Republicans really, really don’t want you to blame them if your kids can’t go back to school

Republicans really, really don’t want you to blame them if your kids can’t go back to school

Fox News is very upset. Because, on Thursday, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace went there:

“If kids aren’t in school, it’s because Republicans didn’t get vaccinated and Republican governors stood in the way of mask mandates that would make it possible,” Wallace said.

While calling Wallace a “flack” and “one of the most fanatically anti-GOP voices on MSNBC,” Fox conspicuously omitted any factual rebuttal to her statements. Of course, Fox News is always upset about something. Outrage is their primary modus operandi, and the network’s existence depends on continually ginning up outrage among its viewership.

But sheer defensiveness runs a close second. Occasionally, there’s a story that prompts a swift reaction by Fox News, simply because they see it as a threat that must be quashed at all costs. The breakdown of the Texas power grid this past February was a good example, as millions of Texans froze in the dark due to a catastrophic failure of Texas’ Republican governor and the state’s Republican-dominated legislature (Fox immediately blamed renewable energy sources and even the Green New Deal, neither of which had anything to do with the Texas power debacle).

Above all, Fox News must convince its viewers that nothing is ever the fault of Republicans or Republican policies. The COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. So it’s understandable why Wallace struck a nerve here: because what she said was absolutely true. 

As explained in this article by Charles Sykes, writing for Politico, the latest Fox/GOP exercise in blame deflection—quickly embraced by high-profile Republicans, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—is that the overwhelming surge in delta variant COVID-19 infections in states like Texas and Florida isn’t due to the low rate of vaccinations among Republicans, and isn’t due to 19 months of disinformation about social distancing, masks, and the severity of the virus. No, it’s all the fault of the Biden administration allowing undocumented immigrants into the country.

Sykes eviscerates this absurd new Republican spin effectively, so I won’t include his rebuttal here. What is much more interesting is the unpleasant narrative that this type of blame-deflection seeks to avoid: the fact that, by and large, Republicans and Republican voters are the reason states are now reinstating masking mandates in schools, why businesses are reevaluating plans made over the summer for workers to return to their physical offices, and why the brief, joyous interlude most of us enjoyed at the beginning of summer looks like it is going to come to a crashing halt due to the spike in delta variant COVID-19 infections.

Republicans really, really don’t want to be blamed for that in the coming months. But Wallace is correct: While Joe Biden and the Democratic Party may have saved the summer for most Americans, pushing an unprecedented effort to vaccinate as many as possible, Republicans and their disproportionately, obstinately unvaccinated voters are going to be responsible for ruining the rest of the year for all of us, especially those parents who have small children.

The delta variant, first observed in India last October, emerged as the virus’ dominant strain in the U.S. sometime in July. As of the end of July, about 86% of Democratic voters had received at least one vaccine shot, compared to 52% of Republicans. Those numbers may have moved a bit as horror stories of ICU patients begging too late to be vaccinated began to circulate through the media, but for purposes of spreading through the unvaccinated population—and prompting reevaluation of masking and social distancing measures at many businesses—that ship had already sailed by July 1. Practically half of all Republicans eligible for the vaccine had, for one reason or another, remained unvaccinated at the time delta took over, and it soon became evident that this variant was highly transmissible, even by people who had received the vaccine.

Meanwhile, children under the age of twelve remain unvaccinated, as the vaccines’ effects on them haven’t yet been adequately determined to approve their use. Those vaccines may not be approved for younger children until the end of this year, or even later. While the delta variant of COVID-19 is not an out-and-out child killer, many kids can still die from it, and the place where they’ll catch it is that ubiquitous petri dish called “school.” Kids with even modest cases of delta COVID-19 can and will bring that virus home to their unvaccinated parents. And because the delta variant can be spread by those who are vaccinated as well, literally no one who remains unvaccinated is safe.

So, as a result, many states have already reversed themselves and announced that kids going to school this year will have to wear masks, following the same distancing protocols we all thought were ancient history at the end of May. Republican scoffers may say they don’t care because of something they read on the internet or heard from Tucker Carlson on Fox News, but with over 90 million eligible Americans unvaccinated, disproportionately from Republican-governed states which effectively derided the virus for over a year, the forecast remains extremely grim.

As reported in the journal, Science:

Many computer models predict case counts will peak sometime between mid-August and early September. That peak may bring as many as 450,000 daily cases, according to forecasters at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. IHME’s models have drawn controversy throughout the pandemic and other groups are more conservative: The COVID-19 Forecast Hub predicts the daily case count on 21 August will be somewhere between 29,000 and 176,000, using a range of estimates from 41 different models. […]

IHME researchers forecast a peak of about 1000 deaths a day in mid-September, and a total of 76,000 additional deaths by 1 November. But if 95% of the people in the United States wore masks, their model predicts, 49,000 of those lives would be saved. Americans, including young and healthy people, should not underestimate this variant, warns Ali Mokdad, an IHME epidemiologist. “Delta is a nasty one,” he says.

The problem, though, is that we will never see mask usage as high as 95%, because many adult Republicans still refuse to wear them. As Axios reported last month, “The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination—the group who say they’ll never get one—tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable.” Even worse, while masks in schools may work to protect unvaccinated kids from acquiring the virus from other kids in their classrooms, they can’t protect those same kids from being infected by their parents.

So what may be unavoidable are more school closures, more quarantines, more switching back to online learning (for smaller children not yet vaccinated), and more irate families with small children forced to stay home, even as their workplaces open up in the fall. All thanks to Republicans and their disinformation spigot of Fox News. As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson put it this week:

This is the GOP’s pandemic now. Cynical and irresponsible Republican politicians have created an environment that is killing Americans who shouldn’t have to die, swamping hospital systems with desperately ill patients, and generally ensuring that the pain and disruption of covid-19 are with us longer than they need be or should be. And they’ve done so in their own self-interest.

Yes, the more-infectious delta variant is driving this new wave. But vaccination and mask-wearing have the power to check that spike in cases, and to prevent those new diagnoses from turning into hospitalizations and deaths.

Can we possibly be so stupid that we ignore all empirical evidence and insist on inflicting grievous self-harm? Ambitious Republicans are betting that the answer to that question is yes.

Unfortunately for the rest of the country, the high contagiousness of the delta variant doesn’t stop at state borders. Had Republicans not embarked on a train of disinformation and lies, the number of fully vaccinated Americans would now be north of 80%, and the delta variant, if still extremely virulent, could have been managed. There would likely have been no need for kids to go back to masking, anymore than there was such a need at the beginning of the summer. But millions of vaccine-eligible Republicans didn’t do that, and as a result, parents will be living with the consequences over the next several months.

No wonder Fox News is upset. They just can’t handle the truth.

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