More than five months after America recorded its first COVID19 case, the domestic outbreak has sickened more than two million people, killed more than 126,000, new cases have spiked to record highs nationwide and yet, the simple act of masking up remains controversial for nearly half the country as public health officials are warning that 100,000 cases per day will be no surprise at current levels of infection.
America's current caseload is at 40,000 per day. An alarming infection surge in America's southern states has sparked a dramatic course reversal in several Donald Trump strongholds, yet universal masking remains at best a patchy experience in America's neighbourhoods. Masks are everything from political debate to cultural statement but hardly ubiquitous even when public health scientists insist they should be the default mode for all Americans.
From Day One, the White House has deliberately minimised the virus' catastrophic potential, the US president has gone maskless and so have key figures in his innermost circle.
America's top infectious diseases experts Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx mask up but Trump and vice president Mike Pence don't. Stark contrasts in signalling and plenty of room for interpretation have sparked a patchwork of responses across America's 50 states.
And now, with the summer holiday season in top gear, there are new reasons to worry: inter state travel between states that have flattened the curve and those that are witnessing new surges.
New York is now urging travelers from 16 states to self-quarantine for 14 days. On that list are California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. New Jersey and Connecticut have also announced travel advisories along the same lines. These apply to states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents.
"I say to people on the street, when I see they don't have a mask or I see these groups of people in front of a bar: 'What are you thinking? How short a memory. Learn the lesson. Give me a break,'" New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a briefing Tuesday.
Lack of compliance has been a signature of the American response, from the highest political office in the land to the hyper local.
But that is changing now, amid a resurgence of the virus. Multiple Republican states where the virus is roaring are backtracking, closing beaches and bars, rolling back decisions to re-open indoor seating, putting limits on crowds and publicly calling for mandatory masking.
The decision to wear a mask or not, from the White House downwards, has been about the symbolism of picking sides in a cultural stand-off. Although the resistance to masking continues, the political blowback has begun to surface.
The virus which arrived from China on the West coast of the United States and then travelled to the big cities on the East coast is now hitting Republican strongholds, a trend with deep political implications in election year.
A new report out today says that states Donald Trump won in 2016 now account for 75 percent of all new cases, a pattern that has taken hold since May. Public health outcomes are tracking with head to head national polls between Trump and rival Joe Biden. Biden has expanded his lead by nearly 10 points in latest polls.
Suddenly, the political cocktail seems to be changing the mood about face coverings, within Trump's party. They're masking up even as Fauci issued a dire warning today: "We're going in the opposite direction."
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