Nothing the CDC announced on Monday even begins to justify the dangerously bone-headed moves by governors who have stripped their states of mask mandates and opened businesses to the max. The new advice insists that even those who have been fully vaccinated need to continue wearing a mask in public, or in situations where they may be at an elevated risk for exposure, such as being in the home of someone whose work places them at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Masks aren’t just a critical factor in breaking the chain of transmission, they also act to protect the vaccinated against the small—but not insignificant—risk of either contracting or transmitting the virus.
However, the headline item from the new CDC guidelines is certainly this: People who have been fully vaccinated should feel safe in visiting with family members as long as those family members are taking normal precautions. And they can do so without wearing masks or slathering themselves in hand sanitizer. For grandparents, this might represent the first chance to hold a grandchild they’ve never met. Parents estranged by distance or circumstance might finally have a long-desired reunion. Friends of all sorts can sit around a table, share a meal, and remember the art of conversation without a screen.
It all sounds like normal. It’s all just a vaccine away.
That vaccine is coming at a record pace. Not only did President Biden announce last Tuesday that the United States now expects to have adequate vaccine for every American by the end of May, but Senior White House Advisor for COVID Response Andy Slavitt announced on Monday that just under a quarter of all adults (24%) have now been vaccinated. That includes 24% of those over 60, and 70% of those over 75. Saturday saw a record 2.9 million vaccinations, bringing the average for last week to 2.2 million vaccinations a day.
However, there continues to be a stubborn group of COVID-19 vaccine resisters. This isn’t in the Black community; vaccine acceptance there is at record highs and still moving up. It’s Republicans. Fully 40% of Republicans answer flat out “no” when it comes to getting the vaccine. And when it comes to the “there are anti-vax people on both sides” argument, that’s true, but the numbers are hugely different. Only 5% of Democrats say they will not get the vaccine.
It would be easy to blame the numbers on a purely partisan divide, but unlike subjective measures such as asking people to rate the state of the economy, the vaccine numbers have been nearly flat since before Biden took office. To be fair, the number of “unsure” Republicans have been gradually falling (at this point, 18% of Republicans say they have been vaccinated, compared with 25% of Democrats), but among Republicans, “No” continues to be the most common response.
The reason behind this isn’t just that Republicans are listening to Q-connected conspiracy theories about the “real purpose” of the vaccine. It’s because the largest sources of news on the right are feeding a constant stream of vaccine-related BS that appears determined to turn every aspect of this health crisis into yet another source of partisan divide.
This isn’t a one-off incident. It’s a concerted campaign. As Media Matters reports, Sean Hannity has told his audience he “doubts” he will get vaccinated; Laura Ingraham has brought on Robert Kennedy Jr. to spread anti-vax lies; and Tucker Carlson’s monologue has been filled with claims that experts are “clearly lying” about vaccine safety and efficacy.
It is possible that, like Donald Trump, Republicans will quietly go in to get a vaccine. However, stories like that of Putnam County, Missouri, were a vaccine event saw 1,500 doses of vaccine go unused and 150 get thrown away in a county that voted 84% for Trump, are an indication that Republicans are genuinely saying “no” to a return to normality. As KSDK reports, more vaccine is finally being shifted to St. Louis and Kansas City. On Monday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson made an extraordinary admission:
“… we do recognize that some Missourians are less interested in receiving a vaccine than others. Vaccine interest is often highest in urban populations.”
In other words, the areas of the state that are most Democratic—and also have the highest Black and Latino populations—are the places where vaccine demand is high. In the rural, white, Republican areas, they literally cannot give the vaccine away.
That shouldn’t be that surprising. Anyone who gets their news from Fox, OANN, NewsMax, and other right-wing sources has been fed a stream of constant doubt, fear, and plain old lies about the vaccine. There are people who believe it’s genuinely unsafe, or simply ineffective, in addition to those who think that it’s somehow the “mark of the beast” from Revelation. Fox and other outlets have politicized science for decades, and politicized every aspect of COVID-19 from the moment it made the news in Wuhan. It shouldn’t be shocking they’re still politicizing the vaccine that could save their viewers’ lives. But they are.
And because every aspect of the pandemic is still being politicized, we’re getting more foolish decisions like this one reported by the Caspar Star-Tribune. On Monday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon is expected to join Texas’ Greg Abbott and Mississippi’s Tate Reeves in eliminating all signs of COVID-19 restrictions. That means no mask mandate, and all “bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms” open to full capacity. That’s another state declaring that the pandemic is over. When it’s not.
It may seem that Wyoming, being a rural state with a small population and a large area, might be relatively safe from infection. But as Gov. Kristi Noem has demonstrated in South Dakota, it’s still possible to run up an abhorrently high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths no matter what advantages you’ve been handed through distribution and geography.
As a further example, take this Monday story from the Anchorage Daily News. After the annual Alaska Outdoor Council banquet was held—indoors, and without masks—Gov. Mike Dunleavy was just one of at least 15 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the following days, including at least one Republican legislator.
However, Dunleavy claims that he didn’t actually catch COVID-19 at the banquet, but got it from “someone he knows.” In efforts to say that the banquet was not a superspreader event, Dunleavy insisted that he was told on Feb. 20 that he had “close contact” with someone who was infected and that he “quarantined.” However, the Outdoor Council banquet was also on Feb. 20. Attending that banquet was apparently part of Dunleavy’s idea of quarantine. Alaska officials claim to still be looking for the source of infection at that banquet … but it sounds like they have a pretty good clue.
On this date a year ago:
And one more thing that changed on Monday. After a long year, the COVID Tracking Project has closed their spreadsheets and issued their last set of graphs.