Greg Abbott and his Republican friends can’t handle the truth

New openings in Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi and elsewhere are anti-science and anti-reality. So why are they happening — and would should we actually do?

Tim Mullaney
New York
Wednesday 03 March 2021 17:00 GMT
(Getty Images)

On February 12 and 13, my wife and I celebrated Valentine’s Day early with our first vaccination shots against Covid-19. And after 11 months of even more togetherness than usual, we prepared to go back to seeing friends, Fridays at our local pizza tavern, and everything else we missed.

On February 16, our hot water heater sprung a leak. And the plumber who fixed it — asymptomatic, wearing a mask and keeping proper distance — gave both of us coronavirus.

So keep me in mind when you see politicians folding like cheap suits in response to the first good news on Covid in months. Fixing the rest of this pandemic — and getting yourself and your family to the finish line in good health — is more than ever up to you.

The most egregious cases of misgovernance, of course, are coming from the Trumpier precincts of the American South, where Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared all businesses could open at full capacity, with no statewide mask mandate. Mississippi, from which nobody should take public health advice (and which has the fifth-highest Covid death rate in America, even though it was largely spared the first wave of cases last winter), quickly followed suit.

Then, even states and cities that should know better started dancing to the same tune. Chicago boosted its limit for indoor dining to 50 percent of each establishment’s stated capacity, up from 40 percent, and Boston moved to open restaurants fully. South Carolina elected to allow gatherings of 250 people.

But there’s a difference between being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and being out of the tunnel. As my experience demonstrates, the difference between those two can be a trip to the emergency room, a week in bed, or a lot worse.

Yes, new Covid cases are down almost two-thirds since the January peak. The nation has reported about 57,000 cases a day for the last week, compared with 250,000 right before President Joe Biden took office in January

But that January peak only ever happened because the same anti-mask, Covid-denying folks who resisted public health measures as 513,122 Americans died (according to the Centers for Disease Control) insisted on traveling widely over the holidays, leading to a spike in cases that peaked at 5,406 American deaths on February 12. The absence of that peak is hardly evidence we should take advice from people who produced it.

I’ll be humble about my predictive powers about public health, so no predictions here about how cases will soon spike or how new variants of the Covid virus may resist (or not) the vaccines we have. Get those elsewhere. But here’s some wisdom from a long-standing patient (a survivor of cancer and other battles) who has learned a recent lesson about corona complacency specifically.

Not enough people are vaccinated yet to make the decisive difference. And even after the vaccine, a gradually declining level of caution is still the way to go. Biden’s announcement that the US will have enough vaccine for everyone by May is great news — but it’s not May yet. For now, about 16 percent of us have had one shot — as I discovered, that’s not the occasion yet when you go fully back to normal living — and only about 8 percent are fully vaccinated. That’s miles short of the herd immunity thought by actual experts to kick in when around 70 percent of us are either vaccinated or have had Covid.

The occasion when you fully embrace the things we miss — and God, how I miss barbecues and small dinner parties after months of using social networking for most of my actual social life — is a couple of weeks after your second shot (aside from the Johnson and Johnson one-shot regimen). Even then, you’ll have about a 5 percent chance of contracting or spreading the virus, even though you can essentially take it on faith that Covid won’t hospitalize or kill you.

My doctor explains it simply: The vaccine teaches your body to make proteins that resist Covid, and then the body takes a few weeks to make them. For me, with a second shot set for March 13, that means the end of this month. For people who haven’t begun shots, that means a few weeks or two months longer before getting anywhere near back to normal.

And it means, of course, that you should deal with any residual resentment you may have about being told to wear masks and take the shot. It takes a second, doesn’t hurt to speak of, and it’s the path to a better life for all of us. Be a good neighbor.

Keep up your guard after the shot, too. There’s nothing wrong with another couple of weeks of takeout, or outdoor dining if the weather’s good where you are. Most of us who wear masks wear them in 15-minute bursts to go to stores — and maybe this spring and summer, after we get shots, we’ll wear them for a few hours on planes. So, do it! Being on planes again will be worth it. For us, and for the people around us who live with tail risk while society normalizes.

Because it’s up to you now. Abbott, the Texas governor who has spread Covid disinformation for months, was never your friend — he’s out for the Texas Republican Party only, it seems, lost in a culture war whose vapidity gets plainer every day Donald Trump can’t occupy America’s center stage.

In the paraphrased words of Psalm 118, don’t put your faith in princes when it comes to Covid. Now more than ever, it’s up to you.

In the words of your Mom, don’t be a putz.

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