How Politicizing the Fight Against COVID Makes Both Parties Losers

In the U.S., many aspects of the fight against COVID have been politicized. From mask-wearing to vaccine approval, actions have been labeled as liberal or conservative rather than scientifically proven or not. States’ early responses and current situations are judged according to party affiliation. Following this line of reasoning, all blue states should fare better than red states. However, comparing California, Texas, and Vermont, two liberal states and one conservative, the results do not support this assumption. A closer look at the actions of each reveals what has really led to successes and failures. 

California was the first state to issue stay-at-home orders back in mid-March. It also took steps to increase testing and tracing capacity and had strong public messaging. However, economic concerns, public restlessness, and seemingly plateauing cases put more pressure on state officials to re-open. As restrictions eased in May, county and city officials gained more regulating power. The decentralized structure made it difficult to enforce measures consistently throughout the state, especially when officials clashed with each other. Sheriffs in four counties said they would not enforce the governor’s order to wear masks in public places. Many people were anxious to get back to normal and not as likely to follow recommendations like mask-wearing and social distancing. 

Cases and deaths spiked in the summer following months of holidays and parties. Some attributed the increase to Black Lives Matter protests, but the data did not support this. The suggestion was dismissed as many participants wore masks and the protests were largely outdoors. Additionally, major outbreaks occurred in nursing homes, prisons, and among migrant workers. Experts say the state re-opened too quickly and focused too heavily on regulating outdoor spaces like beaches and parks as opposed to restaurants and bars. The spike among migrant workers, particularly the Latinx population, supports this. Latinx people are 2.9 times more likely to test positive than whites. They make up a large portion of California’s essential workforce in foodservice and hospitality. Those in these industries are less likely to be able to work from home or stay home if they are sick. Currently, California has one of the highest case counts in the nation, with cases doubling about every 56 days. However, when adjusted for population, California’s rank is lower. The state accounts for 9% of the nation’s cases and 7% of deaths. And increased testing does account for some of the rise.      

Despite some people’s belief that the state is turning purple, Texas is still decisively conservative. The last time a Democratic presidential candidate won was 1976. This past election, Trump won the state by 6 points, the Republican incumbent kept his spot in the senate, and 60% of the house seats went to Republicans. While opposites politically, Texas and California share many struggles. Disagreements at the local level, between judges and mayors, over shutting down businesses and enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing played a large role in why Texas’s case count is the highest in the country and the first to surpass one million. Like California, premature opening of businesses and fatigue from staying at home led many to take liberties when policies relaxed. Additionally, Texas also has a large Latinx population who face similar challenges as those in California. 

Although Vermont is often thought of as one of the most liberal states in the union, the high profile of its Democratic Socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, contributing to this, it actually has a mixed government. Republican, Phil Scott, has been the governor since 2016 and won the most recent election with 66% of the vote. This makes Vermont an interesting comparison to California and Texas when examining why the state has the lowest infection rate in the country. Some argue its small size and ruralness explain this but, officials in Vermont are quick to dismiss that, pointing to the state’s targeted use of resources for vulnerable populations as the foundation of its success. 

Dr. Mark Levine, the state health commissioner, says three things have helped. First, having a healthy population before the pandemic. People there place health high on their list of priorities, making them likely to follow orders like washing hands and wearing masks. The second contributor, shutting down the state quickly. But California did this also, so what made the difference? Vermont did not re-open until officials felt the virus was at a better level as opposed to bowing to public pressure about the economy or isolation fatigue. And when the state did ease restrictions, it did so gradually. 

The third and most unique point in Vermont’s plan focused efforts like testing and contact tracing on the most vulnerable populations, including those experiencing homelessness and those living in nursing homes. Vermont paid to move some people living in shelters into motels to avoid overcrowding. It also made meal deliveries, gave hazard pay for essential workers, offered free pop-up testing to vulnerable communities, and Governor Scott has even proposed a $1,000 stipend for those asked to self-isolate. Instead of focusing on curfews or stay-at-home orders, which apply to people that work, it looked at high-risk populations and created policies centered around them and their needs.  


While some, including President Trump, have tried to make mask-wearing and case counts political, the science does not support this. COVID does not distinguish between red and blue states. Instead, what made the difference between states’ successes and failures is how unified they are within themselves and how they met the needs of high-risk groups. Although California and Vermont initially had similar plans, the patchwork of policies California attempted to enforce after re-opening led to spikes it hasn’t fully recovered from. Texas also suffered because lawmakers and enforcers could not agree on a proper course of action. And both states failed to meet the needs of vulnerable groups like the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, and essential workers. To prevent higher case count and death toll, states must allocate resources to those that need it most and strongly enforce scientifically proven preventative measures. 

