The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: mask wearing

How (Most) Americans Rose To The Pandemic Challenge

This month, the United States recorded a horrific milestone: 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. Someday, historians will look back at the pandemic and note all the mistakes and failures that helped make it the most deadly outbreak of disease in more than a century. But if they are wise, they will also note this past year as one in which Americans were asked to rise to a challenge — and did so in impressive fashion.

It's tempting to focus our attention on all the ways our leaders and people went wrong. The 45th president repeatedly lied about the severity of the threat, resisted basic measures to curb it and held out false hopes that only aided the virus. Some Americans protested against public health mandates and selfishly disregarded medical guidance, spreading disease in the process.

But the noise and fury in some quarters obscure the broad acceptance of unwanted changes. For the most part, Americans have recognized the danger and have embraced unprecedented obligations.

Most people have gotten used to faithfully covering their faces when they're out in public and interacting with others. Most have sharply curtailed social contact — even with family. Most have largely given up dining inside restaurants. Most have gamely accepted not being able to attend ballgames, concerts and festivals.

None of this was foreordained. In past crises, such as the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Great Recession, the citizenry was asked to make few if any sacrifices. On the contrary: Our leaders urged us to carry on as usual.

The pandemic is the first major national episode since World War II that required us to give up anything significant. At the start of 2020, we could hardly have imagined how radically life would change. Who could have imagined Americans adopting face masks, social distancing and remote work on such a vast scale? Who would have thought we would accept a brutal economic downturn as a regrettable necessity?

I speak as someone who expressed doubts about our willingness to step up. Even as the disease gathered steam in places like South Korea and Italy, a lot of Americans preferred to ignore reality.

By late February of last year, alarm bells were ringing. "We expect we will see community spread in this country," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on February 25. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."

But her boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, promptly insisted the virus was "contained" — one of many false administration claims that fostered deadly complacency.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn't cancel the city's massive St. Patrick's Day parades until just a week before they were scheduled. Not until March 12 did Broadway theaters halt productions. Not until March 11 did the National Basketball Association suspend play. We were collectively reluctant to confront what had to be done.

But that changed. By April, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, 80% of Americans supported stay-at-home orders. By May, more than half of Americans said they were wearing masks every time they left the house, and the great majority didn't plan to stay in a hotel, go to a live event or fly over the summer.

The inconveniences and disruptions went on much longer than expected at the outset, but most people didn't falter. By December, 73 percent said they were wearing face coverings on every venture outside the home, and 70 percent said they were prepared to abide by social distancing guidelines for another six months.

Now that vaccines are available, the great majority of us are determined to get the shots. Gallup Polls found that in September, only 50 percent were willing to be vaccinated, but by February, the number was 71 percent.

The death toll would be lower if more people had agreed to adapt as needed. But without the sort of mass support and cooperation we have seen, the number of U.S. fatalities could have been far higher — as high as 2.2 million.

Many lives have been lost because of the actions of an irresponsible minority of people and politicians. But a lot more have been saved by those who stoutly refused to become accomplices to COVID-19. Let history record: Most Americans did what needed to be done.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Anti-Mask Passengers Endangering Flight Attendants And Other Travelers

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

As the U.S. passes the grim milestone of 20 million COVID-19 cases, much of the world is bracing for a stunning surge in the virus' spread, courtesy of millions who ignored public health recommendations and traveled for the recent holidays. The deadly virus didn't stop more than seven million people from flying during the week before Christmas, and that's just in the United States.

Those numbers represent just a fraction of typical holiday travel numbers, back in the days before COVID-19. Airlines, of course, are bleeding money, and their employees have faced reduced hours, layoffs, furloughs, and buyouts for the better part of a year. Concurrently, denial of the absolutely-real pandemic is rampant, particularly among the Trumpian right, who have seen their soon-to-be ousted leader and his acolytes politicize and ridicule the wearing of facial coverings to help thwart spread of the novel coronavirus.

With these facts in mind, it should come as no surprise that many of those who might be willing to board a plane in a pandemic might also be unwilling to don a mask. A stunning new analysis from The Washington Post's Michael Laris indicates that airline workers—much like retail workers who were violently assaulted, treated like a Kleenex, and even killedfor daring to ask people to comply with mask requirements—are facing abuse at the hands of reckless air travelers.

