You probably saw or heard the news. America’s two highest officials spurned the guidelines they issued to reduce the spread of coronavirus. What message are they sending us?
Tuesday, Vice President Pence visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The clinic has a set policy: Everyone wears a mask. Mr. Pence didn’t. His excuse: He’s tested often and was negative the last time. The lasttime. Health care professionals remind us that someone who tested negative yesterday could be positive today.
Mr. Pence explained that he skipped the mask to look staffers in the eye and express his gratitude. Really? As someone who always wears a mask outside—made by Carolyn for me and dozens of family, friends, nurses and ambulance drivers—I can say it covers my nose and mouth, not my eyes. Also, masks don’t prevent you from being heard.
Here, the vice president aped his peerless leader. President Trump eschews his own guidelines because he seems to think masked meetings in the Oval Office don’t provide attractive photo ops. Their purpose? Not modeling behavior during the pandemic but pursuing politics. So he met with Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis barefaced as was everyone else in the room, and sitting less than six feet apart. The same situation held when Trump met with Democratic Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards.
The president and his fawning VP missed prime opportunities to shore up their chances at the polls this November—if Pence is on the ticket—by setting an example. Still, the foolish posing and disregard for science was hardly unexpected. Trump said on February 10, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” On February 26: “We’re [U.S. cases of COVID-19] going down, not up.” The president also theorized about shooting up on disinfectant.
As of May 1, U.S. coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, have passed one million. Deaths top 63,000. That’s 5,000 more than American troops killed in Vietnam.
Many states are relaxing shelter-in-place. Georgia got a head start, bowling and getting a tattoo being urgent matters. Let us pray. Eventually, COVID-19 cases will go down, testing ramp up. A vaccine will be developed. Researchers at Oxford University in Britain are bullish on theirs. Remdesivir might heal coronavirus patients faster. But how do we improve public health now?
California, New York and other states are planning phased introductions to normalcy but slowly, letting the data guide them. Being 75, I doubt I’ll be eating in a restaurant anytime soon. That’s okay. I fear for everyone else.
The key to America’s resurgence won’t be found in the White House. It will emerge from the American people making critical—and difficult—decisions. Will they follow updated guidelines, wearing masks and keeping social distance? Or will they succumb to shelter-in-place fatigue, reject science and claim a Constitutional right to risk their lives and those of others?
I walk three times a day. If I said that as many as 25 percent of people I see wear masks, I’d fog—maybe crack—the lenses of my rose-colored glasses. And this in San Francisco! Bluster and disregard for others may well spawn a second, possibly deadlier wave of COVID-19. Wishful thinking can’t mask that awful possibility.
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