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Keep Hope Up As Pandemic Ebbs — But Don’t Let Guard Down

Are we at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Let's call it the middle.

The COVID-19 numbers are going decisively lower, both infections and deaths. Millions, meanwhile, are getting the vaccine and becoming mostly immune to the disease.

Still, the seven-day average of American deaths from this virus continues in the thousands. And it would be much higher if more of us let our guard down by ignoring calls to wear masks, socially distance, and sanitize hands.

We each make our own policy for how far to go. There are the absolutists, who take no chances. They see no friends and never enter a restaurant, much less step on a plane.

Then there are moderates, like yours truly, who always wear a mask in public but do gather with their "pod" of careful friends. We eat in establishments that take precautions.

Finally, there are those who don't care at all and do nothing protective. They risk their own life and the lives of others.

As we move into a somewhat less scary phase of this disease, we moderates probably have the most to think about. That's because we were always open to weighing more options.

Consideration No. 1: mask-wearing. Of course we'll continue wearing masks. But two masks with one of tight-fitting cloth, as Dr. Anthony Fauci advises? On public transportation, OK. But as the risk of infection heads down, perhaps we can lighten up and wear just a lightweight mask while on a walk.

Infectious-disease experts now believe that outdoor activities rarely cause the disease to spread unless people are in close conversation. They say that with a few exceptions, we can safely jog or bike without a mask.

That said, hospitals are still rationing medical-grade N95 masks even as their stockpiles grow, according to the Associated Press. Why? They remain traumatized by the terrifying mask shortage of a year ago and don't want to be caught short-handed again. They also fear a future surge in cases. (More on that later.)

We moderates continue to frown on the mask-less multitudes who crowd at super-spreader events. A recent example would be the bar parties following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl win. Health officials in Florida warn of a possible coronavirus spike as a result. For people like me, the difference now is we take all that reckless behavior less personally.

Consideration No. 2: traveling. Early in the pandemic, I flew across the country on a JetBlue flight with few passengers and distanced seating. I would not go on a crowded jet. Now that I've had my first shot, I worry less about flying. When I get the second one, I'll hop right on.

Consideration No. 3: guilt. As frontline workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people get their protective vaccinations, less stigma is attached to easing up a bit on the restrictions.

However, unsettling thoughts remain. New coronavirus variants are reportedly more infectious and not as easily tamed by some of the vaccines. Variants are reportedly reinfecting people who survived the early version of the disease. And, undoubtedly, more variants are coming at us.

To reach herd immunity, 60 to 90 percent of the population must be vaccinated or protected by prior infection, according to medical experts. If the 15 percent of Americans who say they'll never get the vaccine follow through on that vow, that goal could be hard to reach.

The hope in this country is that the pandemic will end around summer. As the scourge shows more definite signs of weakening, we who tried to do the right things may be able to relax — if just a little. This will be a strange time.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Fox News Undermined Public Health Measures — And Now Its Most Powerful Viewer Has Virus

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Fox News' pro-Trump hosts have spent months trying to bolster President Donald Trump's reelection chances by downplaying the threat posed by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for the precautions his presidential campaign has taken to protect him and others and valorized Trump for defying the public health community by refusing to do so. Now, the president himself has the virus. He revealed overnight that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for COVID-19, and the White House on Friday morning said he is experiencing "mild symptoms."

Trump engaged in a series of risky behaviors before and after contracting the virus.

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New Study Finds Republican Policies Mean Shorter Lives

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The United States trails many other developed countries when it comes to life expectancy, but how long one lives can have a lot to do with where that person lives in the U.S. and how conservative its policies are. And Michael Hobbes, in an article for HuffPost, discusses the connection between GOP policies and shorter life expectancy and a new study showing how destructive those policies can be.

"In 2014," Hobbes notes, "American life expectancy fell backward for the first time in 21 years. U.S. lifespans slid lower for another three years straight before barely ticking upward in 2018."

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Trump: Tuesday Night Debate Caused Monday Market Crash

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a rambling, vague, and, at times, gratuitously boastful press conference, President Donald Trump demonstrated his sprawling ignorance about public health Wednesday night as he gave his first speech in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Though he boasted about working with some of the greatest experts in public health in the world, he demonstrated no personal knowledge of the science or the nature of the outbreak. He seemed entirely ambivalent about getting funding from Congress to fight the pandemic, noting that his administration asked for $2.5 billion, but some Republicans have said $4 billion would be more appropriate, and some Democrats have asked for twice that.

Trump said he wouldn’t mind getting more money from Congress, if they want to give it, but also that the original $2.5 billion would be sufficient. He seemed to have no idea — and less interest — in what the money could actually be used for and what scale of the problem could require.

Most strikingly, Trump revealed that he previously had no idea about the how deadly the season flu can be.

“The flu in our country kills from 29,000 people to 69,000 people a year,” Trump said. “That was shocking to me.”

It’s disturbing that a president would have previously had no idea how serious a public health threat the flu is, especially after having been in office for three years. But it was also notable that Trump felt the need to bring up the mortality of the flu in a clear effort to diminish the seriousness of the current outbreak.

Trump added that the United States will “soon” have a vaccine for the coronavirus — even though his own Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it wouldn’t be possible to develop one in less than a year.

Trump also made a prediction that none of the public health officials working in the administration has been willing to make, saying that he thinks the number of infection cases in the United States will shortly be “going to be down to zero.” That could easily be proven false in the coming days if the outbreak spreads, furth undermining confidence in his leadership.

The president also criticized Democrats who have found fault in his administration’s handling of the outbreak, saying that they should all be working together to respond to the pandemic. But when asked about the week’s plunging stock market, he absurdly downplayed the role the coronavirus has had in spiking investor panic, instead saying that the Democratic presidential primary debates caused the decline.

“I think they look at the people you watch debating last night, and they say, ‘If there’s even a possibility that that could happen,’ I think it takes a hit because of that,” he said, before acknowledging that the virus also contributed to the drop.

Apparently responding to calls from outside the government to appoint a coronavirus “czar,” Trump said that Vice President Mike Pence would organize the administration’s response. But many observers noted that this choice was far from reassuring. Pence has no expertise in public health, and he was sluggish to respond to a sudden HIV outbreak in Indiana while he was governor, initially opposing harm-reduction policies on moral grounds that eventually proved to be extremely effective. He also, like the president, denies the science behind climate change. And as late as 2000, Pence was still casting doubt on the finding that smoking causes cancer.

And despite the clear danger posed by the threat, Trump expressed not regret for repeatedly pushing for cuts in the administration’s public health agencies.

“I’m a business person, I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them,” Trump said. “We can get ‘em back really quickly.”

Of course, this isn’t true. Many people cut from government will never return to the work. And administrations need strong institutional structures and forward-looking preparation before a crisis hits — exactly the kind of work that Trump’s proposed cuts could make so much harder.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore