Nov. 4 happened, yet COVID-19 is still killing us.
“COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID. By the way, on Nov. 4, you won’t hear about it anymore,” President Trump declared last week, more than once, during his exuberant jammed-together, mask-spurning, super-spreader rallies.
Instead, Nov. 4, the day after the national election, brought a brutal irony: 104,004 new COVID-19 infections, a single-day record for the United States. The day brought 1,085 coronavirus fatalities. Florida’s election-day-plus-one included 4,423 new cases and 32 more deaths.
But now that the most tumultuous presidential campaign in modern history has ended (except for the requisite litigation), we can finally consider the 233,767 American lives lost to COVID-19 (17,131 in Florida) without the taint of politics. With the voting over, maybe our warring tribes can finally agree that we’re faced with a common threat — a killer pandemic that requires commonality of purpose.
It’s time for Americans to come together, though no closer than six feet.
If only the pandemic had struck in a non-presidential-election year, Americans might have taken on the challenge with an old-fashioned apolitical unity that could have averted the world’s highest COVID death toll. We might have been spared an election strategy in which disease prevention was rendered the most divisive issue in presidential politics.
With an election looming, President Trump acted as if the pandemic was more a public relations problem than a public health emergency. Political considerations warped the national response. The toughest decisions were foisted onto governors and mayors.
The president tried to convince the electorate that COVID-19 was no more serious than the seasonal flu. He used his office to promote unproven therapies and crackpot cures. Yet, when Trump himself contracted the coronavirus himself last month, his physicians did not include hydroxychloroquine — a drug he had relentless promoted — in his treatment regime.
The president was slow to acknowledge that a lockdown could slow the spread of the virus and quick to push for a return to a kind of faux normalcy. When his administration’s renown epidemiologists contradicted his unscientific pronouncements, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx were shunted aside.
Trump elevated Scott Atlas, a neuro-radiologist with no expertise in epidemiology who promoted a controversial herd immunity strategy, to serve as his de facto chief medical advisor. Because Atlas’s medical heterodoxy complemented Trump’s forget-the-pandemic re-election strategy.
Trump repeatedly assured worried Americans that a vaccine would be available “very soon, maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I’m talking about.” Apparently, the very special date was not Nov. 4.
The campaigning Trump constantly flouted his own administration’s guidelines to curb human-to-human transmission. He presided barefaced over rallies of close-packed, maskless MAGA followers — more herd mentality than herd immunity. Don’t forget the Sept. 26 Rose Garden gathering to honor Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, when Republican dignitaries mingled in close proximity, many without bothering to don masks.
Dr. Fauci called it a “super-spreader event.” Indeed, at least seven of the attendees, including two U.S. senators and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, subsequently tested positive.
When Trump campaigned in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis served as his great enabler, accompanying the president on COVID-oblivious campaign stops. Remember that video of the bare-faced DeSantis high-fiving his way through a Trump rally at Sanford last month? Trump mocked reporters, even Joe Biden, for wearing protective masks. It was as if the Centers for Disease Control’s disease-prevention guidelines didn’t apply to high-ranking public officials.
DeSantis embraced Trump’s desperate strategy to convince voters that it was safe to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyle. The governor coerced school districts into resuming in-classroom teaching. He canceled all state-ordered coronavirus restrictions (surprising local officials and the state’s medical establishment). He criticized state universities for expelling students who defied restrictions against parties and other large gatherings. “That’s what college kids do,” he said.
And now, we’re paying for the politically driven pretense that the danger had receded. You can trace the fast-coming second surge by the infected players missing from your favorite pro or college football team. Dr. Fauci warned that worse days are coming: “It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
Fauci warned that Americans must make an “abrupt change” in our collective disregard of lifesaving public health precautions.
With the election over, the president, the governor, local leaders — all of us, regardless of political affiliation — can stop pretending otherwise.
Fred Grimm, a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1976. Reach him by email at email@example.com or on Twitter: @grimm_fred.