On TV last night with George Stephanopoulos, Donald Trump rambled something about coronavirus and herd immunity:
TRUMP: I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic. And we are going to be OK. We’re going to be OK, and it is going away. And it’s probably going to go away now a lot faster because of the vaccines.
It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It would go away without the vaccine?
TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time it goes away.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And many deaths.
TRUMP: And you’ll develop — you’ll develop herd — like a herd mentality. It’s going to be — it’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.
But with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve got to take a quick break [“Trump’s ABC News Town Hall: Full Transcript,” ABC News, 2020.09.15].
Only Donald Trump would say we should rely on something like herd mentality to address a national crisis.
Kevin Woster meditates on how such thinking would have denied him the grace of five more years with his mom, had this coronavirus broken out after she, at age 81, was living a drastically altered but still happy and rich life after a heart attack in 1999:
My mom lived to see my son and daughter play basketball for O’Gorman. She lived to see them graduate and head for college. She met newborn great-grandchildren and was showered with attention by visiting nephews and nieces and their kids, and grandkids.
She continued to play a ragtime piano for all to enjoy up until the point where her dying heart simply couldn’t pump enough blood to keep her fingers dancing across the keys.
She lived a good life for more than five years. Not an easy life. Not a full life in the way she had known it before the heart attack. But good. Very good. Valuable beyond calculation, to her and to us [Kevin Woster, “Covid and the Herd: When Cold Numbers Deny the Precious,” SDPB: On the Other Hand, updated 2020.09.11].
There are macho men out there saying of coronavirus, “If I die, I die.” Such fatalistic pronouncements represent not personal strength but disregard for others. When you’re talking about a contagious disease, you can’t say “If I die, I die” in isolation; those words inherently mean, “If you die, you die.”And those words mean you don’t really give a darn about others:
That’s part of what we’re talking about when we talk about allowing herd immunity to lope on its own through the human herd and produce an “acceptable” death rate from COVID-19.
I’ve been thinking about what’s “acceptable” since I saw a report on a disturbing survey indicating that 57 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of survey respondents overall considered the U.S. death toll related to COVID-19 infections at the time — about 176,000 — as “acceptable.”
I have to think that unacceptable survey results came from a combined pathology: The Trump effect, a lack of empathy, and a level of hardened cynicism that diminishes the value of certain lives. The lives that some apparently consider to be second class are not the young and the strong and those free of serious pre-existing conditions that can lead to complications and death after contracting COVID-19 [Woster, 2020.09.11].
When Trump bleats herd, he’s not thinking about the individual lives that will be culled from the herd due to his inaction. Insulated by wealth and White House doctors from most harm (everyone who attended ABC’s event with Trump last night was tested for coronavirus), Trump can’t look past himself to envision the personal loss his approach to this national crisis threatens for millions of Americans in situations like the Wosters were twenty years ago.
Herd immunity is an epidemiological reality. But banking on herd immunity is reckless policy, indicating a lack of ambition, vision, and caring.
Related Reading: Ed Yong of The Atlantic meditates on the same poll Woster read:
…“It’s not the type of disaster that Americans specifically are used to dealing with,” says Samantha Montano of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, who studies disasters. “Famines and complex humanitarian crises are closer approximations.” Health experts are burning out. Long-haulers are struggling to find treatments or support. But many Americans are turning away from the pandemic. “People have stopped watching news about it as much, or talking to friends about it,” Redbird says. “I think we’re all exhausted.” Optimistically, this might mean that people are becoming less anxious and more resilient. More worryingly, it could also mean they are becoming inured to tragedy.
The most accurate model to date predicts that the U.S. will head into November with 220,000 confirmed deaths. More than 1,000 health-care workers have died. One in every 1,125 Black Americans has died, along with similarly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. And yet, a recent poll found that 57 percent of Republican voters and 33 percent of independents think the number of deaths is acceptable. “In order for us to mobilize around a social problem, we all have to agree that it’s a problem,” Lori Peek says. “It’s shocking that we haven’t, because you really would have thought that with a pandemic it would be easy.” This is the final and perhaps most costly intuitive error …
The U.S. might stop treating the pandemic as the emergency that it is. Daily tragedy might become ambient noise. The desire for normality might render the unthinkable normal. Like poverty and racism, school shootings and police brutality, mass incarceration and sexual harassment, widespread extinctions and changing climate, COVID-19 might become yet another unacceptable thing that America comes to accept [Ed Yong, “America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral,” The Atlantic, 2020.09.09].