Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, testified before Congress last week that, absent an effective vaccine, the single best way to prevent transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was to wear a facemask. President Trump immediately declared Redfield’s statement to be wrong.
Many Trump supporters obviously agree because most who attend his in-person campaign rallies go maskless. Vice President Biden, by contrast, wears a facemask at almost all public gatherings. If this were merely a cultural clash with no medical consequences, this would be just one more illustration of the currently polarized U.S. political environment. But as Trump supporter, pizza magnate and former Republican candidate Herman Cain learned the hard way, going maskless at a Trump rally with other maskless individuals can be deadly during this pandemic.
Populous states like California (39.5 million) have more COVID-19 deaths (12,944) than small states like South Carolina (5 million population; 3,132 deaths). A better comparison is the number of COVID-19 deaths per million population, where South Carolina has 608 per million compared to California’s 373 per million, or a 63 percent increased risk for a resident of South Carolina to die of COVID-19 than the average resident of California. But South Carolina’s high COVID-19 mortality rate is nearly identical to that of its southern neighbors Georgia (605 per million) and Florida (603 per million). Lack of mask regulations rather than geography or climate explains these remarkably similar high rates, however. This is apparent from the 300 per million COVID-19 mortality rate of North Carolina, South Carolina’s immediate neighbor to the north. Its Democratic governor, a physician, issued a mask mandate early in the epidemic, saving approximately 3,200 lives.
The reluctance of Trump and many Republican officials to support regulations requiring mask-wearing in public settings helps to explain why the U.S., with just four percent of the world’s population, has 23 percent of worldwide COVID-19 deaths. To save lives, voters need to replace Trump and his enablers with government leaders who believe in science and follow the recommendations of public health experts in the middle of a pandemic.