Analysis: Children fall victim to new GOP offer to politicize pandemic

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Schoolchildren are the latest victims as Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, Republican governors of Florida and Texas, prioritize ideology over public health advice. Governors are clashing with local authorities resisting their orders banning school mask mandates, which appears to directly contradict traditional conservative resistance to distant and centralized power.

As the Delta variant crisscrosses the country – especially less-vaccinated Republican states – there are growing signs that leaders like DeSantis and Abbott have locked themselves into absolutist positions they cannot dilute without suffering. serious personal and political damage. But the price of their way is more illness and death in overcrowded Covid-19 units among the people they were elected to serve.

“For any other illness, you wouldn’t turn to your political leader for medical advice,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Monday. “Politicians should really let public health and medical leaders get on with how to get this thing under control. “

More than 98% of the U.S. population lives in counties now considered to have “substantial” or “high” transmission of Covid-19, according to CNN analysis of data released Monday by the state Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -United. But areas with high vaccination rates – most often run by Democrats – have so far done a better job in tackling the variant. The threat from Delta has also upset governments overseas – and some in Europe, Asia and the Pacific have reimposed public health measures designed to slow the spread.

The irony is that by resisting similar measures, these Republicans have proven genuine warnings by federal health officials that the Delta variant poses a serious threat. Now, the same dynamic can happen again, as they ignore advice from the CDC that all school children should wear masks.

Both governors enjoy strong support in the conservative media. DeSantis was recently celebrated by right-wing pundits for his handling of the pandemic and is seen as a possible alternative candidate in 2024 if ex-President Donald Trump decides not to run. So their refusal to change course as conditions worsen only reinforces the impression that those who want a political future in the GOP must now demonstrate their contempt for common sense health measures, just as surely as ‘they have to repeatedly prove their dedication to Trump.

Florida children’s hospitals fill up

DeSantis is feuding with several school districts that promise to defy its ban on requiring masks for young children who cannot yet get vaccinated but are about to cram into classrooms for a new school year . Doubling down on his stance that parents – most of whom have no medical expertise – should make the final decisions on masks, DeSantis on Monday threatened to withhold salaries from school officials defying his unmasked tenure.

This at a time when the pediatric units of his state are filling up with young patients with Covid.

“Our pediatricians, nurses, staff are exhausted and the children are suffering, and it’s absolutely devastating,” Marty told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday. “Our children are very affected. We have never seen such numbers before.”

DeSantis is also appealing a court order in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line that overturned its ban on requiring passengers to prove they are vaccinated before boarding.

In Texas, Abbott on Monday called on hospitals to delay elective medical procedures as Covid-19 spreads. Like DeSantis, he faces resistance from several school boards over his own executive order banning in-class mask mandates.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, meanwhile, is urging people to ignore CDC guidelines on masking in a new video filled with misinformation about the crisis. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene touted the low vaccination rates in Alabama. As the Delta variant rages on and the number of national cases has risen from around 20,000 daily infections to 100,000 in a month, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has said requiring masks in schools would have “negative consequences”.

These Republican politicians, and others, appear to be listening more to another possible 2024 GOP candidate: South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who recently accused them of lacking “guts” in the face of the pandemic.

The insanity of GOP politicians using their power to counter the best advice of public health experts has been criticized most succinctly by one of their Republican colleagues – Senator Bill Cassidy, a former doctor who represents Louisiana , a state where the Delta variant demands a heavy price.

“Anytime politicians meddle in public health, it usually doesn’t work for public health, and ultimately it doesn’t work for the politician, because public health suffers and the American people want public health,” he said. Cassidy told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday.

“Regarding local conditions, if my hospital is full, the vaccination rate is low and the infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local authorities to make these decisions for their communities best,” Cassidy said. .

Trump seeks to air his neglect of the pandemic

Trump, meanwhile, has launched a new effort to air his own disastrous neglect of the crisis during his tenure.

