Watching conservatives in North Carolina go ballistic over COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates is depressing. Australia, a country of 25 million people, has eradicated the virus by taking it seriously. They locked down, masked up, and tested and traced until they got the disease completely under control. In contrast, we are watching another surge that will dwarf the number of deaths we saw in April and conservatives on Twitter are screaming that mask mandates violate their freedom and that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. 

It’s astounding to me that our country is so ignorant and that a deadly virus has become so political. The blame lies mostly with Donald Trump for calling the disease a “Democratic hoax” back when we probably still could have contained it, but Republicans of all stripes own the burden for staying silent instead of contradicting the president. And it’s more than a bit frustrating that there’s no accountability for the cowardice and irresponsibility of people like Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. On the contrary, they would be punished by their party for taking a stand for science and safety. 

The misinformation being spread is dangerous. One prolific COVID-denying tweeter, said that The Netherlands had dropped their mask mandate because science showed masks don’t work. In fact, the country instituted a mask mandate last week because of the dramatic spike in cases. Most scientific studies show that masks can help reduce the spread of the disease. That’s why so many countries have adopted mandates for indoor public spaces. 

Several months ago, I determined that the country won’t take the virus seriously until everyone knows someone who has died from the disease and even that won’t convince a lot conservatives. We’re still a long way from that point. When 100,000 people had died, one source estimated that 17% of the country knew one of the victims. If that figure is correct, at 300,000, a number we will likely surpass in the next few weeks, only about 50% of the country will know somebody. Will likely need to be far north of 500,000 dead before the COVID deniers start to come around. If conservatives have their way, we will reach that milestone before we get a vaccine. 

The problem that we face is that the only people who can talk sense to the COVID deniers are the Republicans and conservatives who have shown no courage about anything in recent years. The GOP base does not trust the mainstream media and institutions like the CDC to give them accurate information. Conservative commentators who know that COVID exists and is deadly are loath to promote any sort of government action to contain it. Republican politicians are too scared of getting on the wrong side of the base. Instead, we’ll watch another few hundred thousand people die, in part, because conservatives are unwilling to take action to contain it. And there will be no accountability for their inaction. 

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