The Morning Jolt

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The Virus Doesn’t Care about Hypocrisy

People give away masks and gloves to demonstrators during a protest against police brutality and racial inequality in the aftermath of the death George Floyd during the coronavirus outbreak in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 13, 2020. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

This will be the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until June 29. After a long period where travel and contact with senior citizens were discouraged, I’m finally getting to see my folks again — and really hoping the situation in South Carolina gets better. If you’re among the readers I usually see in one way or another down there, I hope you’ll understand if we don’t meet face to face this year.

Democratic Hypocrisy Will Not Protect You from the Virus

It’s not making national news, but local health officials in various cities and towns across the country are reporting that people participating in or working near the recent protests have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Seven Nebraska National Guardsmen who were embedded with law enforcement in Omaha and Lincoln during the protests have tested positive. A Lexington, Ky., police officer who worked at local protests tested positive. Individual protesters in Topeka, Kan., Boulder, Colo., and Charlotte, N.C., tested positive.

But considering the large sizes of the crowds at these protests and how close people were to each other, these are small numbers. This could mean that various factors kept the spread of the virus relatively low — occurring outdoors, enough protesters wearing masks, plenty of sunlight, warm temperatures. Perhaps the protesters moved around enough during the rallies and marches so that few protesters have sustained contact with each other.

It is also possible that some protesters who have not been tested yet are positive but asymptomatic or are suffering from mild symptoms and are hoping it’s just a summer cold. (We know that New York City doesn’t want to know if people who tested positive attended a George Floyd protest.) Most of the protesters were young and appeared to be in good health.

But Minnesota enacted a widespread testing program for protesters in that state, and the results are surprisingly good news:

Of the 3,200 people tested so far at the four popup sites across the metro, 1.8 percent have tested positive for Covid-19, says [Kristen Ehresmann, the Minnesota Department of Health director of infectious disease]. HealthPartners, one of the largest health care providers in Minnesota, also reported to the state that it had tested about 8,500 people who indicated that attendance at a mass gathering was the reason they wanted a test. Among them, 0.99 percent tested positive. These numbers have been one of the few pleasant surprises since the outbreak began, says Ehresmann. “Right now, with the data available to us, it appears there was very little transmission at protest events,” she says. “We’re just absolutely relieved.”

In Boston, “Health officials said 14 out of 1,288 people tested positive for coronavirus at a Roxbury pop-up site that was set up following large demonstrations in Boston calling for change after the death of George Floyd.”

We’re seeing a rise in cases — and more ominously, a rise in hospitalizations — and it doesn’t appear to be driven by participation in the protests. But what is driving it?

We’re still seeing outbreaks among prison inmates and employees. Eleven children and seven staff members have tested positive in Florida’s largest group home for foster children. In Tampa General Hospital, 55 out of 8,000 hospital employees tested positive, and same for 500 of the 90,000 employees of Delta Airlines. Two meatpacking plants in Utah shut down after recent outbreaks. A cluster of cases traced back to a Florida bar.

What do almost all of these locations have in common? They’re situations where people could have prolonged exposure to an infected person, probably not wearing a mask, indoors.

In fact, we’re seeing a surprising number of cases among young people that can be tracked back to parties — a high school graduation party in South Carolina, a college graduation party in Wisconsin, an unsanctioned prom and beach party in Texas, a party in southwest Wyoming.

Boulder County, Colo.: “‘Some of the gatherings had multiple people like 20 people. One was identified as having up to 50 people in those gatherings,’ said Carol Helwig, the communicable disease epidemiology program manager for Boulder County Public Health. ‘It was reported that there was no use of masks and no social distancing. For young people, it’s the most social time of our lives and we understand the need to gather socially but we are hoping that when people gather that they are following the guidelines.’”

Bucks County, Pa.: “Twelve people in Bucks County who attended Memorial Day parties at the Jersey Shore have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Bucks County Health Department discovered this cluster of COVID-19 cases through contact tracing. One positive case led to the 11 others.”