In a review of "more than 150 aviation safety reports filed with the federal government since the start of the pandemic," The Post found that passengers of the anti-mask stripe boldly exploit the allowance to remove masks while eating and drinking.

Asked to mask up, one passenger pulled out a large bag of popcorn and nibbled her way through it, kernel by kernel, stymieing the cabin crew for the length of the flight. Others blew off requests by chomping leisurely on apple slices, between occasional coughs, or lifting an empty plastic cup and declaring: "I am drinking!"

Another report describes an unmasked man who charged up the aisle, stopping just 18 inches from a flight attendant. "He sneezed directly in my face, making no attempt to cover his mouth, pull up his mask or turn towards the row 1 window," lamented the employee, who was, thankfully, wearing a mask that caught the brunt of the man's sinus explosion.

Airlines, of course, are quick to note such reports, and thus anti-mask passengers behaving badly, are quite rare—claiming otherwise could deter travel by those who understand that masks work. But Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist and Carnegie Mellon professor, begs to differ, telling The Post that "if you see 100 (reports), there are probably 1,000 or 10,000. This is a widespread enough phenomenon that it needs to be taken seriously."

COVID denier-in-chief Donald Trump and his administration don't even support mask mandates at cocktail parties, much less on the federal front. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao repeatedly has quashed calls for mask requirements on public transportation.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to ask the nation to mask up for at least his first 100 days in office; he also plans to issue a first-day mask mandate in federal buildings and on interstate trains, planes, and buses.

Whether or not people will comply remains to be seen.

New York GOP’s ‘COVID Conga Line’ Sends Partygoer To Hospital

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Despite a nationwide increase in COVID-19 cases and health professionals urging Americans not to gather, some people are still hosting packed holiday parties. Last week a video of maskless individuals partaking in a conga line during a holiday party at a New York restaurant went viral on social media. Since then at least one party attendee has been hospitalized with COVID-19. Additionally, New York's State Liquor Authority has suspended the restaurant's liquor license, NBC News reported.

The party hosted by the Whitestone Republican Club was held at Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant in Queens, on Dec. 9. Despite claims by the hosting organization that safety precautions were followed, social media posts depicted little to no social distancing with barely any masks in sight. While it is unclear how many people attended the party, at least 50 can be seen dancing on the floor or sitting at a nearby table in the footage shared on social media. Photos of the gathering posted on Facebook also depict at least half a dozen attendees without masks.

Read Now Show less

Republican Politicians Still 'Resist' Masking As Thousands Of Americans Die

More and more Americans are dying as the number of new coronavirus cases in the country surges to all-new highs, but Republican politicians are still spouting dangerous rhetoric opposing the wearing of face masks.

According to the New York Times, the United States has surpassed 11 million cases nationally, with 247,000 deaths to date.

But in defiance of scientific data, Republican lawmakers remain more concerned about resisting mask mandates than they are about containing the spread of the deadly pandemic.

On Tuesday morning, Republican Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert (CO) slammed President-elect Joe Biden for his plan to implement mask mandates nationwide.

"Someone should let Joe Biden know that there is nothing patriotic about mandating what Americans wear to leave their homes," she tweeted.

Her fellow Republican representative-elect, QAnon propagandist Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), tweeted Monday encouraging her constituents to defy any government masking order.

"If Biden steals this election, tries to LOCK DOWN our country and implement mask mandates ... WE WILL NOT COMPLY!" Greene tweeted, linking to a Washington Examiner piece lauding new representatives who oppose the wearing of face masks.

And despite a massive spike in the number of coronavirus infections in South Dakota, the state's Republican governor, Kristi Noem, categorically refuses to issue a statewide masking order.

A statement from Noem's office Friday reads: "It's a good day for freedom. Joe Biden realizes that the president doesn't have the authority to institute a mask mandate. For that matter, neither does Governor Noem, which is why she has provided her citizens with the full scope of the science and trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones."

In an email to ABC, Noem spokeswoman Maggie Seidel falsely claimed that public health measures against the coronavirus don't work, saying: "The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven't worked – in the United States or abroad."

Last week, Noem also falsely alleged that lockdowns don't stop the spread of coronavirus and noted her opposition to a national lockdown, tweeting: "Just like we said, Biden's team wants lockdowns. We already know that lockdowns DON'T stop the spread of the virus. However, they destroy small businesses and jobs, and they make it difficult for families to put food on the table."