In a weekend interview with Fox News, he accused President Joe Biden – who begged supporters of the former president to get the shot and run away – of making the pandemic worse. Trump and conservative media propagandists also mistakenly claim that the Delta variant is mainly spread by undocumented migrants crossing the southern border.

CNN analysis of CDC data suggests that 99.99% of the 160 million Americans who are fully vaccinated have not had serious Covid-19 infections, making the idea that any politician would downplay the even more heinous importance of vaccines.

In the history of the nation, many of the most difficult American political questions boil down to the tension between the liberty of individuals and the measures necessary to advance the collective good of society.

GOP Senator Rick Scott of Florida on Monday laid out the principled conservative position that choices about masks and vaccines should be up to individuals.

“When did we decide as US citizens that we were going to give the government the option of telling us we had to wear a mask or get vaccinated?” Scott asked at a press conference. “It shouldn’t be their responsibility. Their responsibility is to give me the right information and let me make the hell of a decision.”

However, Scott said he would not oppose the refusal of private companies to serve or employ people who refuse to take such precautions.

The weakness of such a position in a pandemic, however, is that it answers political rather than epidemiological questions. This tension is constantly exploited by a virus that forgets to debate government boundaries but has an advantage when political divisions lessen the impact of public health measures.

“Do not seek medical advice from the governor of Florida”

The Biden administration, while presiding over the full vaccination of half of American adults, is not faultless amid the political uproar.

The president made what appeared to be a premature early declaration of partial victory over the pandemic on July 4 and was guilty of mixed messages about vaccines and masks in recent days that have compounded the confusion. But, unlike the Trump administration, Biden’s White House has been willing to change course based on the facts and catch up with Americans on the real state of the pandemic – even if it could hurt. to Biden’s political stance.

However, many of the most prominent right-wing voices have clearly politicized the situation for their own personal gain. The result is raging infections: Texas and Florida are roaming the country with new infection counts and overloading hospitals. The Sunshine State recorded 134,751 new cases between August 2 and 8, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. Texas recorded 86,123 over the same period, more than 20,000 cases above any other state.

But despite these dire numbers, any reversal by the two governors now seems politically unpleasant as their goals seem to be to please the conservative grassroots voters who like to see them take on Biden and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr.Anthony Fauci. .

In this, they are following the plan laid down by Trump when he was president and mocking the masking, while ignoring the virus for long periods of time and urging states to reopen before the infections cleared up.

The hyperpoliticization of part of the pandemic – including the vaccines Trump has helped a lot to develop – puzzles many medical experts.

Dr Jonathan Reiner, a renowned heart specialist at George Washington University, said in an interview with CNN’s Jim Acosta on Sunday that if Florida was another country, the federal government might consider banning travel from there. down to the United States.

“Do not seek your medical advice from the governor of Florida,” Reiner said. “He must understand that he got into a corner. People are dying in Florida. It’s going to get worse.”

As several potential future Republican presidential candidates seek political gain even under the most difficult circumstances, other GOP members are calibrating their comments in light of the deepening crisis.

Cassidy’s comment Sunday on CNN that “public health suffers” when politics get involved followed Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson’s admission that he regretted signing a bill to ban mask warrants earlier this year. His change of mind came as cases of the Delta variant rose in his state. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on Kentuckians to get vaccinated. And Jim Justice – the governor of West Virginia, one of the most conservative and pro-Trump strongholds – said on Monday that he did not want to impose masks but that he should eventually do so because the state was lacking in time.

“You are taking a hellish risk if you are not vaccinated,” Justice said, showing an unequivocal approach to exiting the crisis that contrasts with the approach on both sides of Trump and other unwilling Republicans. their political time. capital to save their constituents.

“I’m telling you as a governor, as a friend, as a person you really trust: right now you need to make this a number 1 priority in your life and run to the fire and make yourself vaccinate, ”Justice said. .

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