The effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States was undercut by politics almost from the moment the coronavirus landed on our shores. That politicization is manifested in the stark difference between the policies of Democratic and Republican governors.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has recently mandated that almost all state employees and many thousands of health care workers get vaccinated. This follows more than a year of the governor setting restrictions on public gatherings, indoor dining and in-person public school classes, as well as imposing requirements to wear masks in public places. Inslee’s approach has been similar to the actions of Democratic governors in many other states, including Oregon and California.
The guiding principle of these Democratic governors is that we are all in this together; that we endanger ourselves and each other when we refuse to mask up or get shots and, thereby, leave open a breeding ground for new, more virulent, variants of the disease.
In most Republican-led states, the philosophy has been quite different. A priority has been put on keeping businesses and schools open and allowing people the “freedom” to do whatever they want in response to the deadly pandemic.
Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida have been especially adamant in resisting any kind of rules that would encourage people to wear masks and get shots, even as the latest COVID spike, driven by the more infectious delta variant, has hit their states particularly hard. A cynic would say they are motivated by personal political interests — Abbott wants another term in office and DeSantis wants to be Donald Trump’s political heir — and a cynic would probably be right. A very large, militant chunk of the GOP electorate is anti-mask, anti-vaccine and obsessed with a version of liberty that is not much more than childish, churlish selfishness. These are the people Abbott and DeSantis seek to appease and please.
The obvious irony is that the distorted freedom that Abbott and DeSantis are defending is proving to be deadly for their own constituents. Unfortunately, because a pandemic respects no state borders, it will not kill just unvaccinated Texans and Floridians. It threatens us all.
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