Despite the soaring numbers of cases, Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt also refuses to issues a statewide masking order, only requiring masks in government buildings. And Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is being widely criticized after issuing a halfhearted masking order that only requires the use of masks after 15 minutes of exposure.

In fact, more than a dozen states still don't have a statewide order requiring masks in public places.

The Senate, too, remains starkly divided on the wearing of masks, with Republican members flouting masking rules.

On Monday, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH) asked his colleague, Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan (AL), to wear a mask while speaking.

Sullivan fired back that Brown couldn't tell him what to do.

"I don't wear a mask when I'm speaking, like most senators," Sullivan said. "I don't need your instructions."

Brown noted, "There clearly isn't much interest in this body in public health," and condemned Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for calling senators to meet in person to push through Trump's unqualified judicial picks.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) then attacked Brown on Twitter for making the request. "This is idiotic," he tweeted. "@SherrodBrown is being a complete ass. He wears a mask to speak—when nobody is remotely near him—as an ostentatious sign of fake virtue."

Many Republican politicians are simply taking the lead from Donald Trump. Despite his own brush with the virus, Trump has mocked the use of face masks since the beginning of the pandemic — and his administration has followed suit.

Just two weeks ago at a rally held before the election, Trump publicly mocked Fox News host Laura Ingraham for wearing a mask to the event.

And a month ago, Twitter took down a tweet posted by Trump's top coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas, for promoting disinformation about masks.

The tweet falsely claimed that masks were ineffective and did not reduce transmission of the virus.

But this dangerous rhetoric from high-profile Republicans is having real-life consequences as more people double down on opposition to face masks — and more Americans die.

A study from Pew Research Center on Americans' thoughts about the pandemic noted that a full 20% of respondents who mentioned masks claimed that they didn't work, said that they refused to wear them, or claimed that the coronavirus was a hoax perpetrated for partisan political purposes.

While only three percent of Democrats expressed those views, 27 percent of Republicans did.

And, though more than 80 percent of Democratic voters support mask mandates in some public places, only about half of Republican voters do.

According to the same study, 31 percent of Democratic voters mentioning masks did so to express concern about people not wearing them in public places, while only five percent of Republican voters did the same.

President-elect Biden continues to urge Americans to wear masks, and this week slammed Atlas' rhetoric encouraging opposition to statewide measures to contain the spread of the virus.

"What the hell is the matter with these guys?" Biden asked. "What is the matter with them? Resist? Every major individual of any consequence in the health field is saying we can save a hundred thousand lives just between now and Jan. 21 by wearing these masks."


Justice Alito Proclaims His Partisan Extremism In Federalist Society Speech

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

U.S. Supreme Court justices, in theory, are supposed to avoid being overtly partisan. Although they're nominated and confirmed by partisan politicians their general goal is appear above the fray, deciding cases on the basis of the facts and the law, rather than political ideology.

But Justice Samuel Alito, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, is drawing vehement criticism for a Federalist Society speech that, critics say, was full of flat-out partisanship and Fox News-like fear-mongering.

Read Now Show less

How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally May Have Led To COVID-19 Outbreaks

The perception that the COVID-19 pandemic was under control led to many Americans becoming more comfortable with the idea of the virus towards the end of the summer. Yet, as the pandemic rages into the autumn, it becomes increasingly clear that COVID-19 remains a significant problem within the country.

There are several ways to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as the main reason why it remains such an issue is that it's highly contagious. Of course, Americans have been advised to wear face masks when out in public and these masks are mandatory in many states. Furthermore, sanitation, like hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, is highly beneficial. Not only does this prevent the spread of the virus, but it's also simply good practice, as the healthier an individual is when they contract the virus, the more likely they will be to withstand its symptoms. Bacteria is the main source of most infections, and as it can multiply up to 31 percent daily on surfaces that are not cleaned or disinfected, it's important that Americans attempt to control both its growth and the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps the most significant way in which COVID-19 is spread, however, is through close contact with others and most prevalently through large groups.

This is one reason why a motorcycle rally in South Dakota has come under recent scrutiny and may be connected to major COVID-19 outbreaks across the Midwest. It's speculated that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was one of the biggest public gatherings in the United States, and perhaps the world, since the pandemic began and ultimately could be connected to outbreaks across five different states.

