I wrote before about how the coronavirus pandemic is creating the conditions for many natural experiments to be conducted. One is the question of how effective the various countermeasures being taken are. We have seen that in Trumpland, those parts of the country where his followers are dominant, the social distancing guidelines are being ignored or relaxed early, despite warnings by public health experts that this could lead to a resurgence in the number of infected cases. These people, especially in rural areas, seem to think that they are relatively immune from the pandemic because the absolute numbers in their areas so far have been relatively few, though on a per capita basis that may not be the case.
One of the natural experiments that we will be seeing is the differential effect of relaxing the guidelines in different parts of the country. In other words, the people in Trumpland are effectively volunteering (even if not consciously) to be the test subjects for the effect of relaxing the rules.
Even as Trump’s most ardent supporters crush themselves together to protest necessary coronavirus restraints, COVID hotspots have begun to bloom in regions that have been, to date, the geographic core of his support.
Nebraska, Idaho, South Dakota and other rural farm belt states are experiencing spikes in confirmed COVID cases. In Nebraska alone, the state’s health department reports a 30 percent increase in cases over the last three days. That is the accelerating curve New York, Massachusetts and Washington State can tell Nebraska all about.
The so-called “curve” of cases does appear to be flattening nationally because a majority of people, especially in urban areas, are devoutly complying with the strictures of social distancing. There are about 30,000 new cases every day right now; the number is no longer accelerating, but is still horrifying to contemplate.
What happens when this thing really and truly burns through rural America? It has already begun, and because of all those Trump supporters standing shoulder to shoulder at capitols and churches to shout their defiance of science and the “Deep State” into the virus-polluted air, it will get worse.
There are hot spots emerging in the farm belt as well.
Trump and red state governors for weeks have fairly bragged about how large parts of the farm belt have escaped the ravages of the virus without the enforced shelter-in-place policies common on both coasts. It’s still unclear whether the states actually “flattened the curve,” or if the virus just reached there later. But now, cases are erupting, threatening a local population that doesn’t always have easy access to the same health care as more urban areas. And the outbreaks are striking the heart of the nation’s farming and meatpacking industry, potentially disrupting the national distribution of food as meat processing plants close down and truckers who move food across the country are sidelined by illness.
Over the last five days, confirmed cases have increased more than 30 percent in North Dakota, 22 percent in Arkansas, 26 percent in Oklahoma, and 260 percent in South Dakota. That compares to roughly 26 percent over the same period in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic.
Epidemiologists are going to be busy for years to come analyzing all the data that emerges in order to be able to construct better models and thus be more effective in dealing with the inevitable future pandemics. Of course, that assumes that future leaders will use the expertise that is thus developed. But in the US where science and expertise are viewed with suspicion by many political leaders as somehow having an ulterior agenda against them, and it is not just Trump, this expertise might well go to waste, though it may well prove useful for other countries.
I remember how when Finland dramatically improved its education system within a short space of time, educators from the US went there to find out their secret. The leader of the Finnish reform project told them that they just took the best research studies and put them into practice. When the US educators asked who had done the research, he replied that all the research came from the US. In other words, it was a familiar pattern. The US has excellent researchers who produce important research results that are ignored by its own leaders who substitute their own judgment, their ‘gut feelings’, or their political biases in place of the research results, while other countries are the beneficiaries of the research.