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The pandemic will be tamed, but not before a horrible winter

Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports:

The regions of the country now among those hit hardest by the virus — Midwestern and Mountain States and rural counties, including in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming — are the ones that voted heavily for Mr. Trump in the recent election. The president could help save his millions of supporters by urging them to wear masks, avoid crowds and skip holiday gatherings this year. But that seemed unlikely to occur, many health experts said.

“That is outside of his DNA,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University medical school. “It would mean admitting he was wrong and Tony Fauci was right.”

In a bitter paradox, some experts noted, Mr. Trump could have been the hero of this pandemic. Operation Warp Speed, which his administration announced in May, appears on track to deliver vaccines and therapies in record-breaking time. The United States may well become the first country to bring the virus to heel through pharmaceutical prowess.

Had Mr. Trump heeded his medical advisers in late spring and adopted measures to curb new infections, the nation could now be on track to exit the epidemic next year with far fewer deaths per capita than many other nations.

But during his campaign, Mr. Trump rarely mentioned Operation Warp Speed; it has invested more than $12 billion in six vaccines based on three complex new technologies, as well as antibody therapies with nearly unpronounceable names like bamlanivimab.

Some health experts expressed concern that Mr. Trump might continue to undermine the coronavirus effort after he leaves office, by contradicting and diminishing any measure proposed by Mr. Biden.

“The thinking over here,” said Dr. David L. Heyman, a former C.D.C. official who now oversees the Center on Global Health Security at Chatham House in London, “is that he will continue to harass the White House to mobilize his people for 2024 for himself or his daughter or sons.”

The antidote to hopelessness is agency, and Americans can protect themselves even without Mr. Trump’s advice by wearing masks and keeping their distance from others.

Reluctant officials are finally coming around to ordering such measures. The governors of Iowa and New Hampshire issued mask mandates for the first time in mid-November; the governors of Kansas, North Carolina and Hawaii strengthened theirs. But average Americans are sharply divided over masks.

“There is pretty broad support for mask mandates even among Republicans,” said Martha Louise Lincoln, a medical historian at San Francisco State University. “But among extreme right-wing voters there’s still a perception that they’re a sign of weakness or a symbol of being duped.” [Continue reading…]

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