Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media. Credit: AP/Phil Sears

On Wednesday, the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis began advising people under 65 against getting the new COVID-19 booster shots from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, contrary to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DeSantis, a Republican presidential contender who has previously touted his defiance of federal COVID policies, declared that he won’t let “healthy Floridians” be used as “guinea pigs” for the shots.

This is just one example of GOP politicians touting their stance against aggressive COVID prevention efforts as election year nears. There’s a very good chance that, amid an uptick in COVID cases and new variants circulating, this stance will endanger health in favor of politics.

The Florida guidance, for instance, disregards the fact that nearly one-quarter of Americans who have died of COVID-19 were under 65. That’s not counting those who survived severe illness with long-term effects such as breathing problems.

Meanwhile, current GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who could have tried to run on his administration’s actual record of delivering safe and effective vaccines in a short time, is on the defensive when discussing that achievement before right-wing audiences. He prefers to stress his hostility to mask and vaccine mandates and promises to stand up to the “COVID hysteria” that he accuses Democrats of trying to foist on America yet again.

Cathy Young is a writer for The Bulwark.

Trump’s GOP rivals, including DeSantis, are slamming him for supposedly giving in to such hysteria in 2020 by declaring a national emergency that allowed business and school closures and other social distancing mandates — and for giving too much power to federal health officials, especially Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Increasingly, the “politically correct” position on the right appears to be that the response to the pandemic was an absurd overreaction — an attitude reminiscent of Trump’s early “it’s just the flu” attitude — and that the mitigation measures did the real harm. In right-wing media and among conservative social media users, it’s not uncommon to encounter various forms of COVID denialism and conspiracy theory: for instance, claims that the vast majority of COVID deaths were due to other conditions, but falsely classified as COVID-related, or were caused by misuse of aggressive treatments such as mechanical ventilation.

Yes, the public health response to the pandemic included blunders. Guidance on masks, whose efficacy is still unclear, was contradictory and confusing. Restrictions on outdoor activities and gatherings turned out to be unnecessary given the low probability of outdoor transmission. School closures were very likely unnecessarily prolonged and damaging to academic outcomes. Initial claims that vaccination would prevent COVID transmission turned out to be wrong; it only somewhat lowers the chances of infection while drastically reducing the risk of severe illness and death.

But treating these errors as evidence that “establishment” scientists and doctors don’t know what they’re talking about — or, worse, are knowingly imposing tyranny on the populace — is absurd. Of course, scientists and doctors aren’t gods or recipients of divine revelation. Of course, there were going to be mistakes in dealing with a new, often baffling severe illness. Meanwhile, right-wingers who mock the public health establishment often take their lead from people who predicted in spring 2020 that the death toll from COVID in America would be no more than 20,000 or 30,000. We’re now past a million. The pithy word “covidiot” comes to mind.

We don’t know how much of a danger of pandemic resurgence we face. But one of our two major parties seems to have made a party platform of covidiocy.

  

OPINIONS EXPRESSED BY Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.

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