Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos
As of Friday, the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker lists over 550,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus. Researchers have made it clear that the vast majority of those people should still be alive, were it not for poor decisions made during the pandemic—specifically the lack of federal system of testing and a federal mask mandate. Those two things alone could have cut the the number of deaths by more than 50%.
What makes this worse is that these were decisions not made out of ignorance. The United States wasn't in the position of medieval plague doctors, waving posies in the face of the Black Death. The efficacy of masks was clear many times over, even as Donald Trump repeatedly scoffed at their use and encouraged armed protesters to insist on "freedom!" from mask mandates. Even worse, Trump also was absolutely aware of the benefits of a national testing system. He deliberately halted his planned rollout of such a system specifically because he thought doing so would generate disproportionate deaths in states in blue states.
Trump's inaction was deliberate inaction. And because he has, almost inexplicably, become the model for all things Republican, that inaction was mimicked at every level of state and local government, from governors who refused to issue measures to protect their citizens, down to sheriffs who openly stated they would not enforce the laws. The deaths that resulted from these actions weren't tragic accidents, they were, at minimum, negligent homicide, and they should be treated as such.
But there's another class of action taken during the pandemic that demands even more attention, which deliberately prevented anyone else from working to address the problem. That applies to governors like Doug Ducey in Arizona and Greg Abbott in Texas, who didn't just refuse to pass statewide mask mandates, but used their power to override the mandates passed by counties or cities. And it's true of what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is doing right now, by reaching into the business of private companies to tell them they can't protect their customers.
Around the world, nations, local governments, and private companies are looking to vaccination as a way to end the COVID-19 pandemic. There's a popular idea to help people who have been inoculated prove that fact—sometimes called a "vaccine passport"—but there is no proposal on the table to actually issue some form of official federal document. For the most part, companies and localities appear to be leaning on the vaccination cards given to those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, or even app-based records issued by local hospitals or health authorities. There has been concern that such records might be forged—and they certainly could be—but no one is looking for a foolproof system. The purpose is to take action that allows people and companies to return to something that looks like normal as quickly as possible, and a "vaccine passport" seems like one thing that could genuinely help.
That possibility was emphasized on Friday, when new guidelines from the CDC expanded the list of safe activities for people who have been fully vaccinated. That list now includes traveling without being required to quarantine or self-isolate.
This is news that's being greeted with great relief by the airline industry, the cruise industry, the hotel industry, and everyone whose livelihoods depend on travel and tourism. The United States passed 100 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The idea that these people can travel more or less as they did before the pandemic has generated a huge sense of excitement and relief for companies and individuals who have been among those most badly hurt by the economic effects of COVID-19.
But, as The Guardian reports, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also took action on Friday. DeSantis issued an executive order banning private businesses from requesting proof of vaccination. "Requiring so-called Covid-19 vaccine passports for taking part in everyday life—such as attending a sporting event, patronizing a restaurant or going to a movie theater—would create two classes of citizens," DeSantis wrote.
Which is, of course, exactly the point. There are two classes of Florida citizens: Those who can safely take part in activities where they may be exposed to COVID-19, and those who cannot.
In issuing this order, DeSantis isn't just causing harm for industries that have a large presence in his state—like cruise lines, which have already begun insisting on proof of vaccination for those boarding their ships—he is deliberately endangering the lives of Florida's citizens. Not because he doesn't have the necessary information. Not because there's any real issue of "freedom"—any more than there is when grade schools require children to be vaccinated against a host of diseases. DeSantis is deliberately politicizing proof of vaccination, and there's little doubt that he's just the first. Other Republican governors are sure to follow suit.
Where there are Republican legislatures, they're likely to put this into law. The reason is simple enough, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of jack-booted health officials putting out a hand to demand, "show me your papers."
The reason is this: Republicans are the least likely people to be vaccinated. As of Friday, Civiqs still shows that 40 percent of Republicans state they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine, and another ten percent remain unsure. While 30 percent of Republican adults have been vaccinated at this point, that puts them well below the rate of other Americans, and only 19 percent of Republicans who have not been vaccinated say that they intend to get vaccinated.
So, as in Florida, there already are two classes of Americans—those who are listening to science and the advice of medical experts, and those who are members of a party whose base is now deeply anti-science. One of the key factors that made the pandemic so bad in the United States isn't just a lack of good guidance from Washington, or even bad governance at the state level, but a Republican population who has often acted to spread COVID-19, even if it killed them. Some of those Republicans remain so fixed in their anti-science positions that they're still denying the disease exists, even as they're dying.
Republicans haven't just failed to take steps to address the pandemic, they've deliberately made things worse. Now, with an end to the pandemic in sight, those same Republicans are still refusing to take the step that could not just save their lives, but prevent COVID-19 from becoming an endemic disease that comes back again and again.
All Ron DeSantis is doing is making sure there is just one class of Americans: those whose lives and jobs are threated by Republicans.