Froma Harrop: Fight against COVID-19 highlights two Americas | Editorial columnists
Saturday night in Branson, Missouri, and Manhattan, New York, was a time of summer celebration. People jostled each other in restaurants and went out to listen to music with few masks on. Both locations were in the mood to party to celebrate what appeared to be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there was one big difference: The scourge of the virus ended in Manhattan but exploded in Branson, a bustling tourist hub in Ozark. In Manhattan, 65% of residents are fully immunized. In Greene County, just north of Branson and home to the region’s major medical centers, only 39% are. The mayor of Branson has come forward against the mask warrants.
Hospitals there are alarmed by waves of COVID-19 patients, forcing them to borrow ventilators and beg respiratory therapists to come and help them. Mercy Hospital reports that 95% of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are from people who had not received their vaccines. The highly contagious delta variant leads to an increase in cases.
We have two countries, one with disease spread and with a slower economic recovery, the other with community action against a potentially fatal disease and a relatively healthy reopening. About 66% of New York State residents are fully immunized. Missouri’s vaccination rate is less than 50%. In Louisiana, it’s 45%, and in Mississippi and Alabama, a pathetic notch above 40%. In contrast, 76% of adults in Vermont have been vaccinated.
Outside of the big cities, Missouri is truly Trump country. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that only 35% of people in counties who voted for Donald Trump are vaccinated, compared to nearly 47% in counties that have opted for Joe Biden. (So it’s no surprise that Staten Island, the only New York borough to vote for Trump, has one of the highest infection rates in the city.)
And Biden County’s immunization figures would undoubtedly be higher if they hadn’t included large black and immigrant populations who “hesitate” (the polite term) to take the vaccine. In parts of central Brooklyn, for example, where many Caribbean immigrants fear – without scientific evidence – that the vaccine will harm fertility, only a third have received all of their vaccines.
There is a habit among awakened journalists to attribute the higher rates of illness to racism, but the reality is more complicated. In truth, rural whites in Trump Country have joined many poor people of color out of fear of the vaccine or out of simple resistance to sound advice.
Since it is the former president’s game to denigrate the Biden administration’s efforts to get the population vaccinated, Fox News right-hangers are talking about the virtually non-existent dangers of vaccines. Never mind that Donald and Melania Trump were on the front line for their shots in January. And Fox News mogul Rupert Murdoch had had his the month before, even beating Queen Elizabeth. But neither Trump nor Murdoch’s Fox minions will go ahead and recommend vaccination. (And, by the way, no one is required to get one.)
In response to the Orange Deity’s refusal to advocate getting the beatings, Trumpster Marc Thiessen suggests applying a bit of child psychology to his followers. “If Biden is to convince the hesitant about the vaccine,” the headline of his Washington Post column read, “give Trump credit for the vaccines.”
Economists are now worried that the spread of coronavirus variants in countries with low vaccination rates threatens the global economy. “Essentially, the world is facing a two-speed recovery,” Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, recently told the Group of 20 nations.
And face it; the United States too. The vaccinated half is advancing and the unvaccinated half is late. What a strange place we have become.
Froma Harrop is a seasoned business journalist and editor who writes on politics, economics and culture. She currently contributes to CNN Opinion.