Denial’s catastrophic cost

This is the editor’s letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

Jodi Doering, an emergency room nurse at a South Dakota hospital, is a daily witness to just how sick our country has become. People severely ill with COVID-19 are flooding her hospital, suffering also from an extreme case of cognitive dissonance: They’d been told the pandemic was a concoction of the fake news media. “They tell you there must be another reason they are sick,” an exhausted Doering recounted on Twitter this week. Even while gasping for breath, she says, the patients insist “they don’t have COVID because it’s not real.” The delusional talk only stops when these patients get intubated or die. “It’s like a f—ing horror movie that never ends,” Doering says.

This horror movie is now playing in hospitals in large swathes of the U.S., most frequently in states where coronavirus denialism is rampant. The test positivity rate in South Dakota is a breathtaking 58 percent, yet Gov. Kristi Noem continues to refuse to impose mask mandates or other restrictions. “My people are happy,” she recently said. “They’re happy because they’re free.” Struggling for breath in an ICU, or being zipped into a body bag, is a strange sort of freedom, but such is the surreal state of the nation’s leadership in the annus horribilis of 2020. The president who insisted the coronavirus is “like a flu” and”will just disappear” is now promoting denial about the election results. One million people a week are being infected — at least partly because so many Americans have rejected scientists’ pleas to wear masks and avoid indoor gatherings as an unbearable imposition on their freedom. So, the dreaded winter wave is upon us, and by Christmas, more than 2,000 Americans may be dying every day. The scientists may rescue us in the spring with vaccines, but how many more people will perish or become debilitated by COVID before they arrive? Freedom without responsibility is manslaughter.

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