How Countries’ COVID Measures Stack Up

Whether out of fear of repeating the past, the virus, economic trouble, or public criticism, nations have responded differently to the pandemic. Although it’s not over, and it’s still too early to determine the long-term effects of each strategy, the data thus far does suggest which measures have worked best and why. 

Two methods for containing the spread of coronavirus are herd immunity and lockdowns. The Mayo Clinic states that herd immunity occurs when a large portion of the community becomes immune to a disease making the spread of it unlikely. Ideally, herd immunity is achieved through vaccinations. Vaccines have a low risk of complications and illness, they protect vulnerable populations that cannot receive vaccinations, and they have a strong history of controlling the spread of highly infectious diseases.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, vaccines were a hopeful but distant solution. Now, the first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine will arrive in the U.S. on December 15. The U.K. became the first to approve it for use with their announcement on December 2. The shortened approval process, 10 months as compared to 10 years, as well as the U.K.’s reliance on Pfizer’s data instead of independent analysis, has made some hesitant to follow Britain’s lead. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, took the opportunity to praise the Food and Drug Administration’s slower regulation process and offer support for the agency which has been under pressure by the White House to approve the vaccine. 

Achieving herd immunity can be difficult when people refuse to take the vaccine. Additionally, the effectiveness of vaccines can wane over time. If multiple vaccines are necessary to inoculate against a certain disease, it’s not guaranteed people will complete the series lessening the effectiveness. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticized the other, widely used approach, lockdowns. Lockdowns, or large scale physical distancing measures, slow the spread by limiting contact. They harm social and economic life and disproportionately affect people living in poverty, internally displaced people, and refugees. 

In Europe, both Italy and Greece have utilized lockdowns with different results. Originally, Italy was the hotspot of Europe, while Greece initially had a low number of cases. Italy declared a state of emergency and placed a strict lockdown. Greece acted similarly but did not declare a state of emergency. With such similar methods, the two nations should have yielded similar results. However, one key factor that separates them is timing. Italy began suspending events and closing schools nine days after the third confirmed death from coronavirus. It closed non-essential shops and banned non-essential movement after two weeks. In comparison, Greece suspended events and closed schools before the third confirmed death, closed non-essential shops one day after, and banned all non-essential movement only eight days after the third death. 

Timing also played a key role as to why Taiwan and South Korea have both had continued success with their efforts. Taiwan went into a strict lockdown very early, like Greece. However, it did not last long. Instead, they moved to closing borders, banning the export of surgical masks, contact tracing, and mobile SIM tracking. They kept businesses open by requiring temperature checks and offering sanitizer before each person entered. These efforts have resulted in just seven deaths. South Korea responded similarly and has not only low death rates but also a low case count. Their early and aggressive response included and still includes extensive testing, isolation, contact tracing, and tracking COVID patients in real-time. They have also managed to keep businesses open, and a sizable government stimulus helped citizens financially.       

Both nations had experience with epidemics in recent history, Taiwan with SARS 20 years ago and South Korea with MERS in 2015. This may have made them better prepared and primed citizens to comply with strict and invasive measures early on. While some question the privacy violations associated with SIM contact tracing and patient tracking, the low case and death count, as well as the public’s willingness to follow such measures, highlight that people are willing to make the tradeoff between personal freedoms and restrictions to avoid disastrous outcomes.       

Rather than focusing on limiting the spread of COVID and protecting citizens, Turkey has focused on restricting the spread of information. Starting in March, officials have investigated doctors and healthcare workers commenting on the government’s actions and coronavirus in the media. In one instance, after a health expert talked about underreporting of cases with local media, a governor claimed they were “misinforming the public” and “causing panic.” The investigation brought against them was dropped only after multiple rights groups condemned it. 

But public support for Turkish doctors and nurses is waning. Increases in resignations led some to liken them to soldiers fleeing a battlefield. However, many that left public hospitals did not leave medicine altogether but moved to private care facilities that have better working conditions. Doctors were even prohibited from retiring between March 28 and June 8 and starting again on October 27. 

Turkey has continued to declare the situation is under control and lift partial lockdowns even when independent doctors and medical associations warn against it. In addition to keeping information from its people, Turkey has also not followed WHO’s recommendation of regularly releasing case and death numbers by city or include probable causes in their counts. 

