We’re headed into Thanksgiving this week, and the plea from the public health experts is the same: avoid large familial gatherings at all costs. That message likely won’t change as we head from Thanksgiving into Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
The demands public health officials are giving make sense; that’s not the problem. The issue is that Americans face a no-win choice.
On the one hand, the threat of the virus is real and near. According to the COVID Tracking Project, states and the healthcare system are “inundated with COVID-19 patients and are warning of staff shortages.” New cases and the number of active hospitalizations are now higher than any previous time in the spring or summer.
It’s also very likely the week of Thanksgiving will see the United States experience single-day highs in deaths from COVID-19 above 2,000 a day for the first time since the spring. The COVID-19 threat is real, and it’s spreading faster right now than any previous point, with no end in close sight. We have the hope of the vaccine on the horizon, but the immediate threat is still there.
The threat is real. On the other hand, Americans have experienced a fundamental breach of trust both with their political leaders and the public health officials pushing policy. As I said at the end of March, “Trust is one of those things that takes a long time to build, but can be lost in a moment.”
Since March, Americans have experienced multiple breaches of trust. First, the public health officials have been all over the map on what people should and should not be doing in response to the virus. Both those experts and the media have told people to be for and against masks. We’ve somehow gone from emphasizing the basics of good hygiene like washing hands to wearing masks, being the only thing people want to commit to doing.
The science has bounced around too. Just this past week we’ve had contradictory studies on the efficiency of mask-wearing. A Danish study suggests that wearing surgical masks isn’t that effective in deterring the spread of COVID.
On the flip side, the CDC credits a mask mandate in Kansas City for lowering the spread of COVID there. There’s likely some wiggle room between the effectiveness of a surgical mask and other kinds. But even so, people are getting mixed signals.
And then we’ve got the flashpoints over schools. There’s perhaps no other single point in American life where public officials aren’t “following the science.” New York City is the best example. According to a Bloomberg report:
New York City…tragically shut down its school system on Thursday after having opened schools to hybrid learning in late September. Did Mayor Bill de Blasio make the decision to close them because they were suddenly Covid-19 hotspots? No. Although the citywide positivity rate has risen above 3%, the rate of infection in the schools was astonishingly low: 0.15%. Kids were not infecting teachers, and teachers weren’t infecting students — just as study after study had suggested would be the case.
The decision to shut down the schools was done totally to placate teacher’s unions, and had nothing to do with “following the science.” Unions don’t want to work during the pandemic, unlike all the other “essential workers” who have braved the virus nonstop since March.
And if that wasn’t enough to destroy public trust, you have hypocrisy or political overreach. California Gov. Gavin Newsom represents hypocrisy well after he went out and dined at an upscale restaurant while banning his citizens from doing the same. And on the other side, you have Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has made gross overreaches of power. The state Supreme Court had to step in and reassert necessary political checks.
In the end, it hasn’t mattered whether or not you have a Whitmer leading the charge or a more lax state government. European societal controls have failed to control the spread too. The virus is everywhere and spreading everywhere, no matter what kind of political party is in charge.
People now face the gamut of the full holiday season. All the experts and political leaders become nothing more than a background drone. Fortunately, while politicians and public experts continue to show a particular disdain for the public, Americans have displayed better judgment.
Back in the spring, economic statistics showed the American public moving toward a shutdown posture well before public health experts and politicians started implementing shutdowns. Americans also started opening back up and doing things before states reversed those decisions. We’ve seen similar dynamics in specific industries like theaters and more. The public is choosing to avoid what is perceived as dangerous places.
The same will happen for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and more. American families will decide what is best for them. Some of them are looking at the last holidays they can celebrate with older or terminally ill family members. Others haven’t been able to have contact with friends or family for months.
Will these events contribute to the spread of COVID-19? Certainly. But it’s pretty clear the virus is already spreading. The government has shown no signs of helping people out financially again, so hunkering down in a bunker is impossible for most. And if you’ve had to face the threat of the virus for months now, a family celebration is just one more event among many.
The appearance of two vaccines and new emergency therapies provide a glimmer of hope during this time. We’re hopefully ending this chapter of COVID-19 in American history. We still have a ways to go.
I hope everyone stays as safe as possible and has a happy and blessed Thanksgiving with friends and family.