Held in mid-August, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracted roughly 460,000 people across a ten-day period, despite the fact that it is advised that people limit themselves to gatherings of ten people or fewer during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some states made restrictions on gatherings mandatory and enforceable by the authorities, South Dakota declined to enforce such restrictions. Therefore, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was able to proceed in South Dakota without issue. Unfortunately, the rally has been indirectly linked to 330 COVID-19 cases, including one fatal case.

Understanding The Spread Of The Virus

The size of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, as well as the lack of masks and other precautions utilized, made the spread of the virus somewhat inevitable. A further issue that made the COVID-19 virus spread further is that many of those attending the rally were from out of state. Therefore, even if their own home states were controlling the spread of the virus locally, it was easy for residents to attend the rally then return home, bringing the virus across state lines. The states most heavily affected by the rally aside from South Dakota were North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Montana. Throughout September and October, North and South Dakota have seen an uptick in hospitalizations. This could contradict statements from South Dakota governor Kristi Noem indicating that the rise in cases is merely connected to an increase in testing.

South Dakota's particular issues are further compounded by the fact that the rally was not held in a single space, exactly. Those visiting from out of state stayed for a somewhat extended period of time in various hotels and homes, while also visiting bars and restaurants on a broad scale. All of these factors could have contributed to the virus spreading out of control.

Why Misunderstandings Could Have Led To More Infections

The transmission of the COVID-19 virus could have been exacerbated by several different factors. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally celebrates a culture (motorcycle culture) that is already regarded by some as dangerous, though not necessarily fairly; though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 5,127 fatal motorcycle accidents in 2017, this was a 3 percent drop from the previous year. As motorcyclists are passionate about defending their freedom to ride, they also may have felt passionate about celebrating their love of motorcycles regardless of concerns around the virus. Many, too, may have genuinely felt due to misinformation that the virus was no longer a concern.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally took place in mid-August, when South Dakota was experiencing high temperatures. Early misinformation regarding the virus indicated that it would be slowed by hot weather. However, this proved to be incorrect. New studies have confirmed that there is no link between the virus's transmission and weather patterns. Furthermore, many of those that visited the rally came from more rural states. Rural areas saw a slower infection rate during the pandemic's beginning, understandably. As the virus is more easily spread throughout tightly packed areas, it makes sense that the more rural a state is, the more slowly the virus would spread within it. Therefore, many that attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have theoretically had less experience with the spread of the virus on a personal level.

Combatting The Spike In COVID-19 Infections

It's important that those infected with the COVID-19 virus are quarantined for at least 14 days, regardless of their symptoms. Some may recover from the virus's symptoms but remain contagious for some time; others may never show symptoms, while still being capable of spreading the virus. Furthermore, those that have been exposed to the virus must be aware of the fact that they should be tested before they begin experiencing symptoms, due to that potential for becoming an asymptomatic carrier. Those that are caring for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member should be particularly vigilant; as 29 percent of the American population will spend an average of 20 hours per week doing so, this is a significant portion of people that could be infected and furthermore infect those that are most vulnerable.

Aside from quarantine, Americans should also be especially aware of resisting large gatherings or unnecessary outings in general. As health experts have projected that the fall and winter of 2020 may be particularly problematic in terms of the pandemic, it's important that Americans plan for the future and do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus.

Trump Echoes False Right-Wing Claims About Masks

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

At President Donald Trump's campaign rally Thursday in Greenville, North Carolina, he made the absurd claim that "85 percent of the people wearing the masks" get infected with the coronavirus, thus presenting the wearing of protective masks as a hazardous act by itself — with the claim carried on Fox News' live coverage of the rally, as well. At the root of his newest false claim, it turns out, are a number of incorrect posts across far-right news sites pushing public health misinformation — along with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

And on top of that, Trump has further misunderstood the misleading claims those sources have made.

Read Now Show less

Trump’s Reckless Conduct Endangers White House Workers

Despite the late nights and long hours that took my father away more than this daddy's girl would have liked, he never stopped being my hero. I knew that when he finished his day job, changed clothes and headed to his extra shifts tending bar or waiting tables for local caterers, he was doing it for a reason. Lots of them, actually —my mom, two sisters, two brothers and me.

For someone as proud as he was, it was a sacrifice because of what he had to put up with from people with a lot more money and a lot less character. They treated him like he was "invisible," or worse, and he put up with it, for us.

Read Now Show less