While many countries took action at the beginning of outbreaks, the strength and continued enforcement of their policies have differentiated the success of their efforts. Time will tell if Italy and Greece’s regional measures and extended lockdowns save them from further spikes. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea have managed to not only protect most of their people but also protect their economies. This has improved their governments’ images both among their people and around the world. Turkey inverted its approach, starting with appearances and putting science second, leading to discontent among its people and healthcare force, arguably making their efforts a failure.

Discounts and Deals for Healthcare Workers and First Responders

The pandemic has taken a toll both at the industry level in restaurants, schools, and hospitals and the individual level, especially for those working in these fields. Whether it’s from demanding too much by extending healthcare workers’ hours or not enough demand as businesses close without their usual volume of clients to support them. This strain is felt mentally, physically, and financially, especially by essential and healthcare workers battling COVID on the frontlines. To alleviate some of this, several companies are offering special discounts and perks for healthcare workers. Below are some highlights. Full lists of discounts can be found on these websites: Heroes Health Initiative, SheerID, HealthJob, and Retail Me Not. Please note, we are not being paid to mention these companies, nor do we receive a commission if you purchase something from them. This list is simply to help you take advantage of deals and resources that may benefit you, especially during these difficult times. 

Clothing

Athletic wear favorite, Lululemon, is giving North American first responders 25% off their in-store purchases. While known for their leggings, they offer a variety of apparel and accessories from loungewear for unwinding at home, mats for stress-relieving yoga, and gloves and mittens to wear to and from work as the weather gets colder.   

Looking to recognize those serving others with their Heroes Discount, Reebok offers medical and hospital workers, first responders, and government employees 50% off online purchases. Their website even offers a curated selection of nurse shoes sure to keep your feet comfortable your entire shift.    

Launched in 2008 by PA Lara Francisco, Medelita specializes in tailored medical apparel that not only looks good but keeps wearers “dry, comfortable, and stain free during every shift.” They are providing 30% off full-priced products including lab coats and scrubs with their code FRONTLINES. 

A new, supportive pair of shoes can really make a difference when standing long periods at a time tending to patients. Asics is offering medical professionals and first responders 40% off full-priced products purchased online.


Beauty and Grooming

Looking good contributes to feeling good. And professional tools can really elevate your beauty routine. ANISA Beauty specializes in PETA Certified Cruelty-Free and sustainably made makeup brushes. Don’t wear makeup? No problem, ANISA also sells skincare brushes perfect for cleansing or applying masks. They are offering medical workers and first responders in the U.S. and Canada 30% off through ID.me.   

Turn your day off into a spa day with TULA Skincare. What makes TULA unique is its use of probiotics and superfoods which help restore skin to its optimal state. The founder, Dr. Raj, is a practicing gastroenterologist and knows the power of these ingredients when used in and on the body. They are providing 20% off for nurses and first responders through ID.me

Skincare is for all. That’s why the founders of Geologie created a skincare subscription service designed for men. After a short questionnaire, customers receive a personalized regimen suited to their skin’s needs. A night shift critical care nurse and user commented that their under eye circles improved after using Geologie’s eye cream. First responders and healthcare workers get 30% off.       

Food and Beverage

Working long hours can make it difficult to find time for grocery shopping, especially during busy hours when lines form. Home Chef makes cooking easy by providing pre-portioned ingredients delivered to your door. Simply pick your meals, customize based on your dietary preferences, and cook the ingredients using the easy to follow recipe card. The company is supporting healthcare workers and first responders with a 50% discount on their first order and 10% on every order after. 

To satisfy your sweet tooth, Mrs. Fields is offering 25% off their Heroes collection of treats. This includes chocolate-covered strawberries, double chocolate coffee cake, and their famous Big Cookie Cake with an appropriate “Thank You” iced on top. 

You take care of others’ needs. Owala can help you take care of your own by keeping you hydrated. The reusable water bottle company is providing healthcare workers and first responders 50% discount code which can be applied during checkout.  

Rest and Relaxation 

Working in medicine, you know the value of science, data, and research. Headspace uses these to study meditation and mindfulness bringing you high-quality resources to improve your mental health. The benefits of meditation, reduced stress and anxiety, peace of mind, and increased focus, are especially useful these days. The top-rated meditation app is offering US healthcare professionals working in public settings Headspace Plus free through 2020.  

Ease tense shoulders, undo stubborn knots, and soothe sore muscles with Therabody products. The company sells TheraOne CBD products as well as their famous Theragun massage devices. They are supporting first responders and medical professionals with 20% off these items. 

