Republican governors are still more focused on supporting Trump than protecting their citizens
How does a small, mostly rural state soar up the charts to exceed every other such state when it comes to killing the largest percentage of its population? It definitely helps to have Kristi Noem as governor.
What that openness has earned her state is an astounding 12% positive rate for COVID-19. In this case, that’s not 12% of tests coming back positive. That’s 12% of the total state population testing positive. There is also good evidence that the entire Midwest surge that hit multiple states in the fall is tied to Noem’s “openness,” which she demonstrated by holding the Sturgis motorcycle rally without restriction. That surge not only spread across a dozen states, the echoes are still going, contributing to new record levels of COVID-19 each day.
So as the nation hits 4,281 deaths in a single day, everyone should take time out to remember Kristi Noem for all that she, and other Republican leaders like her, have done for this nation.
While Republicans in Congress have made a point of placing their loyalty to Donald Trump above the institutions of the nation—right up to the point of encouraging insurrection—Noem, and other Republican governors like her, have placed support of Trump’s policies ahead of the lives of their citizens. Which is worse may be impossible to determine. Both are simply horrendous.
In order to show their support for Trump, Republican leaders have forced open schools even in areas where COVID-19 numbers were high. They have not just failed to issue simple mask mandates that could provide an immediate effect in helping their states; multiple Republican governors have issued orders that prohibit cities and counties from issuing local mask mandates. That includes Gregg Abbott in Texas and Doug Ducey in Arizona, both of whom were forced to lower those barriers after cases in their states exploded.
Despite having guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that identified reasonable stages for reopening businesses, Republican governors in state after state hurdled past those guidelines to reopen much faster than the level of disease would indicate. And those governors have been uniformly neglectful when it comes to re-imposing restrictions when cases rise. That’s how Texas, Arizona, and Florida have returned to the top of the “new cases” charts even after they were at the peak of a previous surge over the summer.
Of course, it’s not just red states that are suffering. On Tuesday, California alone reported an astounding 605 deaths. Those losses were centered in the Los Angeles area where hospitals have now been overrun for weeks. It’s too early to be sure, but that number may indicate that the case fatality rate in the area is moving up due to the simple unavailability of ICU beds, exhausted and overburdened staff, and a shortage of oxygen.
Meanwhile, though earlier reports of a new, more infectious United States strain of the coronavirus were largely a theory pushed by Dr. Deborah Birx to excuse continued failures in containing COVID-19, it now seems that two new strains may have actually emerged. As CNBC reports, researchers believe these strains emerged in the last three weeks and appear to contain some of the same changes to spike proteins as new strains in the U.K. and South Africa. These new strains may be more contagious, but there is not currently any indication that they are either more deadly or better able to evade vaccines.
That more contagious strains should emerge over time is exactly what should be expected. In fact, the ability to spread is practically the only evolutionary pressure on viruses. That more contagious version could be more deadly or less deadly and it would likely have no effect on its ability to spread; the most contagious period for SARS-CoV-2 is in the days just before and after the appearance of first symptoms. If patients uniformly burst into flames a month after infection or 100% recovered without incident, it would make little difference in the rate of spread.
There have been diseases in the past where more damaging variants have been replaced by a rapidly spreading version with mild symptoms. Or in which an extremely deadly disease limits its own spread by knocking off hosts before they can effectively pass on the virus. Neither of those cases describe what is happening with this coronavirus.
What can be expected is that more variants will continue to arise and, if given sufficient time and a large enough pool of hosts, a variant is likely to appear that is not restricted by current vaccines. This makes it critical that vaccines are distributed widely and rapidly simply to reduce the ability of the virus to spread and bring down the potential sources of a vaccine-breaking mutation.
There is good news on that front: Both vaccine distribution to states and the critical “last inch” from syringe into arm appear to be improving. Vaccines are getting out there more quickly and are actually getting into the population, if not always to the people who might need them most. In spite of stories showing reluctance by some to take the vaccine, public offerings appear to be so overrun that appointments are being filled within seconds of announcements.
There is also one other bit of good news on the way: Johnson & Johnson, which produced a single-dose vaccine that entered phase 3 trials late in 2020, has announced that it expects to issue initial results within two weeks. It’s not clear whether the company will immediately apply for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration or wait for more cases in trial volunteers to give definitive results. It also appears that the company is running behind on production and may not catch up to earlier projections until spring. However, it does seem there could soon be a third vaccine available in the U.S.