There is a natural human instinct to declare victory before it is actually achieved. From the Chicago Tribune’s infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline to wide receiver DeSean Jackson spiking the football before he reached the end zone that cost the Philadelphia Eagles a touchdown some years back, people under stress can make bad choices. Sometimes, the impact is merely comical as with a football game or instant collector’s item newspaper. But then there are times when such pronouncements can have deadly consequences.
Now happens to be one of those times.
We should all heed the warning of Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who earlier this week spoke openly about concerns of “impending doom” with the growing number of COVID-19 cases nationwide.
The numbers are the numbers. Cases are up about 10% nationwide from the previous week to about 60,000 cases per day. Across the U.S., hospitalizations and deaths are up as well. And Walensky’s chief concern is that the U.S. may experience the same spike in cases that recently hit Europe — France just announced a monthslong lockdown. Letting our guard down now, she observed, can lead to thousands of needless deaths.
What’s especially frustrating about all this is how the CDC and other health experts are constantly contradicted by politicians who should know better, including certain red-state governors who are doing their best to spike the football way too early. So far, at least seven states that previously had statewide mask restrictions have lifted them, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, And that’s not even counting the 11 states that never had one. Their argument comes down to this: They want businesses operating at full capacity and they think mask wearing is unhelpful.
That, in a word, is insane. For people to become complacent now, even as significant progress is being made in prevention with an estimated 16% of the U.S. populace now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The day is coming when people won’t have to wear masks. It just isn’t today. And please spare us, Republican governors, with your excuse that people can make their own judgments about masks. By lifting restrictions, you’ve already told them what judgment to make on that subject and it’s the wrong one.
President Joe Biden made the case once again with an address from the White House on Monday: “If we let our guard down now, we can see the virus getting worse, not better. People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing.” Are Americans listening? Like so many other things, it’s likely that such pronouncements are heard by Biden voters but not those who backed the other fellow.
Look, we understand pandemic fatigue. Think there’s anyone who has enjoyed the social isolation, the economic slowdown, the job losses, the business failings, the deaths and despair that we’ve all experienced during this terrible year? Think again. We can all look forward to burning masks when the moment comes. And it surely can’t come too soon. But dropping our guard down is not just endangering ourselves, it’s putting others at risk. Public health doesn’t come down to individual decisions, it represents our responsibility to each other. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper when it comes to tiny droplets hanging in the air.
Wear a mask, Wash your hands. Maintain social distances. Let’s “fight to the finish,” as President Biden has said. Deadly COVID variants and the possibility of yet another surge is just too high to take anything for granted. Just ask Walensky, who became emotional as she recalled her own experience with COVID-19 patients as they neared the end of their lives. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” she said during her presentation. “But right now, I’m scared.”
In this case, a little fear may well prove a good thing, at least for a little while longer. Last year, COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer, the CDC also confirmed this week. It’s just not something to take lightly.