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ART HOBSON: What's up, America?

Foolishness bolsters spread of covid-19 in United States by Art Hobson | August 25, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

The United States accounts for 4 percent of world population but 25 percent of covid-19 deaths. Although individual Americans pay twice what individual Europeans pay for health care, covid-19 kills us at 17 times the per-capita European rate. We're far and away the leader in total cases with 5.5 million, followed by Brazil with 3.3 million, India (with four times our population) at 2.6 million, Russia 900,000 and South Africa, 600,000.

Our death toll exceeds 170,000 and the future looks worse. By December, 300,000 deaths are predicted if we maintain our present social distancing standards, and nearly 400,000 if we continue to ease those standards. This after only nine months of pandemic. Total U.S. World War II deaths during four years were 405,000.

Yet some shrug this off as "what happens." Many such folks were at the annual Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally two weeks ago. This is not a healthy time for 366,000 bikers to party, without masks, in a town of 7,000. Their in-your-face absence of helmets complimented their in-your-face absence of masks. One T-shirt said it all: "Screw covid. I went to Sturgis." Pretty classy, buddy. And what about your load on our collective health care, not to mention bringing the virus home to friends and family?

News reports tell us this thoughtlessness has been "met with astonishment and alarm in Europe," where people ask "don't they care about their health?" America, once considered "exceptional" and "indispensable," seems to have become a nation of fools. The world is taking notice: Are we losing our marbles?

A state-by-state analysis is revealing. Admirably, this newspaper has kept a daily tab of state rankings according to the total number of cases per 100,000 population.

Let's group the states into three large regions: First, the South, including the 11 seceding Confederate states plus two border states, Missouri and Kentucky, that sided with the Confederacy (13 states). Second, the Northeast, north of the Mason-Dixon line, from the east coast westward to Minnesota and Iowa (19 states). Third, the West, from the Midwestern states North Dakota down through Oklahoma (note that Texas is part of the South) and westward, including Alaska and Hawaii (18 states).

On Aug. 15, I used this newspaper's tabulation to count the number of states in each region and in each "decade" of rankings: numbers 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, and 41-50. I omitted Washington, D.C., because it's not a state. The results:

• Rankings 1-10: South 6, Northeast 2, West 2.

• 11-20: South 3, Northeast, 6, West 1.

• 21-30: South 2, Northeast, 3, West 5.

• 31-40: South, 1 (Missouri), Northeast 4, West 5.

• 41-50: South, 1 (Kentucky), Northeast 4, West, 5.

The ten "leading" (an ironic term) states are Louisiana, Florida, Arizona, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Nevada. New York and New Jersey, the first two infected states, have reduced their cases enormously since that early spike, moving from numbers 1 and 2 down to 7 and 8. Arkansas, on the other hand, has moved strongly upward, from the mid-30s in early June to number 15.

What leaps out of this data is the South's dominance, with five of the six sickest states, 11 in the top three decades, and just one state in the fourth decade and one in the fifth decade. Several studies have noted this clustering of covid-19 in the South. According to research by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Medicaid politics is one source of the problem: "Of the 14 states that still refuse federal money to extend the low-income health plan to thousands of adults, 9 are in the South." Others cite widespread poverty and poor health as the cause. This question is something all us southerners need to ponder.

America's botched approach to this virus could cost over 100,000 excess deaths this year. About a thousand are dying daily, the equal of three large passenger planes, 10 times our daily vehicle death rate, equal to the 9/11 attacks (3,000 deaths) every three days. These are not just statistics; they are your friends, your family, and possibly you. This is not God's will, or fate, or something to take in stride.

What are we doing wrong? I would suggest attitudes like those at Sturgis, quack conspiracy theories, anti-scientific fundamentalist beliefs, America's distrust of government, anti-intellectualism and over-emphasis on personal freedom that often comes at the expense of everybody else. But right now, the core problem is the failure of leadership at the top. This can be changed.

Art Hobson is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]


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