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Increasing rates of new COVID-19 cases in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California are setting records; the virus is out of control in the southern and western US, and Fox News may be to blame..

2020-06-25

Electron micrograph of SARS-COV-2 virions in vitro

Several states are reporting record rates of new confirmed cases of COVID-19.  These states are mostly in the South and West.  Despite efforts in California to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing while reopening, the state has reported records of new confirmed cases in the last few days.  Other states, where “stay at home” orders were withdrawn early on (or never instituted), are reporting massive increases.  Florida, California, and Texas are among the largest states in the country, and they all have new record increases; rates are rising in 26 states.  Hospitalizations are also increasing rapidly, and death rates will not be far behind.

The Washington Post (June 25) reports that areas in which more people watched or listened to conservative news broadcasts (from Fox and Sean Hannity in particular) have shown less compliance with precautions and less appreciation of the pandemic’s severity.  These areas are contributing to the spread of the virus because people are not taking it seriously.  The Post states:

There are many reasons our response to the pandemic tied to nearly 120,000 U.S. deaths has faltered, experts say, including the lack of a cohesive federal policy, missteps on testing and tracing, and a national culture emphasizing individualism.

It’s not just federal policy and national culture, though– misinformation plays a large role.  The article reports on three studies published recently that show people who rely on Fox News and similar media tend to believe more in conspiracy theories and misinformation about the coronavirus.  Those who watched Tucker Carlson (who warned viewers early on how severe the pandemic would be) were likely to change their behavior a week earlier than those who watched Sean Hannity (who early on minimized the outbreak and bad-mouthed experts’ recommendations.)  As a result, early infections and mortality from COVID-19 were higher in areas where Sean Hannity was more popular.

The group that watched “far-right” media took the virus less seriously and delayed their responses.  As the virus spread from hard-hit New York City and Seattle, Washington, rural and conservative parts of the country weren’t prepared.  Conservative media continues to play down the severity of the pandemic and to echo the president’s self-serving claim that he has conquered the virus.

California’s record rate of new cases is superficially puzzling because the conventional view of California is that it is full of left-wing zealots; in reality, there are large pockets of extreme right-wing people.  Orange County (the home of Richard Nixon) is one example: an attempt to enforce mask-wearing by public health officials there resulted in a backlash and death threats.  The county health officer, Dr. Nicole Quick, resigned over death threats after her May 28 order for everyone to wear face masks.  Orange County rescinded its mask order on June 11, but California Governor Gavin Newsom instituted an order for the whole state a week later.

The United States is suffering an out of control pandemic.  The root cause of this lack of control is the failure of the head of the federal government to institute a plan at the outset.  A plan–any plan– would have given people something to start working with.  As we know, the prior federal administration left us with a plan– but it was ignored, and nothing was put in its place.  The responsibility for this failure lies with the man who wants more than anything to be president but doesn’t want to actually do the things that being president requires.

Instead of coming up with a plan at the outset when he was first warned about the virus, he chose to do nothing.  When pressed, he gave the responsibility to the states.  When things started to get really bad, he looked for other people to blame.  At first, it was convenient for him that places like New York City and Seattle were the hardest hit, because they were hotbeds of liberalism.

Those places, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as well as West Coast population centers, are seeing dramatic declines in new cases and relief of the stress on hospitals, apparently due to general adoption of precautions and scientific advice.  The South and West are seeing a dramatic rise in new cases, possibly due to misinformation and conspiracy theories spread by Fox News, One America News Network, and other conservative news outlets.  Those outlets are taking their cue from the head of the federal government, who has done nothing but blame others.

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