Science Denial: Republicans, Religion, and Trump: A deadly brew.

New York ER doctor, Steven MacDonald, in an Oct.17th Yahoo Finance “The Ticker” interview notes a significant fact regarding the peculiar spread of the coronavirus since summer:

“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,”… “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.”

The article cites the work of web developer Dan Goodspeed in graphically describing the coronavirus cases per million of population for each of the States. His moving bar graph shows the top 25 states in coronavirus infections per million which gives a better comparison than just total cases per state, as the populations of US states vary greatly, from California’s nearly 40 million, Florida and New York at roughly 20 million each, to Wisconsin and Minnesota each close to 6 million citizens, and North and South Dakota both just under a million inhabitants. Goodspeed’s cases per million graphic lets us see how each state’s infections worsen from June 1 thru Oct 17th, when the Yahoo Finance article went to press.

The worst 13 states for COVID infection rates are all Republican states with (all but one) Republican governors, who mostly late in the game, finally promoted masking – by recommending mask use only, many still refusing to enact a statewide mandatory masking order.

Let’s briefly look at the top 10 states current situations and history of COVID response. The AARP organization (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) lists all the mask requirements (or lack thereof) for all 50 states.

At the top of the list of coronavirus infection rate as of Oct 17th, is North Dakota. With a small state population of 762,000, ND is leading with 37,642 infections per million people. Contrast this with Illinois, a state of nearly 13 million people which is at the bottom of the top 25 with only 17,692 infections per million people: less than half the rate of North Dakota. One would expect Illinois to be among the top infectious states with its huge and densely populated Chicago Metro area of 11 million people, yet it barely made the list. Illinois’ Democratic governor has had a mask mandate in place for all citizens in public over age 2 since April; North Dakota still has no mandatory masking. Republican governor Doug Burgum has refused to put in a mask mandate despite urging from dozens of ND doctors and 3 of his public health officials resigning over his handling of the crisis. His denial of the science appears to be driven by a conservative “light touch” government approach rather than any particular religious affiliation.

2nd worst on the list is Florida, at 32,000 infections per million, led by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, an avid Trump supporter and devout Catholic opposed to abortion, who has still only put a mask “recommendation” in place, and has blocked large cities from imposing fines for non-compliance to their local mandatory masking policies. Florida has a population of over 21 million. This spring Florida had only 8,000 cases and less than 150 dead. Six months later Florida has over 750,000 cases and nearly 17,000 dead-Seventeen thousand. That is 6x the deaths from 9-11!
Early outbreaks in the US began on both coasts and in the major cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Washington and New York state were the hardest hit then, but both did not even make this top 25 infection rate list. Florida’s deaths have grown to almost half of NY’s 33,000 dead, which were concentrated in the densely populated NY metro area, most of them occurring at the onset of the US coronavirus pandemic. Florida now has nearly twice as many infections as all of New York, and unfortunately, it may be but a matter of time before the deaths in Florida approach New York’s horrible totals. One would hope all the Republican governors whose states have experienced much later infections rises (this summer and fall) could have learned from the horrors visited on both coasts months earlier. But the abject denial of the science continues, with the efficacy of masking accepted begrudgingly, or not at all.

3rd up is tiny Mississippi with a state population just under 3 million. The Republican governor there, Tate Reeves, just let his statewide masking recommendation lapse as of Sept. 30th. This action is despite Mississippi’s daily infections, although lower than July’s peaks, are creeping back up from late September’s daily cases of around 700, to over 900 and 1,000 in early October. This is the same governor who back in the spring first suggested employing the “power of prayer” in lieu of any masking order that he eventually ordered as a recommendation only, and just rescinded.

Fourth worst is Alabama. Governor Kay Ivey was another Republican governor who waited until late July to implement any sort of masking order, in her case, admirably a statewide mandatory masking. However, she also quoted Biblical passages as part of her early coronavirus “response.” Evidently those passages were no more effective than the admonition to pray was in Mississippi and now Alabama is finally giving the science of it all a try.

The fifth worst state in infections is South Dakota, with only 884,000 residents. The Republican governor Kristi Noem, has been adamant about not having mandatory masking statewide, opting for recommendation only. She refused to implement mandatory masking even as the infection raged months ago in Sioux Falls, despite the pleadings of the mayor and his public health officials. Just recently, the mayors of SD cities have taken the matter into their own hands, as the rapid infection increase is now a statewide problem, signing a letter to the general public SD Mayors Letter Concerning the COVID Pandemic to wear masks.

6th worst is Arkansas. Republican governor Asa Hutchinson finally and reluctantly implemented mandatory masking in late July. A good number of local police chiefs and sheriffs pushed back immediately saying they would not enforce the masking mandate. Their attitude no doubt reflected the anti-science stance of many of the citizens of the state which has a rather large Evangelical Christian population.

The first state on the list with a Democratic governor (7th) is Louisiana, a Republican dominated state whose governor, John Bel Edwards implemented mandatory masking in July, with exemptions for areas with low infections rates. The masking order was 90 days later than many Democratic states and the exemptions may not have been particularly helpful in encouraging mask use and reduction of the infection rate. Louisiana was hit particularly hard early on, some of it traced to the late February Mardi Gras celebration-one of the early examples of a classic spreader event.

