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Hospitals are filling up and children are near death across a swath of Red states from Texas to Florida. The governors of those two states are leading a movement.
Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have gone all-in on a high-stakes bet, and the example of Donald Trump suggests they may just win it. Win or lose, though, they’re both tenaciously hanging onto their bans on mandated masks in schools.
Their bet is that they’ll get away with letting tens of thousands of their citizens — and thousands of their citizens’ children — die or get “long Covid” and the people of their states will simply forget and move on.
They’re encouraged in that belief by the scientific reality that contagious diseases usually follow a predictable curve of increasing infections until hitting a point where so many people are dead or immune that the disease can no longer expand its range. From there, the disease incidence declines steadily and eventually flattens out to a low level. Add in rapidly expanding vaccination and the curve collapses even faster.
It happened centuries ago with the Bubonic Plague (aka the Black Death) and Smallpox, among other diseases. Before vaccines it happened every year with chickenpox, mumps and measles. It happens now every year with the flu as it did in a big way in 1918. We’ve all seen that curve both in history and in our own lives.
The question is how many adults and children in Florida and Texas will have to die or get “long Covid” before those states hit the “herd immunity” threshold… and whether the good citizens of those states (particularly the Republican voters) will tolerate that level of disability and death just to satisfy the tough-guy egos of their respective governors.
After all, Trump presided over what was arguably the worst period of unnecessary mass deaths and disability in the history of America… and DeSantis and Abbott voters still love him.
Multiple scientific analyses of Trump’s response to the pandemic, the most credible highlighted by Dr. Deborah Birx after she left the White House, show that at least 400,000 Americans would not have died if Trump had simply put into place a nationwide mask and social-distancing mandate like most other countries did.
But Trump, afraid that any concessions to public health would soften the economy and therefore his re-election chances, chose instead to encourage people to ignore masks and other protective measures and just go shopping and get back to work.
That part of Trump’s bet didn’t quite work out as planned: he lost the election. But his longer-term bet, that most Americans would soon forget and not blame him for all those unnecessary deaths, has paid off.
Instead of being saddled with the Stalin-like title of a mass murderer of his own people (Stalin used famine instead of disease), Trump is back to holding rallies and basking in the warm glow of his cult’s adoration… while continuing to spread disease among his followers!
DeSantis and Abbott think they can pull off the same trick, and they may well be right. Killing large numbers of Americans rarely sticks to Republicans.
George W. Bush made a similar bet back in 2001 after 9/11, as Spencer Ackerman documents in detail in his new book Reign of Terror. Bush could have simply taken the Taliban up on their offer to arrest Bin Laden and turn him over for prosecution, but instead he began bombing the second-poorest country in the world, where the average income was around $700 a year.
The following year he doubled down on his bet, repeating LBJ’s trick of lying us into an unnecessary war, this one with Iraq, leading to over a million dead and displaced Iraqis and thousands of dead Americans.
LBJ isn’t remembered so well, in large part because the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC brings into shocking relief the level of death and sacrifice his lies caused. It’s safe to bet that Republicans will never allow a memorial of that type for veterans of the Afghanistan or Iraq wars… or to the memory of the half-million-plus Americans who died of Covid on Trump’s watch.
Plus, Democratic President Joe Biden has taken on the task of cleaning up the messes from Bush’s illegal wars and Trump’s democide, and he doesn’t seem particularly inclined to rub either in Republicans’ faces.
So, how will this play out for DeSantis and Abbott? Both are betting that deaths and “long Covid” disease will plateau soon and then begin to drop and they can then do a victory lap. But they may be waiting quite a while, given the low vaccination rates in their states and the particularly ugly virality and potency of this new variant.
And Delta, unlike the original Covid that was often called the “Boomer Remover,” is landing children in hospitals by the hundreds in both states. Last month, in an early foretaste of the brute force of this variant, the nation was shocked when 5-year-old Wyatt Gibson — an otherwise normal, healthy child with no preexisting conditions — died in his mother’s arms at a children’s hospital in Georgia.
And children are also getting long Covid, which may disable them for life. As the Agence France-Presse news service reports about a normal, American healthy 10-year-old in Philadelphia who got long Covid, “His symptoms were debilitating: pain in his legs so bad he couldn’t walk anywhere and gastrointestinal distress and nausea so severe he had to lie in bed. Unable to navigate stairs, he crawled instead.”
And the damage wasn’t limited to this child’s body:
“At school, basic math equations and completing homework assignments became enormously challenging for the usually grade-A student. Kasturirangan describes it as a ‘kind of confusion, because he couldn’t grasp basic things that he’d normally find so easy to deal with.’”
The National Institutes for Health on their nih.gov website explains in a scientific report titled “Children With Long Covid”:
“Almost half of children who contract Covid-19 may have lasting symptoms, which should factor into decisions on reopening schools… Evidence from the first study of long covid in children suggests that more than half of children aged between 6 and 16 years old who contract the virus have at least one symptom lasting more than 120 days, with 42.6 percent impaired by these symptoms during daily activities.”
The authors add that such symptoms include long-lasting “fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, insomnia, respiratory problems and heart problems” and that “there may be up to 100 other symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems, nausea, dizziness, seizures, hallucinations and testicular pain.”
Meanwhile, as Kerry Eleveld writes for Daily Kos:
“What can protect those children, however, is universal in-school masking for students and staff. It’s been studied by Duke University researchers who tracked COVID-19 transmission in North Carolina K-12 schools across 100 school districts, 14 charter schools, 160,549 school staffers, and more than 864,515 students attending in-school instruction.
“‘We have learned a few things for certain,’ wrote the researchers, Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman, associate professor of pediatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine, and Dr. Danny Benjamin, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Duke Health. ‘Although vaccination is the best way to prevent COVID-19, universal masking is a close second, and with masking in place, in-school learning is safe and more effective than remote instruction, regardless of community rates of infection.’”
With school mask mandates banned by DeSantis and Abbott, however, children’s hospitals in Florida and Texas are now staggered by Covid; the headlines tell the story.
“COVID-19 Cases Among Kids Overwhelming Florida Hospitals” blares The NY Post; “Florida Sets COVID Hospitalization Records Again, Including Highest in Nation for Children” says The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
In Texas, the Dallas NBC TV affiliate KXAS (Channel 5) headlined their story this week: “‘Full-on Surge’: Tarrant County Leaders Worry About Children’s Health, Hospital Capacity.” CNN delivers the grim news with this headline: “Baby Girl with Covid-19 Airlifted 150 Miles Because of Houston Hospital Bed Shortage.”
Will DeSantis and Abbott be able to withstand this kind of news as their infection rates, particularly among children as school resumes, continue to climb?
How many deaths and how much illness will Florida and Texas Republicans accept in the name of “owning the libs” by refusing to allow schools to mandate masks?
Nobody knows the answers to these questions right now, but betting that a Republican can’t get away with something awful close to murder is always a bad bet.