Thursday, April 16, 2020

Bridging partisan divide in the new normal -- April 16, 2020 column


In the new normal of the coronavirus, I mostly stay home. About once a day I go out to stretch my legs.

My unscientific survey of life in Alexandria indicates people are heeding the message to keep their social distance. A few even carry sticks with flags at one end to remind people not to get too close.

Many people, though certainly not most, wear masks or face coverings outside.

My experience may be colored blue. Alexandria votes Democratic.

Polls show Democrats are more concerned than Republicans about the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. A new study from Stanford University also found partisan differences in social distancing.

Using smartphone location data and an online survey, the researchers looked at the period from Jan. 26 to April 4 and found localities with more Republicans engaged in less social distancing, even when controlling for factors such as state policy, population density and local COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The divide may be attributable to how political leaders and the news media portrayed the threat, analysts suggested. 
Partisanship showed up Wednesday in Michigan, which Donald Trump flipped from blue to red in 2016.

Conservative groups staged “Operation Gridlock,” a protest in cars and on foot at the state Capitol against stay-at-home restrictions ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Some demonstrators waved Trump flags, wore Trump hats and shouted, “Lock her up!” and “We will not comply!”

Michigan has the nation’s fourth highest number of cases and the third highest number of deaths from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“There’s no cure, there’s no vaccine, it’s incredibly contagious and it’s deadly,” Whitmer said on CNN, calling for personal responsibility.

Trump is desperate to get the economy moving again; he believes his re-election depends on it.

But health officials as well as some business leaders, governors and mayors urge caution. Don’t reopen the country until testing is widely available so we have a better idea how many Americans are infected, they say. 

Yes, people are scared, frustrated and weary of restrictions. Everyone hates hardship, massive unemployment and economic ruin.

And yet, The health of Americans must be our top priority. It would be far more damaging to pretend it’s OK for some parts of the country to resume business as usual while others remain closed.

Experts warn a resurgence of the virus could lead to future lockdowns which would devastate the economy and our health care system.

Los Angeles and New Orleans already have indicated they may put on hold any large gatherings, including concerts, music festivals and sports events, until 2021.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician, wisely extended his order closing non-essential businesses until May 8. It had been set to expire April 23. That means in-restaurant dining and many entertainment venues will remain closed, and no gatherings of more than 10 people are permitted. Northam’s stay-at-home order is set to run through June 10.

“When people say it’s time to stop what we’re doing and get back to normal, they’re wrong,” Northam said Wednesday.

Earlier that day, while I was out walking, a woman on the sidewalk across the street wrangling a huge package of Charmin caught my attention. She had toilet paper!

In our era of hunting and gathering, she’d bagged a major prize. On a Wednesday morning! The closest supermarket gets its deliveries on Wednesday nights, I’d learned recently.

Pleased, and envious of her catch, I smiled (though I doubt she could tell as three-quarters of my face was covered by my makeshift bandana mask).

She took a couple of steps toward me, lowered her own mask and shouted from her safe distance: “Go quickly! They have sanitizer in the pharmacy area!”

I gave her a thumbs-up and made a beeline for the store. Sure enough, at the back of a bottom shelf were bottles of hand sanitizer. I reached for two, wishing I’d worn gloves.

Never before have I had such an encounter with a stranger, and it gave me hope.

The 9/11 attacks permanently transformed how Americans, live, work and travel. The coronavirus likely will change our lives at least until a vaccine against COVID-19 has been developed, tested and is readily available. That could take a year or more.

We need a new normal in blue and red cities and states alike in which we show kindness and look out for each other. Even if it’s just with hand sanitizer.


1 comment:

  1. It was amazing to me how quickly the culture changed on masks. From a minority of mask wearers who were looked upon with curiosity or even derision to a minority of no maskers, who were looked upon with dread. I too am hoping we can move through the upcoming cultural changes quickly and settle into a new more positive normal.