"We handled it really well for many weeks, even through Phase 1. Then it's almost like a light switch went off and we stopped taking it seriously." That was Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland earlier this week, talking about the recent rise in local COVID-19 cases during Phase 2.
Similarly, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris expressed concern that a move back to Phase 1 could happen if infection rates continued to rise. Harris added that he thought it could be avoided "if everyone will do their part." That would include abiding by the city's reinvigorated "Mask Up" program and rigorously maintaining Phase 2 regulations.
Memphis and Shelby County aren't doing badly in the grand scheme of things, but things could get out of hand quickly. We need to wear our masks in public spaces, no exceptions, even in our red suburbs. And it's worth noting that the average age of those testing positive in Shelby County is skewing younger: A sample of one week in April, May, and June revealed an average age of COVID-infected persons at 58, 43, and 40 respectively, according to information released earlier this week.
The examples set by other states and cities that have dealt with this health crisis on a much more devastating scale have made clear that there are no shortcuts to beating this disease. So why do so many Americans still not believe in medical science? Why are so many Americans still ignoring precautions, refusing to wear a mask, refusing to pay attention to social distancing?
The answer is pretty obvious. They believe the president of the United States, who has downplayed this health crisis from its inception. He's said it would just ... go away. He refuses to wear a mask or encourage others to do so. He's said we're testing more than any country on Earth. (Per capita? Not even close.) In fact, under Trump's failed "leadership," the United States is now the world's epicenter for the disease. His oft-stated plan for reducing the infection level is to not to test so many people: "If we didn't test so much, we wouldn't have so many cases." Genius. Does that work with pregnancy tests, as well?
What kind of idiot thinks this way? During the greatest global health crisis of our lives, the only real question is whether the American president is evil or stupid.
Even worse, leaders of the Republican Party have tied themselves to Trump's moronic policies, apparently believing that he retains some sort of political magic that may possibly even extend to the curing of a disease? Why else would they still fear him and follow his lead, rather than heed the advice of countless infectious disease experts here and around the globe? Trump's magical thinking has infected almost the entire Republican Party. Even local Trump sycophant, Congressman David Kustoff, was tweeting gushing praise of the Fearless Leader at Trump's flaccid Tulsa rally. What do these people use for backbones? Or brains?
Blind faith in Trump — or fear of him — is why the rate of COVID-19 infections in the red states of Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina is skyrocketing. The GOP governors of those states have dutifully followed the president's lead: Masks are for sissies; virus fears are overblown; open the economy as fast as possible.
How has this strategy worked? Not so great. In a press conference on Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were "unacceptable ... and must be corralled." Yeehaw. Texas is now averaging 3,500 new cases a day, more than double the average from a month ago.
Unfortunately, Governor Abbott doesn't intend to actually do anything other than "encourage" better behavior. He offered no plans to scale back business activities or reduce public gatherings. And, of course, he wasn't wearing a mask during the press conference.
Meanwhile in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis was saying, "Hold my beer!"
Not really. But in the face of rapidly rising hospitalizations, DeSantis did ask that only patients in ICU who were getting "intensive care" be counted as actual COVID patients. He is apparently unclear on the meaning of "IC."
Like Abbott, DeSantis shows no sign of retreating from his "keep the state open for business" position, even though, as in Texas, Florida's cases are rising to new highs almost every day — and even though Florida is home to millions of senior citizens. (Not that being young is much of a protection: In Orlando, 152 cases were just linked to a bar near the campus of Central Florida University.) Hint: That's gonna hurt business, Ron.
Trump's magical thinking and his clownish routines about ramp-walking and water-drinking have become the subject of much well-deserved ridicule. But the truth is, none of this is funny anymore.