Oxford, Miss.: “State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs blames an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Oxford on fraternity parties. During Gov. Tate Reeves’ coronavirus press conference Thursday, Dobbs said there were 381 news cases and five deaths. He further stated there had been a cluster of cases in Oxford linked to fraternity parties.”

All over Texas, really: “There are certain counties where a majority of the people who are tested positive in that county are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bars,” Governor Greg Abbott said during the conference. “That is the case in Lubbock County, Bexar County, Cameron County.”

Most of these cases are among young people who will probably only experience mild symptoms and should make a full recovery. But here and there you’ll see young people whose infections are serious enough require hospitalization, like a 30-year-old man in Scottsdale. In Florida, 103 children under the age of 18 had to be hospitalized after infection. It’s a small percentage, but no parent wants to see their child in the hospital.

A common mentality among conservatives these days is that almost all Democratic officials, and certain public-health experts, set their credibility on fire for coming down like a ton of bricks on anti-lockdown protesters but then blessing and in some cases participating in George Floyd protests. (For what it’s worth, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the protests were a “perfect setup” for spreading the virus.) No doubt, we’ve got a supply of hypocrisy that could fill up the underground tanks of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. My governor, Ralph Northam, posed for selfies on the beach without a mask on May 24 and then two days later signed an executive order requiring masks to be worn indoors, with criminal penalties for the establishment.

But the fact that Democrats are hypocrites does not alter any of the facts around the virus. As far as we can tell so far, participation in the protests turned out to be a low-risk activity. But if someone in those 1 percent of protesters who was infected or got infected walks into a nursing home, the consequences could be substantial anyway. Or if one of those 1 percent lives with someone who is immunocompromised.

A lot of people will want to believe that because the coronavirus wasn’t that bad at the protests, the virus is gone, or that everyone’s built up immunity. But every gathering involves some element of risk. Maybe you’ll be lucky.

As noted yesterday, the increase in cases is happening in states such as Florida and Texas and Arizona, but also in California and Nevada and Oregon.

Some governor out there is going to try to put lockdowns in place again, and it is going to go badly. A lot of Americans found the lockdowns economically ruinous, psychologically agonizing, and intolerable, and the government response to the George Floyd protests convinced these Americans that the lockdowns were a bunch of nonsense. Dumb rules such as bans on surfing and drive-in church services; dumb decisions such as the arrest of a dad playing catch with his daughter; and nutty arbitrary restrictions such as permitting drywall but not paint in Michigan convinced plenty of Americans that the lockdowns represented petty fascism and micromanaging governors on a power trip. It is trendy to argue that the coronavirus presented a test of Americans’ patience and self-discipline — and that the public failed. That may well be true, but the coronavirus also represented a test of the seriousness and self-discipline of our elected officials, and a lot of those figures flunked the test, too. The moment called for Abraham Lincoln, and instead we got the gubernatorial equivalent of South Park’s Eric Cartman bellowing “respect my authority!”

We don’t need another lockdown, but we do need a restoration of early-pandemic caution and discipline. (One of the enormous problems in how we’ve been discussing the pandemic is that many lockdown foes see any message of caution as an ipso facto endorsement of the lockdowns, and how they were enforced.)

The recent experiences with infections at parties suggests that it’s probably too early to restore our old habits of large gatherings without social-distancing measures. The experience with the protests and the contrast with workplaces suggests we should wear masks whenever we’re coming within six feet of someone outside our household. We would be wise to minimize our time that we’re indoors with others outside our household and maximize our time outdoors.

Nobody wants to hear this, but life isn’t just about being told what you want to hear.

President Trump wants to move on to his rallies. The Democrats want to move on to ever-intensifying denunciations of structural racism in American society. The Washington media want to move on to the juicy parts of John Bolton’s book.

It’s just a shame the coronavirus isn’t ready to move on.

ADDENDUM: Not much of an addendum today, other than an acknowledgement that a lot of days I write “addenda” which is plural or “addendum” which is singular and use them incorrectly. When this happens, it is often because I started with two ideas and then went back and removed one, or started with one and then added another and didn’t change what I had originally written.

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