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The Politics of COVID

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President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters upon arrival at the Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, March 9, 2020 in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

To confirm what you probably expected, a study by my highly gifted colleagues has found that the partisan affiliation of a state’s governor plays a critical role in whether states have adopted mask mandate policies:

States led by Republican governors have been slower than those led by Democrats to require residents to wear masks to protect against the novel coronavirus — if they have adopted such rules at all.

New research finds that the governor’s political party was the biggest determinant of whether a state imposed a mask mandate between early April and mid-August, a factor outweighing others including a state’s number of coronavirus infections or deaths linked to the disease caused by the virus.

Taken together with The Washington Post’s tracking of coronavirus infection patterns, however, the study by researchers at the University of Washington also suggests that statewide mask rules alone do not always correspond to the virus’s trajectory.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered people to wear face coverings in most of the state at the start of July as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations were surging, after previous attempts to undercut Houston and other cities’ mask requirements. Since late that month, the weekly average of new cases has tumbled, from approximately 9,000 to about half that number.

But in Arizona and Florida, two other Sun Belt states in which infections soared this summer, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations also have fallen sharply since July, without statewidemask orders.

They are among 17 states in which residents are not required to wear masks outside their homes. All but one of those— Hawaii — have Republican governors. The remaining states have directed people to wear face coverings, and account for about three-fourths of the United States population, according to the study, published in medRxiv, a compendium of health sciences research that has not yet been peer reviewed.

Among the 33 states with mask requirements, those with Republican governors imposed such rules an average of 30 days later than those with Democratic chief executives.

Christopher Adolph, a University of Washington political scientist who is the study’s lead author, said the findings reflect the extent to which the response to the worst public health crisis in a century has become politicized.

Many GOP governors, Adolph said, “are trapped from above by Donald Trump, who cast doubt on the efficacy of masks, and they are trapped from below by citizens” loyal to the president.

Not coincidentally, the pandemic is becoming more and more of a red state problem.

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