A good night’s sleep can do a world of good to restore the mind and body before another day on the frontlines. The mattress company, Purple, is providing 10% off to healthcare workers to thank them for their service. 





Gadgets  

For those that are heroes in more ways than one, Willow is providing $50 off their Willow Pump Generation 3 to healthcare workers and first responders. The breast pump fits in your bra and allows for hands-free pumping which is especially useful for parents with packed schedules. 

If you need some new technology, Lenovo has you covered. They have everything from military-grade, antimicrobial laptops specialized for healthcare to VR and AR headsets and gaming desktops perfect for a little escape from the real world. Lenovo is extending their medical professionals discount to give an additional 5% off. 

You keep others safe. Ring helps keep you and yours protected with their range of alarms, video doorbells, and smart lighting. As a thank you, they are offering healthcare workers and first responders 20% select Ring.com purchases.





Services

You work tirelessly giving your time and energy helping others and then work the infamous second shift at home. Care.com lightens your burden by connecting you to professionals in child, pet, and senior care, housekeeping, and education. Whether you need tutoring help for your child while they do social distance learning or housekeeping to keep your space clean and organized, care.com can help. The site is providing a free one-month premium membership to newly enrolling healthcare workers. 

Finding the right people to care for your children can be stressful. Not with Sittercity. The tech-enabled child care company connects families to caregivers based on skills, schedules, and location. Their focus on trust and safety means you can be confident about the people you hire. Their services include child, senior, pet, and special needs care. Sittercity Premium is available to healthcare workers free for three months.    

If you are a first responder or medical professional needing to live closer to work or self-isolate from other members of your household, Airbnb can help. Many hosts are offering free or lowered rates. Simply answer a few questions and then Airbnb will invite you to book your stay.  

China’s PPE Donations Aid Countries with Diminishing Supplies and the Nation’s Image

China works to generate goodwill internationally and among its own citizens with much-needed donations as medical gear becomes a new olive branch in the age of ‘mask diplomacy.’

It’s usually hyperbolic to say “the whole world” or “everyone on the planet,” but not these days. The pandemic is showing us how interconnected we are as individuals and nations. This has led to actions and moments that are unifying, dividing, or both in the case of China’s medical equipment donations. While the benefits of China’s aid are evident, some receive the Chinese government’s messaging and actions with caution and even criticism.

Wealthy individuals from China’s elite have led relief efforts. The New York Times highlighted Jack Ma and Joseph Tsai, co-founders of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, and Yichen Zhang, the chairman of a major Chinese investment firm, Citic Capital, as some of the main contributors. Mr. Ma delivered more than one million masks and testing kits to New York while Mr. Tsai and his wife, along with Mr. Ma, “arranged for the delivery of 2,000 ventilators and millions of masks and goggles” to New York. The Tsais also “organized another shipment of half a million masks and goggles to the University of California, San Diego.” Mr. Zhang donated 10,000 masks to Yale’s health clinic. Associate News Editor for Business Insider, Alexandra Ma, also reported, “China has been sending medics, masks, ventilators, and shipments of other precious protective equipment to countries” including Italy, Iran, Serbia, and the Philippines. 

While the equipment, resources, and knowledge are much needed, some question China’s intentions behind these ostensibly benevolent actions. According to Rhodes Scholar Brian Wong in their article for The Diplomat, the central features of the newly coined “mask diplomacy” include “emphasis on the distribution and supply of contextually important resources…as a means of securing mass and elite buy-in,” especially in countries with strained relations with China, and highlighting itself as a credible, reliable global leader during this time of crisis. This could secure support making areas of Europe which have previously been closed off to Chinese companies more amenable to investment and expansion of projects. Providing aid to countries “at critical junctures” allows China “unrivaled and significant access to the critical infrastructure” of these nations and potentially create feelings of gratitude and reciprocity. Mr. Zhang’s own assistant stated, “‘It’s a business opportunity and a social responsibility,’” signaling how key players view China’s position.

However, there is a long history of nations using precarious times to improve their standing and generate positive public relations. Returning to Brian Wong’s article, they point to the United States’ $15 billion investment in Europe through the post World War II Marshall Plan, the EU’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and Singapore’s outreach efforts during the SARS outbreak in 2003 as predecessors to the current mask diplomacy because in each instance the benefactor sought to influence the situations and further a specific goal.  

