickly than New York. Unfortunately, I think the rise in the death rate will be soon to follow.”
‘As long as we have the current leadership in place...’
It all comes down to the nation’s leadership, McDonald stressed, and government guidelines.
Trump has said that the cure cannot be worse than the disease, referring to the economic consequences of shutdowns, while Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has said that he will prioritize health over all else.
“Lockdowns obviously depend on who’s in power because they are individuals who are enforcing that law,” McDonald said. “As long as we have the current leadership in place, and as long as governors are being left to make these decisions — in some cases like Florida, mayors are being left to make these decisions — as long as that’s the way the system's working, I wouldn’t expect shutdowns any time soon. That said, we’ll see if a Biden presidency were to happen, this could change very quickly.”
In any case, as long as many people continue to disregard social distancing and public health guidelines, the coronavirus pandemic will continue to haunt the U.S. until a vaccine is widely distributed.
“As long as people continue to flout mask wearing, as long as young people continue to congregate in educational institutions, this will continue to percolate in high numbers,” McDonald said.
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.