Academic studies often rigorously test a thesis that many people consider obvious. (There are good reasons for testing such assumptions, but such research gives ammunition to a lot of anti-academic critics.) Juanita Jean recently reported on a study conducted by scholars at Johns Hopkins and the University of South Carolina that confirmed something arguably as obvious as “gravity makes stuff fall down”: COVID has spread more rapidly in states with Republican Governors.
As the researchers politely put it,
Governors’ party affiliation may have contributed to a range of policy decisions that, together, influenced the spread of the virus. These findings underscore the need for state policy actions that are guided by public health considerations rather than by partisan politics.
Ya think? The research confirmed that states with Republican Governors had both higher case rates and higher death rates.
One of the most depressing aspects of this incredibly depressing pandemic has been the number of people who have rejected medical science and demonstrated their utter lack of concern for other human beings. The sheer number of such people, and their belligerent refusal to take even the most reasonable steps to avoid infecting others, has been unsettling, to put it mildly.
As reprehensible as these individual actions have been, the decision to pander to them–to politicize a medical pandemic in order to curry favor with unreasonable voters–is worse.
Other studies have found evidence that Republican governors in 2020 were broadly less strict than their Democrat counterparts in setting policies on mask-wearing, social distancing, and other pandemic-related measures. The researchers say that those studies, along with the links they found between Republican governorship and greater COVID-19 impact, are consistent with the idea that the political polarization of the COVID-19 response has contributed to less effective COVID-19 policies and worse case-related statistics in some states.
“Despite a more coordinated federal response this year, governors still play a key role in the pandemic response,” says Benjamin-Neelon. “As we’re seeing, several states have lifted mask requirements even though we have yet to make substantial progress in controlling the spread of the virus.”
Florida is a good example of a state that has flouted medical advice in order to curry favor with a Republican base unwilling to accept constraints on dangerous behaviors.
As the Guardian previously reported, Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration ‘suppressed facts’ and ‘dispensed dangerous misinformation’-it was the third US state to record a million coronavirus cases. An investigation found that, especially in the run-up to the presidential election, the DeSantis administration lied about the extent and dangers of the pandemic. (In fact, the Florida department of health’s county-level spokespeople simply stopped issuing public statements about Covid-19 between September and the November election.)
After the election, headlines like this one from the Orlando Sentinel accused the Governor of being missing in action in the fight against COVID, reporting that “Cases are surging, people are waiting hours to get tested and Ron DeSantis doesn’t appear up to the job.” That disinterest in public health characterizes much of the GOP base that applauded the lack of a vigorous state response to the pandemic.
More recently, NPR reported on accusations that DeSantis was “playing politics” with COVID. Not only did the Governor “open” the state more quickly than epidemiologists thought safe, vaccine distribution was originally limited to areas populated by DeSantis voters and donors.
DeSantis certainly isn’t the only Governor who has routinely elevated political goals over duty. It should be obvious that when elected officials take their cues from the subset of voters who prioritize being able to do whatever they want whenever they want, rather than from medical science, public health suffers.
These days, as the research demonstrated, that subset and those Governors are Republicans.