Had social distancing measures begun a week earlier, 36,000 lives could have been saved, according to Columbia University researchers. Instituting measures two weeks earlier would have spared more than 80 percent of the cases and deaths, their research suggests. The Trump administration’s delinquency in recognizing the severity of the virus and the extent of community spread already underway by February resulted in the unnecessary death of tens of thousands of Americans.

Tragically, Trump’s anti-science, anti-expert stance has not ended; it continues to take lives. Trump’s aversion to wearing a mask and the right-wing media universe’s insistence on making this a visible expression of the culture wars are likely to cost lives. (And then there is the president’s irresponsible hawking of hydroxychloroquine.)

North Dakota’s Republican governor, Doug Burgum, is frantic to depoliticize what Trump has politicized. The Post reports on his comments Friday:

“I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through where they’re creating a divide — either it’s ideological or political or something — around masks versus no mask,” Burgum said. “This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line, and I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding.” . . .
Burgum then went on, getting emotional.
“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” Burgum said, before his voice began breaking. “They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have covid, and they’re fighting.”

It is striking that, as New York cautiously opens its state region by region, Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo likewise pleads with New Yorkers to wear a mask. “We are going to have to do it for a long time,” Cuomo warned Saturday, suggesting masks will be essential in the fall and beyond. Cuomo calls mask-wearing and other social distancing actions indicative of “New York tough” — which he said Friday means “smart, united, disciplined and loving.” (New York has a statewide contest to come up with the best public-service ad to promote mask-wearing.)

In his plea for people to wear masks, Burgum said, "I would just love to see our state, as part of being North Dakota Smart, also be North Dakota Kind, North Dakota Empathetic.”

New York and North Dakota are not that different after all.

As we move into the next phase of the pandemic, the issue is no longer whether to reopen businesses and venues. All 50 states are in some phase of relaxing the most stringent lockdown orders. There is, however, a world of difference between governors who move responsibly (helping to instill a culture of mask-wearing) and governors who align themselves with Trump in the culture wars, moving prematurely and needlessly promoting risky conduct.

In that regard, “The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions,” The Post reports, citing new modeling from Imperial College London. In California, where some rural counties rushed to reopen before the governor acted, and in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been among the most resistant to social distancing measures, “the death rate could spike to roughly 1,000 a day by July without efforts to mitigate the spread, according to the report.”

The Imperial College model and other studies show infection rates spiking in Texas, Arizona and Alabama. Cases have been rising dramatically as Texas continues to relax restrictions on everything from tanning salons to movie theaters, leading former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke to tweet:

In sum, had Trump — followed by his cult of right-wing governors — exhibited actual leadership, thousands of Americans might still be alive. He could have listened to scientists, given up the notion that closing public spaces would just spook the markets (and endanger his reelection), decisively supported lockdown measures, discouraged large gatherings (instead of egging on states to allow religious services, which have often been the site for mass infections) and modeled responsible mask-wearing. If he had, fewer Americans would have become seriously ill. We might not now be staring at the mind-boggling figure of 100,000 deaths.


An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated part of a quote from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. This version has been updated.

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