We are now back over 70,000 cases a day as of yesterday. And yet…the national response seems to be one of complete indifference. Those who were staying safe(ish) before are still doing so, perhaps, but a whole lot of people are just done with it and are moving on, being seemingly unconcerned. No states are doing anything at all to stop the spread now, though states with strong mask requirements still have them. But nothing new is being introduced, at least that I have seen. The first wave in April led to the national lockdown. The second in the summer at least mostly forced the recalcitrant states to force people into wearing masks and engage in at least the most basic precautions. And now? Nada.
I guess I’m not surprised by this. I thought from the beginning that Americans were always going to have very listen patience for getting in the way of their lives. They went along for awhile and now less so. Here in Rhode Island, which remains having low daily cases on a national basis but where it is still rising, from about a 1% positive rate a month or so ago to around 3% now, it is not from schools or restaurants (at least according to the governor). It’s from social gatherings. Families are getting back together. Young people are partying at houses. Older people are having dinner parties. And people aren’t masking at any of this. It’s really hard to see what to do about this. This Ed Yong story is from September, but I think has value today to think about this. He goes over a number of problems, ranging from our technological fetishism to solve all our problems to our disastrous political leadership.
I’m not real sure what a Biden presidency does to make this better, not at this point. A national lockdown starting January 20 is almost certainly a political nonstarter that would lead to a huge burning of political capital that may well forestall any other change happening. Sure, yes, we can once again have faith in the CDC to provide quality information, that vaccines will not be rushed for political reasons, etc. And this stuff is very important. It will help. But it seems far too late to lock down and start over.
Part of the problem here is actually a good thing–COVID-19 is not particularly deadly for such a new and highly contagious virus. It is terrible for those with preexisting conditions. There may well be long-term implications. We all know these things and I don’t think they need to be repeated ad nauseum, at least in this forum. But in trying to think through the minds of people who are just opting out and going on with their lives, I think this is key. They know they might get it but they don’t know people who have died of it. So they figure they will be OK and maybe be immune with something not much worse than a bout of the flu, if even that. That this is far, far more true in the white population than the Black and Latino population is of course quite telling about how racial privilege works in the United States.
Now, if cases rise above 100,000 a day and if deaths rise to 2,000 a day or more, which I think is quite likely by next month, perhaps that changes. Maybe there is the stomach for another round of lockdown, if accompanied with the proper financial support for those suffering financially from that. Maybe Democrats can win a trifecta and will actually gain support from a new lockdown. Maybe Amy Coney Barrett won’t get to write her first opinion saying that such an action is unconstitutional based on her “originalism” that equals “current Republican priorities.”
There are lots of possibilities for what happens going forward. But I think the striking thing about the present rise in virus cases is how little it is changing anything at all. The reason for this is related to Donald Trump’s criminal incompetence. But it’s not all related to that, not at all.