COVID Is Not a Republican Disease

People take part in a protest to defund the police at City Hall in the Manhattan borough of New York, June 25, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Most positive cases are now among young people, who are the least likely to be Republican — and the most likely to join mass protests.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE P aul Krugman holds that COVID is now Republican disease. Why are positivity rates going up? “Americans didn’t fail the Covid-19 test,” he recently wrote, “Republicans did.”

But, it just ain’t so. “The Northeast, with its largely Democratic governors, has been appropriately cautious about reopening, and its numbers look like Europe’s,” Krugman says. Has he noticed that Republicans govern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont? And that the largest concentration of death was in Democrat-controlled New York and New Jersey?

It’s hard to overstate this point. America’s COVID disaster began in New York, which did most of the work seeding the rest of the nation. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio engaged in dueling Hamlet acts about shutting down. New York’s leadership, addled by partisanship, reacted to Donald Trump’s travel restrictions to and from China (and, later, Iran) by tacking in the opposite direction and downplaying the risks of the coronavirus and encouraging mass gatherings.

“The really bad news is coming from Republican-controlled states, especially Arizona, Florida and Texas, which rushed to reopen and, while some are now pausing, haven’t reversed course,” Krugman says. “If the Northeast looks like Europe, the South is starting to look like Brazil.”

But within a few hours of Krugman’s publishing his column on June 25, Florida moved to shut down bars, where they find the majority of transmission happening. This makes precisely the opposite case from Krugman’s. Florida’s response has been driven by the numbers. Florida looked to protect vulnerable elderly at nursing homes and assisted-living communities, avoiding the scythe that cut down New York’s elderly population, which was subjected to Cuomo’s mania for freeing up hospital beds (he ordered nursing homes to admit corona-infected residents, though the homes were not equipped to safely handle such cases). Florida is now seeing 155 deaths per 1 million despite having a much older and more vulnerable population. Younger New York State has seen a death rate more than ten times that, at 1,613 per million.

Liberal commitment to the story of Florida’s perfidy in the COVID-19 crisis has pushed progressives into conspiracy theories about Florida juking the stats and effectively hiding the bodies. But while the original increase in testing drove up the number of cases, in the past two weeks, the positivity rate of COVID tests also went up, indicating a wider spread. What’s happening here?

Krugman presses his case by citing polls showing that Republicans, compared with Democrats, are more anxious to open the economy and less enthusiastic about masks. This is true, and Trump very much deserves some of the blame for discouraging mask-wearing. Right-populist leaders in Poland, Hungary, and Austria took the opposite tack and encouraged masks. Their success has improved Europe’s overall numbers even as they lack advanced testing and tracing methods.

But the evidence points to nearly the opposite narrative from what Krugman assumes. While mainstream media and law enforcement have tried to gin up panic about religious people breathing on one another, pointing to a tiny handful of rebellious Jewish groups and Evangelicals, the overwhelming truth is that America’s most religious populations have dutifully put up with the shutdown of their churches. So who’s getting sick?

The New York Times reports that it is the youngest cohorts of adults who make up most of the latest cases. This explains why we’re seeing a surge in positive testing but a lag in the mortality rate. But younger people are the least likely to be Republicans or to take their health cues from Donald Trump. Perhaps Paul Krugman can remember some notable mass gatherings that featured many young people recently? Unfortunately, we may not get the evidence about whether there’s a connection between progressive protests and the coronavirus, because Democrat governors including Cuomo — who are so concerned about science — have forbidden contact tracers from even inquiring whether COVID-19 patients attended protests. This is true in Florida where, Joe Nocera reports, the average age of positive coronavirus cases has dropped from 62.5 to 34. And Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis has urged people to wear masks.

It’s true that a few nutcases on the right-wing fringe have spread conspiracy theories about COVID-19. What’s the excuse of the mainstream media and Paul Krugman for doing the same?

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