Additionally, it is important to distinguish between the actions of the Chinese government and Chinese citizens. Criticism of China’s mask diplomacy is directed towards the government rather than individuals like Mr. Ma and the Tsais. The policies are seen not only as an attempt to repair relationships globally but also with its citizens. Alexandra Ma lists “suppressing early warnings, and hiding information from its citizens” as critical errors on the government’s part when the outbreak first began. One of the most notable instances of this was the censoring of ophthalmologist Li Wenliang’s COVID warnings. He died from the virus shortly after and was later declared a martyr by the government following heavy public criticism of Wenliang’s treatment by Wuhan officials. Other nations share the Chinese government’s desire to make amends for mishandlings during the early days of the pandemic.

Countries like the United States and Sweden, which have also been criticized for their responses, or lack thereof, are eager to repair their image internationally and regain the trust of their people. An article by the University of North Carolina associate professor Zeynep Tufekci in The Atlantic places responsibility for the U.S.’ delayed response on multiple shoulders at the local, state, and federal levels. Tufekci argues that the primary downfall was an inability to “consider risk in its full context.” From January to February, officials and the media told Americans not to worry about the coronavirus and compared it to the flu. This resulted in lost preparation time which only made the situation more difficult when the true effects and impact of the virus started to take shape. Policies varied state-to-state from total lockdowns in New York and California to late implementation of mandated mask-wearing in others. These uncoordinated efforts placed much of the responsibility on individuals leaving them without a strong, centralized guide. Attempts have been made more recently to standardize regulations across the country.  

Sweden’s controversial ‘light-touch’ approach also faced heavy criticism and the government has since made concessions about the effectiveness of their tactics. Unlike many other nations that issued strict guidelines or went into lockdown, Sweden only provided warnings and kept primary schools, restaurants, and bars open. A CNN article characterized Sweden as a country that “typically doesn’t mix public health and politics and it doesn’t typically use the law to influence behavior to protect people’s health.” Their approach relied on individual responsibility and herd-immunity theory in the hopes that if enough people were immune to the virus, it would slow and eventually stop the spread thus protecting the population at large. Swedish officials argue their plan is more nuanced but have also admitted the strategy did not effectively consider vulnerable populations, like those in care facilities. They have recognized they may need to recommend measures, like mask-wearing, that they did not originally utilize.   

It is easy to criticize early responses now. While ignorance about the severity of COVID was and is not an excuse for suppressing information or denying events, many health and government officials in multiple nations underestimated the effects the coronavirus would have. We all want to protect ourselves, to return to normal, and to feel safe again. We’re critical because we’re anxious. We want to know the “right” answer, the “right” plan of action, but much of this is determined only when looking back. It’s also natural to want to correct our mistakes and be seen as doing the “right” thing. So, while it’s important to examine actions and motivations to improve in the future, helping each other is one of the only “right” things we know right now. 

Xiaohang Liu Explains

这是第二次世界大战结束以来最严重的全球公共卫生突发事件。这场前所未见,突如其来的疫情迄今为止已经持续肆虐世界各地九个月。自武汉疫情初爆发以来,世界上有这么一群人,义无反顾地冲在了疫情最前端,生动的诠释了“为天地心,为生民立命,为往圣继绝学”。他们舍小家顾大家,以精湛医术和仁爱之心,还在一线坚持着打赢这场没有硝烟的疫情战。

这场突如其来的疫情再次向世人证明,人类是一个休戚与共的命运共同体。在一月到二月期间,中国接受了近80个国家和10个国际组织的捐赠。而在中国疫情得到控制,口罩产量稳定之后,中国政府又向82个国家和世卫组织、非盟回赠了援助,尽己所能为有需要的国家提供了大量支持和帮助。不只中国政府,中国无数个个人,公民也时刻关心着海外疫情。马云建立的公益基金会和阿里巴巴公益基金会为日本、韩国、伊朗、意大利、美国和西班牙这些疫情严重的国家筹集的物资正陆续运达。马云说:“此时此刻,不分你我、共享资源,交流抗疫经验和教训,我们才有机会战胜这次灾难。”

这些让国际给中国的外交冠以“口罩外交”。有些媒体认为这些物资,在疫情面前成了打破中国和西方国家隔阂的桥梁,成了修复大国形象,体现大国风范的表现。而也有些媒体也怀疑中国是否通过口罩在危急时刻搞宣传活动,甚至有商业阴谋的夹私带货。

下面的文章就具体讨论了中国的医疗物资捐赠以及国际对此种行为的认同与怀疑。