These Optimistic COVID-19 ‘Reopening’ Takes Didn’t Age Well

Visitors to SeaWorld Orlando are seen wearing face masks and social distancing on one of the theme park's roller coasters as the attraction reopens after closing in March due to the coronavirus pandemic on June 11, 2... Visitors to SeaWorld Orlando are seen wearing face masks and social distancing on one of the theme park's roller coasters as the attraction reopens after closing in March due to the coronavirus pandemic on June 11, 2020 in Orlando, Florida, USA. All guests are required to wear face masks and submit to temperature checks. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 30, 2020 10:53 a.m.
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COVID-19 is spiking across the country, but perhaps most markedly in the places that conservative pundits, not too long ago, were assuring us would would escape the virus’ wrath.

The current spike, experts argue, isn’t really a “second wave”: Many states never had high numbers of infections in the spring, but do now.

But it’s not just bad luck: The current spread of COVID-19 follows a different kind of wave — a wave of happy talk from right-wing pundits and politicians whose takes have aged poorly.

‘America Shouldn’t Have to Play by New York Rules’

There’s no better example of this cloudy-eyed fortune telling than from New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. The same week that Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp announced that it would be the first state to “reopen” and shed some COVID-19 restrictions, Stephens speculated that, despite the virus’s deadly toll on New York City, the rest of the country was basically in the clear.

The blaring headline on Stephens’ column became a genre unto itself of COVID-19 commentary: The rest of the country — real America — could handle the virus better than these dang city slickers.

“I don’t see why people living in a Nashville suburb should not be allowed to return to their jobs because people like me choose to live, travel and work in urban sardine cans,” Stephens wrote. (Cases in Tennessee continue to climb.)

“NYC is skewing all the numbers,” the radio host John Ziegler similarly argued on April 20. He predicted that the total number of deaths from the virus nationwide would not be “much over 60,000” by May 20. In reality, the count was around 90,000 by then.

Experts: ‘The most nonessential employees in the nation’ 

In late April, Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Ken Buck (R-CO) referred to the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s top medical experts, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, as “the dynamic duo of economic destruction,” and said their advice wasn’t welcome. Let the free market decide!

“Instead of the essential nature of one’s work being determined in the marketplace, Washington bureaucrats, the most nonessential employees in the nation, are making the determination about who gets to work and who has to take unemployment,” the two wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed.

Now that Arizona is facing a dramatic spike, Biggs is trying to find some optimism — using an odd metric.

Some haven’t bothered with actual argument: Dennis Prager, the popular conservative YouTuber, figured he could dismiss the whole effort to slow COVID-19’s spread in a few words.

‘People have figured out what they need to do to remain safe’

Federal health experts weren’t the only target, though — even local authorities urging caution got an earful.

Earlier this month, when Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county, which contains Houston, was “on the precipice of disaster,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) went off.

“People have figured out what they need to do to remain safe,” he argued. But just two weeks later, Texas has paused its reopening amid a spike in cases, and bars, seen as a driver of the surge, are back to being closed.

‘Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology?’

In the early days of the “reopening” movement, some politicians and pundits got a bit too excited.

“The pandemic hasn’t been as bad as predicted in Texas,” the state’s attorney general Ken Paxton told the Daily Caller at the end of April, a day before the state “reopened.”

But on this front, no one beats Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida’s “Mission Accomplished” moment.

“We’ve succeeded, and I think that people just don’t want to recognize it,” the governor said outside the White House on May 20 — as the deaths in his state plateaued at around 40 per day.

“Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology?” the National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote, adding to the celebration.

“A couple of months ago, the media, almost as one, decided that Governor Ron DeSantis was a public menace who was going to get Floridians killed with his lax response to the coronavirus crisis,” Lowry observed.

But Florida, like so many states that sought to reopen as the virus lingered, is facing a now-familiar spike. On Friday, the state closed its bars back up.

The same day, as Florida reported a record number of new cases, an NBC News reporter asked DeSantis why he wasn’t putting new measures in place to combat the virus, Bloomberg reported.

“Like what?” the governor responded.

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

TPM’s COVID-19 hub.
Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.
COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).
Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).
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