8th in line is South Carolina at just under 30,000 infections per million people. Governor McMaster, a Republican, still refuses to order statewide mandatory masking, event though the mayors of some of the largest cities have on their own.

At the number nine spot is Tennessee. Republican governor Bill Lee put in a masking recommendation order early on in late April. As with other Republican led states, the larger cities; Nashville and Memphis among them, resorted to implementing their own mandatory masking policies.

Rounding out the top ten is the great state of Arizona. With a population of just over 7 million and an infection rate close to 29,000 per million, Governor Doug Ducey, a staunch Republican Trump supporter still has implemented no statewide mandatory masking. In fact until late June he blocked the mayors of his largest cities from implementing their own local masking mandates: a typical situation with the science denial of Republican governors conflicting with the pragmatic concerns of their cities mayors.

Of the 17 states listed by AARP as having no mandatory masking order as of mid-October-ALL are headed by republican Governors and 15 are in the top 25 worst states infections per million inhabitants, claiming 12 of the top 13 spots! Many of these governors are very open about their strong religious beliefs and affiliations as noted in the examples above. One of the most egregious events was held by the Republican governor of SD, Kristi Noem, who not only declared an Official Day of Prayer for the state to end the pandemic in early April, but held a church service in the Capitol rotunda her first day in office. Science denial goes hand in hand with religious thinking and the Republican governors often wear both their religious arrogance and their science denial with pride.

Tellingly, Ohio doesn’t even make the list of the worst 25 states in infections and it is an outlier in another important way. Republican Governor Mike DeWine started mandatory masking in his worst hit counties as early as the Democratic states did, and imposed mandatory masking (not merely recommending) for the entire state in late July. It appears his early masking efforts where needed kept his state moderated as far as infections go. It also appears mandatory masking is decidedly more effective than just the recommendation to mask.

To summarize, 21 of the 25 worst states for coronavirus infection rates are run by Republican governors, who hold 12 of the the top 13 (worst infections) spots. The two bottom states: California at 24th and Illinois at 25th are run by Democratic governors with large sate populations (40 million and 13 million respectively) and contain huge metropolitan centers, yet both have levels of infection under 20,000 per million. The Republican-run states have ranges from over 20,000 to 37,000 per million people. The two other Democratic-run states: Wisconsin (14) and Nevada (15) are also outliers.

Nevada’s Democratic governor enacted a mask mandate in late June. Although the state has a moderately small population of 3 million, the gaming industry centered in Las Vegas attracts such large amounts of tourists that containment has been difficult. But Nevada ranking 15th with 26,000 infections per million, 90,000 cases, and 1,700 deaths is way below that of #3 Mississippi; a state having almost exactly the same population of 3 million inhabitants, but with an infection rate of 31,500 per million, 110,000 cases and 3,100 deaths. Again, a Democratic governor mandating masks in Nevada (which Mississippi never did) and early on, may have been a key factor to the dramatic difference between these 2 states, possibly saving 1,500 lives in the process.

Lastly, Wisconsin, although having a Democratic governor (Tony Evers), has a majority Republican legislature and Supreme Court who have battled the governor’s attempts to control the virus through public health measures since the very beginning in March and April. With 6 million citizens, Wisconsin has been breaking their own records with daily new cases (now over 3,000) so far in October. Evers finally enacted a mandatory masking order, in early August, which has been recently upheld by the courts after another Republican-led effort to stop it, along with any and all efforts by the governor to contain the virus. Masking compliance especially in the rural areas of Wisconsin has been poor, encouraged by Trump and Republicans state-wide. It shows in the numbers. Many restaurants even refused to provide carry-out service, requiring only sit-down seating, almost as a badge of honor in defiance of the science and public health restrictions. The tourists in Wisconsin show up with masks, the locals not so much. Masking has been as politicized in Wisconsin as strongly as any state, and it put them right in the middle of the pack of the 25 worst coronavirus state responses. The Wisconsin Republicans had a similar negative effect as any state having a Republican governor at the helm.

So the upshot of all this is that outright science denial, often fueled by religious conservatism, has kept a slew of Republican governors from enacting any sort of mask mandate, or adopting them late in the game and their citizens are paying for it dearly, in sickness and over 220,000 deaths, here in the US. Estimates are well over 300,000 by the end of 2020 and approaching 400,000 soon thereafter. Comparing the results of Ohio, or Illinois, or other states that didn’t even make this top 25 infection rate list, who followed the science early (or tried to against staunch Republican and religious leaders opposition), one wonders how many lives might have been saved had Republican leaders in the State capitols and the White House also followed the science from day one-instead of learning the hard way, caving in only after tens of thousands more Americans got sick or died.

Dr. MacDonald gets the last word regarding the coronavirus pandemic grip on the US:
“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.

end religion now





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  1. Pingback: 30 Day COVID-Republican State Debacles Followup: The Arrogance of Religious Thought – Science Denial – Dispatches from the New Enlightenment

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