The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We are living in a bipartisan state of denial about the coronavirus

People make their way along 16th Street NW on Monday in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

I have some good news and bad news. The good news: At last, there is some bipartisan agreement in America. The bad news: It’s a tacit agreement to pretend that the threat from the novel coronavirus has somehow gone away. Covid-19 has become the forgotten plague — and it’s nowhere near ending.

The mass demonstrations following George Floyd’s death were well warranted, but they also posed a significant public health risk on both sides of the barricades. It’s true that many demonstrators wore masks and they were outdoors, but they were also shouting in close proximity to large numbers of other people. Fewer police and National Guard troops seemed to wear masks, so it’s hardly surprising that some members of the D.C. National Guard have tested positive for covid-19 in recent days. Anthony Fauci — remember him? — said on Wednesday: “When you get congregations like we saw with the demonstrations, like we have said — myself and other health officials — that’s taking a risk.”

Unfortunately, public health experts have impaired their own credibility and raised suspicions that they are politicizing science because more than 1,200 of them signed a letter “advocating for… demonstrations against systemic injustice occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Their reasoning is that white supremacy is a public health issue. That’s true, but if the demonstrations spread covid-19, that’s likely to hurt communities of color worst of all. Demonstrators have a right to risk their own lives, but not the lives of the most vulnerable members of their communities.

Conservatives quickly jumped on what seems to be a double standard: Public health experts had opposed much smaller protests against lockdown orders, and they had discounted concerns about the toll that the lockdown was taking not only on the economy but on public health, too. (Suicide rates rise during a recession.) Politico put it pithily: “Suddenly, Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance.”

The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police and vigilantes are part of bigger injustices felt by these black Americans. (Video: The Washington Post)

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

President Trump is bent out of shape about the protests, but it’s telling that he didn’t utilize the most powerful argument against them. He claims they are all engineered by antifa, for which there is no evidence. Instead, he could have argued that they threaten public health — for which there is copious evidence. But Trump didn’t make that case, because he, too, is pretending that the coronavirus has magically gone away — just a little later than he had originally predicted. (In February, he had claimed it would disappear by April.)

Trump’s narrative is that, as he tweeted on Wednesday, “Tremendous progress [is] being made, way ahead of schedule,” and he will not allow pesky details about coronavirus cases spiking in many states to interfere with his boasts about an economic recovery. The Wall Street Journal reports: “Mr. Trump and his advisers have made a strategic decision to shift focus … to issues they believe will animate the president’s conservative base ahead of the election while projecting confidence that the country is recovering economically.”

Fauci is one of the government’s top experts on infectious diseases, yet he said on June 1 that he hadn’t spoken to Trump since May 18. There are no more daily coronavirus briefings from the White House, and the administration’s coronavirus task force is no longer meeting every day. Trump has moved on from promulgating insane theories about the pandemic — e.g., his claim that bleach injections could be a cure — to promulgating insane theories about the protests, e.g., his tweet accusing a 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by Buffalo police of being “an ANTIFA provocateur.”

The president is planning to restart MAGA rallies this month, and the Republicans are moving their convention out of Charlotte because the Democratic governor of North Carolina resisted their demands for a mass gathering without masks or social distancing. This is outrageously irresponsible, but Trump critics who endorsed the Black Lives Matter demonstrations have little to say.

If only the coronavirus could die of benign neglect. But it is utterly, pitilessly indifferent to our collective attention-deficit disorder. We have already lost more than 114,000 Americans to covid-19 in the past four months — more than have died in all of our wars since 1945 — and we are still seeing an average of more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day. On Tuesday, 959 coronavirus deaths were reported. Only 88 Americans had officially died of the coronavirus when Trump announced social distancing guidelines on March 16, yet lockdowns are now ending and social distancing rules are being widely flouted.

States including Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Mississippi are seeing alarming increases in coronavirus cases — and it’s not simply because of more testing. With occupancy in its intensive care units approaching capacity, Arizona is telling hospitals to activate emergency plans. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that, as The Post reported, “Arizona tourist sites were packed for Memorial Day weekend. Lake Havasu, a popular vacation destination, was full.”

To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in the coronavirus, but it is interested in you.

Read more:

Megan McArdle: Social distancing is over

Henry Olsen: No, the lockdowns weren’t an overreaction

Michelle A. Williams and Jeffrey Sánchez: Racism is killing black people. It’s sickening them, too.

Karen Tumulty: How George Floyd speaks to the shame of our history and the promise of our future

Megan McArdle: Cities will make a comeback after the coronavirus. They almost always do.

Lyman Stone: The key tool to a safe opening is not social distancing

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

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